Home on the Grange
“Everyone is welcome to a Grange function.” These words were given to a well-attended audience on Sunday afternoon, August 18th at the Thomas Taber Museum in Williamsport by Elizabeth Downey. A lifetime resident from Huntersville, Downey served as chair of the Pennsylvania State Grange Executive Committee.
She spoke on the history of the Eagle Community Grange which was the first Grange that started in Pennsylvania. Downey said she was a Grange member all her life. Her grandparents donated the land for the Allegheny Grange. “I have a long history,” she said. “I even got married in the Grange.”
The Grange is a fellowship service with opportunities to build stronger communities. It is a non-partisan organization to press for legislative issues for farmers and their families. “We only support policies,” Downey added. “We are also a lobbying organization. The Grange created legislation and adopted a non-partisan resolution.”
Transportation costs were the real reason the Grange was formed in 1871. Farmers needed to recover from damage due to the Civil War, and to help farmers receive fairer treatment nationwide from the railroad companies, the Eagle Grange originated with 40 chartered members. “The railroad companies were a monopoly gouging the farmers,” Downey stated. “We needed a fair market price to bring agriculture back together again.”
A woman, Caroline Hall, was very instrumental in organizing the Grange and encompassing women so that they could vote and hold an office. There are 3 positions that men cannot occupy in The Grange, Downey explained. “Reaching out to the public is mostly done by women.” Holding an office for a woman was exalting at the time, as they still had no right to vote in this country.
The Pennsylvania State Grange was organized in 1873, two years after the Eagle Grange was formed. Rural free delivery was the initiative. Its founder and first president was Luke Eger who farmed a few miles from Montgomery. In a letter to national Grange in Washington D.C. addressed to Oliver Hudson Kelley, one of the 7 founders, he stated: “I have at last succeeded in organizing and raising a club here, and I think there will be little trouble after this in establishing clubs (other Subordinate Granges) in this county.”
During the 1950’s farmers pulled their orders together which allowed them discounts when purchasing products and machinery in larger quantities. In 1888 the Eagle Grange opened a store and began selling farm products and supplies. The Eagle Junior Grange was established in 1945. By 1953 there were nearly 100 members all working on grassroots efforts to benefit rural Pennsylvania farmers. Much emphasis was also spent on community service. The Grange was responsible for rural mail delivery, electricity, currency and taxation. Even today the Grange focuses on related issues. They are currently working on the delivery of broadband service to the more rural areas. Fundraising and community service are also important. Everyone remembers the Grange cookbooks, a popular fundraiser for the members.
The Eagle Grange in Montgomery is the only first state Grange existing in the nation according to Downey who is doing some research on obtaining a grant to see it preserved by the State as a Grange Hall. “We want to preserve it, restore it and turn it into a museum to house artifacts, especially as some of the Granges close. We still have descendants from the 40 charter members on the rolls.”
From 20,000 Granges in Pennsylvania, 250 are still active in the State. All states in the nation have Granges except for Louisiana and Mississippi. There are 8 Granges left in Lycoming County. “Many meet in their homes,” said Downey who also noted that everyone in her family is a member of the Grange. Marion McCormick from Montgomery shared her grandmother’s obituary, “Mrs. Rosa Hartranft Decker, 86, a widely known Montgomery resident, was the last charter member of Eagle Grange No. 1, died at her home on Saturday, March 4, 1950.” Ironically the Eagle Grange was founded on a March 4th.
The Allegheny Grange was founded in 1896 and Downey also acknowledged that her grandmother was the first female Grange President to serve in the state of Pennsylvania.
Over time there has been too much upkeep for the buildings but members are still actively seeking more memberships. Incidentally, Wolf Run Veterinarian used to be the Grange building for Pennsdale on Rt. 220.
Three times a year the Grange organizes food drives for families and third graders get dictionaries. “We also hold a health fair with free screenings,” concluded Downey, “and reach out to other organizations on combined projects and common goals.”
The Eagle Grange has never closed its doors to the community since it started over 131 years ago. In 2001 the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission dedicated the Eagle Community Grange as an historical site.
Current officers are David Troutman, President; Fred Murray, Vice-President; Bernard Downey, Secretary; Karen Williamson, Treasurer; and Elizabeth Downey, Chaplain. Meetings are held the third Thursday of the month.