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GRANGE HISTORY

THE GRANGE AT THE NATIONAL LEVEL

 

The rationale behind the Grange movement was to provide help and encouragement to farmers, primarily in terms of educational and social opportunities. In addition to promoting educational and cultural goals, it was intended to foster cooperation among farmers to enhance their economic strength. 

 

At the national level, the Grange was founded in 1867 to advance and promote agriculture, in addition to drawing attention to the importance of the American farmer.  After a slow start, the organization flourished in the Mid-west, with half of all local Granges located in that part of the country. However, the depression of 1873 yielded particularly severe consequences for Mid-western farmers because of the large surpluses they were generating. Falling prices and reduced incomes resulted in bankruptcies and foreclosures. 

Farmers turned their frustration toward business interests which they felt conspired against them in the marketplace. Bankers, middlemen, and the railroads were blamed for making agricultural products unprofitable. Such sentiments drove farmers to the Grange and other agricultural clubs as a way of fighting back. The Grange had tremendous influence and provided a means of organizing against unfair railroad tariffs and corporate monopolies. However, as the economy improved toward the end of the 1870s, the need for the Grange and Grange membership diminished. By 1880 the Grange movement in the Mid-west had virtually come to a close. 

 

THE GRANGE IN NEW ENGLAND

In New England, where a tradition of farmers' clubs and associations began as early as the late 18th century, the Grange enjoyed its primary influence in the period after 1880. Rather than being a radical movement, like that of the Mid-west, the Grange in New England was stable and conservative. Its interests and influence were more wide-ranging and enduring.

The Grange sought to aid farmers in enjoying greater profitability, an objective was pursued in numerous ways. Meetings, discussions, and reports provided a forum for updating and sharing information so that farmers could be more expert at the business of agriculture. Strong support was given to state agricultural colleges and experiment stations, and alliances were forged with state boards and/or departments of agriculture and the Farm Bureau. Cooperative stores and insurance companies were organized to reduce costs.  The Grange promoted fairer taxation and better transportation.  Much of the Grange's work was accomplished by means of legislative initiatives.   

 

Changes in American society during the 20th century countered the Grange's efforts; fewer and fewer farms remained in operation, and rural areas continued to lose population into the 1940s. Those who remained, 

however, operated under more advantageous circumstances due to the work of the Grange.  Although the organized activities of the Grange were reduced to a fraction of what they once were, Grange halls that survive serve as a physical reminder of an important movement in the life of rural New England.  

 

 

THE GRANGE IN SWANZEY

The GOLDEN ROD GRANGE No. 114 was established on March 15, 1886, and provided farmers with a forum to discuss the problems of farming and the best ways to raise and harvest their crops. 

 

At first, their meetings were held at the homes of different members, but as membership increased, meetings were held in the vestry of the Congregational Church and later at the Swanzey Town Hall in Swanzey Center.

Swanzey was a farming community, and the Grange was the center of the town's social life.  By 1894, the membership had grown to 125.  Grange members were very active in community affairs, and in 1915, they built the Golden Rod Grange Hall on Route 32. The hall was used for meetings, "work bees" to help neighbors in need, agricultural fairs, Sunday socials, plays, card games, dinners, dances, and other community events. An annual highlight was the Old Homestead suppers, which fed over 10,000 people, including 29 New Hampshire governors over the decades.


With the passage of time, interests changed, means of transportation improved, and farming was no longer the chief means of support; consequently, the Grange lost members, and the few who were left were unable to maintain the building.  In 1991, Grange members offered the building and its property to the town of Swanzey, and in 1994, the voters decided to take money from the reserve fund to buy the Grange Hall and land.


The SWANZEY PRESERVATION SOCIETY was founded in 1992 to foster an appreciation of the history and heritage of the Town of Swanzey, including the Golden Rod Grange Hall.  The Society has championed the project of preserving the hall.  Through its efforts, the Golden Rod Grange Hall was placed on the National Register of Historic Places, the official list of the nation's historic places worthy of preservation, in 1994.  

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