SHOW NOTES FOR EPISODE 5: HOME, HOME ON THE GRANGE
National Grange website: www.nationalgrange.org
Listing of Idaho State Granges: http://www.grange.org/idahostate/index-of-granges/
TRANSCRIPT FOR EPISODE 5
If you’re like most local residents, if you were asked to name the industries that built Sandpoint and its environs, you might name timber and lumber and railroads, which spring readily to mind. Today we could add tourism. But you might not have thought of farming, or considered Bonner County a thriving agricultural center, yet it was! Throughout most of the twentieth century, farms blanketed the area.
At one time there were over eighty dairy farms in the county. Today there is one. Large-scale farms and their attendant institutions—the county fair, 4-H, the granges—have waned considerably from their robust mid-twentieth-century numbers. As times have changed and new development has replaced much of the former farmland, preserving and honoring a vanishing way of life becomes ever more imperative.
At the museum, the question came up, “What exactly is a grange?” The museum’s archives yielded a bushel of information.
A grange (an archaic word for “farm,” related to “granary”) is a community service organization with special interest in agriculture-related issues. The National Grange movement was founded in 1867 in Washington, D. C., when seven men formed the Order of Patrons of Husbandry (commonly known as the Grange), led by William Saunders, Superintendent of Propagating Gardens within the U. S. Department of Agriculture. Today the National Grange is “a nonprofit, non-partisan, fraternal organization that advocates for rural America and agriculture,” according to its statement of purpose. Rural free mail delivery, the cooperative extension program, and farm credit are typical Grange-backed projects for the benefit of farmers.
The Idaho State Grange organized in 1908. Bonner County’s earliest grange, Freeman Lake, opened in 1919. Granges opened thick and fast during the hard times of the 1920s and 1930s; Selle, Edgmere, Westmond, Colburn, Elmira, Kootenai, Laclede, Pend Oreille, Sunny Glen, Pack River, Glengary, Hope, and Clark Fork Granges all opened during this period. In all, the county boasted nineteen granges, with new ones forming as late as the 1960s. The last--Snow Valley--opened in 1965.
For decades, granges labored to improve farm-related education, economic development, and legislation. In 1935 they were instrumental in bringing electricity to local farms through FDR’s Rural Electrification Program (REA). (Northern Lights, Inc., had the distinction of being the first REA project west of the Mississippi.) Selle Grange started the CENEX Co-Op Gas & Supply in Sandpoint. During World War II, granges participated in war bond drives, scrap iron drives, and Red Cross training. They issued scholarships and performed countless acts of service to the community, from building projects to baby showers.
The granges were also hubs of local social life, thanks in large part to the grange halls—simple, roomy wooden structures which functioned as community gathering places for meetings, parties, and dances. Occasionally they filled in as temporary schoolhouses or churches.
However, from the late 1960s on, interest in both farming and in joining fraternal organizations waned. Today only three Bonner County granges—Edgemere, Blanchard, and Clark Fork—are still listed on the Idaho State Grange website.
As granges have closed, some halls have been torn down, others put to new uses. Oden Hall is an example of a former grange hall repurposed as a community center. The Selle Grange Hall still stands near the intersection of Coburn-Culver and Shingle Mill Roads. Others dot the community, often resembling one-room schoolhouses.
Thankfully, local agriculture has not faded entirely from the scene. A burgeoning number of small-scale growers, CSAs, goat farmers, and berry-gatherers are responding to increasing demand for fresh, locally sourced produce. Are these new-style farmers joining and forming granges? So far, it appears not. But with its strong history in grassroots activism, community service, and pulling together in the interests of agriculture, the grange movement may see a resurgence yet.
Do you have a grange-related story or memory to share? We’d love to hear it. The museum is currently closed due to the COVID-19 virus in the spring of 2020. However, we still have staff and volunteers working on various projects. You can email us at firstname.lastname@example.org, visit our website at bonnercountyhistory.org, call is at 208-263-2344, or find us at the Bonner County History page on Facebook.
Portions of this episode, written by Jennifer Leo, originally appeared in Sandpoint Magazine.