Patrons of husbandry

By David Grima | Apr 11, 2019

Oh beloved reader and dear rider of Rockland’s rotten roads, I would like to draw your attention to a notice that appeared electronically on April 4, in some mysterious way associated with this august newspaper:

“The Maine Better Transportation Association has announced its Worst Road in Maine contest. Residents are invited to submit a brief story or description of a bad road and the negative impact it has had. The grand prize winner will receive a prize of $529, the amount researchers have estimated that every Maine resident pays in extra maintenance, repairs and accident costs because of bad roads. The statewide total is $541 million.”

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Speaking of bad roads, Monday was the day we were given to expect the start of repairs and construction on South Main Street in our fair city. However, a day-long fall of soggy spring snow prevented much getting done, I imagine.

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I was in Tenants Harbor last weekend, during a scheduled visit to the Independent Republic of St. George.

I had my passport stamped, all my visas were in place, and I had received all necessary shots to prevent bringing measles over the border, so I felt pretty confident about my excursion to this local separatist territory.

There I met the President of the Republic, and we got to chatting about old times and such stuff.

We compared the Grange to the church, in that both seem to be going out of fashion, and I asked him how the Grange is doing in St. George. He said it has been on the point of closing for 60 years, but it’s still going strong.

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Speaking of the Grange, I used to see a lot of Grange halls around the county when I was an itinerant newspaperman for the Curious-Gazette, and the other day I began wondering how many of them are left in an active condition.

Consulting with my friend Mr. Google, I came up with a list dated March 2017, about the latest information that seemed to be available.

Created after the Civil War to assist farmers with the spread of knowledge of modern agricultural methods, credit and other farm-like stuff, the Grange organization was something of a community pillar in many corners of rural America once upon a time.

When I grounded upon these fair shores, after paddling here in a leaky wooden washtub almost 40 years ago, everything seemed somehow different, but very little was unique.

The sight of policemen wearing guns and the presence of the Grange were among the few things that seemed to me specific to America. Almost everything else I was aware of had some sort of equivalent in the Olde Country.

For that reason, and because most of my years since then have been spent here in Maine, the Grange sort of came to represent something singular about this rural and quietly beautiful part of the world. I suppose I first began to notice Grange halls around the county back in the late 1980s, when I began my newspapering career here.

We still used to print Grange news in the paper in those days, when there were people willing to submit those newsy little articles. You could get more news about Washington from the notes from Evening Star Grange than almost any other source, for example.

Of course, even then there was evidence of changes a-coming. Rockland’s Grange halls were already long gone. Several other halls I got to know as I made my rounds across the county have since vanished or been repurposed, too.

One spring evening I was invited to cover an event of some significance at White Oak Grange in Warren, and was therefore admitted within its hallowed walls.

The hall was located on the little triangle of land at Old Augusta Road and Western Road, a neighborhood apparently known as White Oak Corner, where Beth grows her sweetcorn each summer.

I believe somebody was to be given an award for a civic achievement, so I took my camera to record the event. Whatever photo I took I have since forgotten, but a powerful image yet remains in my mind’s eye from that pleasant evening; two grown men dressed as little babies performing a sort of skit.

It seemed like the sort of thing our Cub Scout pack in Rockland might have got up to. It went down very well with everybody, and was quite humorous.

I forget how long it was after this entertaining encounter that I drove by the same spot and saw the hall had vanished. It had been moved just around the corner on Old Augusta Road, and appeared to be undergoing rehabilitation as a private dwelling.

It seems there was once another Grange hall in Warren, closer to the village, which was once the venue of a live radio news broadcast that I had the honor to moderate.

It was back in the 1990s, when a Canadian company was looking to open a nickel mine in Warren, and this issue rather tore the town in two. Shades of the country we live in today? I remember how angry people were with one another over whatever position they held on this question.

Some thought the mine would mean property tax revenues for the town, and good jobs and great wages for the people, which are not insignificant factors in a small community that has little natural industry left.

Others thought it would turn a peaceful rural community into a rip-roaring industrial site, ruining the overall quality of life forever. The two sides in this bitter dispute came to battle over the Town Office’s decision to create a set of mining regulations, something that few towns hereabouts have, or think they need.

The meeting in the in-town Grange hall was aimed at having each side lay out its ideas, and make its objections to the other’s position.

Anyway, the next time I drove by, that Grange hall, too, had become a domestic residence.

I remember Seven Tree Grange in Union closing down, and others, too, across the area. I wondered how long the institution would last in our modern and decreasingly farm-oriented state, where notions of community were rapidly focusing on the television and the supermarket as main things.

Acorn Grange in Cushing closed, I think, around 2017, and Meenahga in Waldoboro was sold to the local Masons around the same time. So, excluding these two, the list (dated 2017) I was able to obtain names the following Granges as still active around here:

Appleton (Medomac Valley), Martinsville (Ocean View), North Haven, Rockport (Penobscot View), St. George, and Union (Pioneer). Not much is left in a region where some towns once needed two halls to accommodate the Patrons of Husbandry.

Comments (1)
Posted by: Mary A McKeever | Apr 11, 2019 17:14

So sad to see society lose out from the Grange experience and home town camaraderie. I remember Hope Grange with active members and who did so much good for the area. Now it is a Hall!  Along with many such Halls...But I remember the suppers and the good works we did and such camaraderie from neighbors from Hope and Camden and Lincolnville. But then am now 84, but I do have my memories!

Mary "Mickey" (Brown) McKeever.... former Postmaster/Store- owner and Hope resident for many many years!.

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