The Ausable Valley Grange was part of a national movement that began after the Civil War, to bring the farm family and business out of rural isolation. Organizers wished to unite farm families in a fraternal organization that could collectively negotiate better prices for their products, and get the best prices for the products and services they needed to run their farms. The result showed some successes in the first half of the last century. For example, the Grange League Federation, which would later become Agway, an important resource for small farmers, grew out of this movement. But another, possibly more important, result of the Grange movement was that the Grange Halls across the country would serve as social gathering places for rural people to meet and engage each other in debate and discussion. They would throw off their isolation gathering to celebrate births and mourn the passing of friends, supporting each other in the hard times, while collectively organizing for the membership’s successes.
The Ausable Valley Grange No. 973 was organized on March 23, 1903 with 17 charter members. The first meeting was held in the Town Hall of the Town of Ausable in Clinton County although this new Grange would be forever under the jurisdiction of Essex County Grange.
Seventeen charter members were recorded. A copy of the enrollment book exists which lists the seventeen charter members as: George B. Thompson, Elkanah Arthur, Rose Merrill, Charles W. Rowe, Lemuel B. Davis, E.H. Merrill, Mrs. George B. (Nellie) Thompson, C.B.White, J.C.Bowe, C.H. Baldwin, C.W. Lansing, Willis N. Mussen, John F. Mussen, R.T.Mace, E.L.Steavens, Mrs. C.W. Lansing, and Miss Anna Arthur. George B. Thompson was the first master, J.C. Bowe was the first secretary.
The first minute book cannot be found so the Grange’s written record of those first years is lost, but it is known that by the end of 1903 there were 33 members with enrollment to grow to 245 by 1908.
Membership grew and Grange members overcrowded their meeting hall at the building known as the Adirondack Apartments. Next the Grange rented the Union Hall from the St. John the Baptist Society.
By 1914 the membership had grown to over 280 and the Horse Nail Factory counting building was purchased for a permanent home. The purchase price was $1,500.00 with a mortgage of $500.00. The first meeting in the new (and current) hall was on April 3rd of 1914 with the hall dedication on June 30th of that year.
Our Grange has always been ahead of its time in social issues. The National Grange was the first fraternal organization to admit women, as early Grange organizers honored the importance of women in the farm family. Women quickly took leadership roles in the national Grange, and their names began to surface locally in leadership positions as early as 1910.
The Ausable Valley Grange was part of the temperance movement nearly from its inception. Early minutes include discussion of the W.C.T.U. and in 1917, 240 members approved a letter to President Woodrow Wilson, all Senators and Representatives asking that the nation’s distilleries and breweries be closed. Smoking was banned in the Grange Hall in 1936.
Throughout the early years the Ausable Valley Grange was noted for its oyster suppers with hundreds attending each year to take part in the revelries. As time went on the event failed to draw the large crowds of the early days and eventually faded into memory. The Grange had organized Harvest Suppers as fund raisers beginning in 1915, they would continue for 40 years. After the suppers there were auctions of donated produce to raise money so the Grange could keep going.
As the years progressed Grange membership fell off. Locally members reached out to extend their fellowship to village members and non-farmers hoping to energize the spirit they felt in a shared community. They were looking - also hoping, of course - to maintain their strength in numbers, but by the early 1940’s a subtle change had taken place in the local Grange. From an activist membership it had become more and more an organization where fellowship and recreation were enjoyed. The farm family was no longer isolated socially or economically and the drop in the number of farm families had decreased their influence within the local community and with their legislators.
What we know of the early Grange and its members can only be derived from what has been written, and there is little of that. The minute books of the Ausable Valley Grange are austere at best, for those early members did not go in for much idle gossip about goings on in the town. They had no interest in providing those of us who would follow with any insight on the area’s local color. From the entries one cannot discern who was likely to be arrested on a Saturday night for town drunkenness, or who would holdup in the back of the 5 & 10 for Thursday evening poker games. The books report on the banality of area life. They speak of purchasing song books, ordering farm supplies and fixing windows. It is the conversation of the men and women who did the heavy lifting of the community and got on with the necessity of facing up to the difficulties of their own rural lives. There is, however, a certain kind of security that we can draw on from the example the founding members left us, although most of will only know them from entries in a minute book. They had an unspoken sureness that they would standup to the worst the twentieth century had to offer and come through it O.K. They would do everything they had to do, care for their families, maintain their farms and still find time to reach out to assist those who had stumbled and were in need of help.
Their agrarian sensibilities were the foundation of their community, and reassuring to us now in this time as we face a troubling and uncertain future in a new century. Undoubtedly they made our community a better place for everyone that would come after, and now we must take up that responsibility too. We must care for this historic building that they passed on to us intact. Their organization is now our organization; a community of individuals that have been active here in the Ausable Valley for 100 years. So with our presence here today we take up the obligation of assuring the second century of that community and of this Grange.