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Student Exhibit: Save the Skowhegan Grange & Granges in General

written by Eric Axelman

image of Skowhegan Grange Hall

The historic building was the home of community meetings, theatrical plays, different kids of musical dances, and traveling performers.
In Skowhegan, this Grange building may be closed down. In the last few years, Skowhegan Savings Bank has bought out the Skowhegan Grange. At the moment it is being used for storage. This was told to me from an employee of Skowhegan Savings Bank.

The Maine Grange was created on February 16th, 1876 and other town Granges were built soon after. Before I jump to conclusions, you may be asking yourself, "What is a Grange?" Well, a Grange is "America's foremost Volunteer and Grassroots Organization." The first Grange was organized on December 4th, 1867. It was made so farmers could have a say in politics across America. Through most of the 1900s, the Grange flourished and had power within America. The Grange had a very important role in community life in this small town of Skowhegan. In the past, this historic building was alive with meetings held by farmers, plays being performed, traveling entertainers, and dances offered for the community. The sad fact is, this historic Grange building may soon be torn down.

image of Bryant Pond Grange Hall

Skowhegan Railroad Station with people on horse drawn sleds, mid-winter. The roof of the Heywood Tavern building is just visible in the back ground.

In the last few years, Skowhegan Savings Bank has bought out the Skowhegan Grange. At the moment it is being used for storage. This was told to me from an employee of Skowhegan Savings Bank. The employee also said that in the future "the Grange building will probably be torn down to make room for a new parking lot for Skowhegan Savings Bank in Skowhegan." But, now I ask you, is this sacrifice going to be good for the town of Skowhegan? Is getting rid of the Grange building worth building a new parking lot? In my opinion, the answer is no. The Grange building could be useful for the community by providing a place for the hosting of charitable dinners, fundraisers, contra dances, and other projects to raise money for different organizations.

image of Grange Hall at Atkinson Mills

Granges were very important because with competition from the west, farmers had to organize and decide how to survive.

The Grange members currently have another building for their meetings, but it will not be the same in my point of view. They were forced to get a smaller building due to the costs of running the older building with far fewer Grange members. They sold it to the Skowhegan Savings Bank.

Bill Clark, active in the Grange, helped us understand the purpose and history of the Skowhegan Grange. If it were up to me, I would have kept the Grange right where it was, and supported a community tradition that has been around for decades. The Grange Hall has great memories for the people in Skowhegan and it gives them a real link to our past here in town. Even if the Grange members couldn't keep it up, we townspeople can work together to help keep it a part of our community.

image of L.A. Weaver store

Grange members met together and discussed local and national politics. They had ceremonies at their meetings. Dances and community suppers were held at the Grange Halls across Maine.

In conclusion, we hope that this structurally sound building, with its new chimney and roof, will not go the way of other beautiful and stately buildings of our town. One should remember the former Victorian home on Madison Avenue that was torn down to build MacDonalds which has been vacant for a number of years now.

Other buildings meeting this fate were the old McClellan home on Elm Street, now a bank drive-through; the scenic Motor Lodge and cabins on Madison Avenue, now a WalMart; the oldest tavern in Maine, the Heywood Tavern, torn down for car lot; and last but not least, the Methodist Church on the Island, with its beautiful cobalt blue stained glass windows, replaced by a red barn-type building next to the Skowhegan Fire Department.

image of Skowhegan Railroad Station

This photo shows girls on their way to a Grange event in Skowhegan, Maine. Barbara Rowell found this picture in her attic and gave it to us.

Community history is important and the buildings help make the town what it is. Please make an effort to help save the Grange Hall, write to the Skowhegan Savings Bank and tell them what you think about preserving our past.

Eric Axelman is an eighth grader at Skowhegan Area Middle School.

 


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