The slow death of an American institution
July 30, 2007 5:45 PM   Subscribe

Grange Halls are common landmarks in America's rural communities. But what is a "Grange"? The Order of Patrons of Husbandry is a fraternal agricultural organization, but it's not just a social group for farmers; Grange lobbying fought railroad monopolies and led to Rural Free Delivery, the Farm Credit System, and other "progressive legislation that will benefit U.S. agriculture, rural America, and the nation in general". But after 140 years, the Grange is fading away.
posted by litlnemo (28 comments total) 12 users marked this as a favorite
My little glorious corner of teenage punkrock heaven wouldn't have existed without the local Grange Hall, but I've always wondered what the full story behind it was. Thanks!
posted by freebird at 5:55 PM on July 30, 2007

I suddenly understand where Hermione's last name comes from.

posted by Pope Guilty at 5:58 PM on July 30, 2007

But what is a "Grange"?

Back in the 80s, it was a place to see all-ages hardcore punk shows.
posted by oncogenesis at 5:58 PM on July 30, 2007

freebird, I know what you mean. I saw Nirvana play in a Grange Hall in 1990.

And now, Nirvana bassist Krist Novoselic is a Grange member himself.
posted by litlnemo at 5:59 PM on July 30, 2007

Abandoned grange halls are such a feature of the rural west that I am surprised to be reminded that the organization still does exist, if barely. Interesting post.
posted by LarryC at 6:01 PM on July 30, 2007

Weird! Grange Halls and punk rock seem to have a strange history together.

Him: Where do you live?

Me: You take the 202 east and ... you know where that white Grange hall is?

Him: Yeah, my band played there once.

Me: At a Grange Hall?

Him: Yeah, all the time.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 6:04 PM on July 30, 2007

I had my first birthday party at the local grange hall. It's long gone now. Strange that I never wondered what the word meant.

Thanks for the post.
posted by danb at 6:09 PM on July 30, 2007

No one's made a ZZ Top joke yet?
posted by evilcolonel at 6:22 PM on July 30, 2007

I live down the road from the last and longest running Grange fair encampment in the country. For a week the Grangers host a country fair style shindig with rides, funnel cakes, canning contests, and tractor pulls. There are also agricultural exhibits and livestock competions. Very yesteryear and ye olde skool.

Coolest part is the encampment. They don't just visit, they live there for the full week. Thousands pitch camp and spend the week visiting each other. Think rainbow gathering for salt of the earth republicans. Don't get me wrong, it's kinda weird. But it's also sweet and wonderful and a bit sad in that they have some amazing folk wisdom that you can literally watch disappear year after year.

The local TV station did a documentary on the fair. Here are some pictures from that. It was also featured in National Geographic a few years back but none of that is on the web. Here's the site for the fair. Check it out if you're in the area.
posted by Toekneesan at 6:33 PM on July 30, 2007

But what is a "Grange"?

Wine you can't afford.
posted by pompomtom at 7:03 PM on July 30, 2007

Small-town New England has some amazing old Grange halls. Including the one in my home town that nearly collapsed but has been restored by volunteers.
posted by Mayor Curley at 7:16 PM on July 30, 2007

But what is a "Grange"?

that itchy rash all lurlene's beau's complained about.
posted by quonsar at 7:19 PM on July 30, 2007

Toekneesan, I've been to that fair. I didn't camp out myself but my former inlaws (and their ancestors) have had a camp-site there every year since it started. It's the biggest social event around there all year.
posted by octothorpe at 7:34 PM on July 30, 2007

But what is a "Grange"?

That's G-Range, early 90s rapper.
posted by dirigibleman at 7:40 PM on July 30, 2007

How ya gonna keep 'em
Down on the farm
Now that they've seen Paree?
posted by longsleeves at 7:44 PM on July 30, 2007

Great post, thanks!
posted by amyms at 7:44 PM on July 30, 2007

Off-topic, but kind of related ... in addition to Grange Halls, Meeting Houses of New England come to mind. I came across this website dedicated to such a few weeks ago.
posted by ericb at 8:09 PM on July 30, 2007

Enjoyed reading , thanks for the great post.
posted by nola at 8:22 PM on July 30, 2007

Also, Thank you. Enjoyable!
posted by longsleeves at 9:22 PM on July 30, 2007

My childhood in England, 1981, and the terror that crept across the land: Grange Hill. Parents and headmasters everywhere wanted it banned because it was, well, just like school, actually.

Sorry - back to your thread
posted by salishsea at 11:53 PM on July 30, 2007

I kinda considered joining as in this state recently they have been against the local builder's guilds in calling for a bit saner approach to growth and the loss of open space. But I wouldn't be able to go through any sort of ceremony with a straight face.
posted by maxwelton at 12:12 AM on July 31, 2007

So how is this different than a Ruritan Club or something like that?

Out here in the south east, we had a lot of our hardcore shoes at Ruritans. Somehow this makes me think they serve the same purpose.
posted by False Jesii Inc. at 7:11 AM on July 31, 2007

I've read mefi for a long time, but never posted before. This story convinced me to create an account. I'm a long time Grange member, and my father is actually the President of the National Grange. Our family has a very strong Grange tradition, as you can imagine, but even I have been a lax member the past few years.

I just wanted to mention that there are some areas where the Grange is managing to change itself with the times and thrive. Examples like Grange Fairs are good, as they are typically are associated with local Grange that is still strong and managing to attract new members.

Anyway, great post. It's cool to see something that I'm associated with here.
posted by csteelatgburg at 8:35 AM on July 31, 2007 [1 favorite]

But what is a "Grange"?

That's who was Grange (pronounced gron-ZHAY). She was the drag queen from the height of the Cleveland Drag Revival period. Her alter ego was Ed Kawalski, a plumber with four kids and a mortgage.
posted by Pollomacho at 8:45 AM on July 31, 2007

I'd completely forgotten about the Grange -- and me with a father who grew up on a dairy farm in New Jersey in the 20s and 30s. I wish he were still around to ask about this; I'm sure he'd've had some memories to share.
posted by pax digita at 3:16 PM on July 31, 2007

False Jesii Inc., Ruritan Clubs seem to be an Eastern thing. I've never heard of them (had to look it up in Wikipedia). The Grange seems to have been especially strong in the West; at least, currently Washington State has the highest Grange membership. So perhaps they did fill parallel roles. I don't know.

csteelatgburg, I think you are right that some Grange chapters are doing a better job at staying strong. I was a little worried about that when composing my post -- that I could be drawing too bleak a picture. But there is no doubt that it is bleak in many places as well.

Of course, this isn't entirely the Grange's fault; much of it has to do with broader societal changes. Most of the old-style social and fraternal organizations are dying out, no matter what their purpose.

I grew up in Seattle so I didn't have a lot of direct contact with the Grange; I was just familiar with the name from rural visits (up until relatively recently, you could get to farming areas within about a 15 minute drive from Seattle), but never really knew much about them, until the Seattle Times article on Sunday caught my attention. I was both impressed and saddened when researching this post, to see the long list of causes that Grangers had worked for over the last 140 years; impressed that there were so many and that they were generally progressive, and saddened that we seem to be in the twilight of groups like this.
posted by litlnemo at 4:43 PM on July 31, 2007

My dad hauled me to a Grange dinner when I was about 10 or 11. (He often gave slide shows as part of his job running the county historical society.) I was terrified. I think I thought they were all Amish or something. There was square dancing.
posted by dhartung at 5:56 PM on July 31, 2007

Waving hi from my little office in Grangeville Idaho.

Closer to home, up the road a ways, both the local Grange and Odd Fellows Halls are still quite active in a town of about 100 folks. No shops or post office left, but there is still a church and the halls.

I love seeing the old widows all dolled up for the monthly dances. And the real men that make sure to dance with each and every one of them at least once. Just like their grandparents did. And the 4H kids watching and learning how it is supposed to be done.
posted by okbye at 6:19 PM on July 31, 2007 [1 favorite]

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