by Robert Hanaford Smith, Sr.
Weirs Times Contributing Writer
April of this year of 2016 was designated Grange month, and the Wicwas Lake Grange in Meredith Center celebrated, having the highest membership of all present New Hampshire Granges. It also celebrated in 1951when it became 50 years old. Mr. and Mrs. Fred Chandler, members of that body, joined thousands of New Hampshire Grangers a few years before that, in 1948, in traveling to Portland, Maine for the National Grange Convention held in that city.
Early on a November morning more than 60 people boarded a train at Laconia in order to travel to Portland for New Hampshire Day where many of them would also take the seventh and highest degree in the Grange. The train began its trip at Woodsville at 4:45 a.m. and, after the last passengers had boarded, the 15 cars held about 800 people. Two other trains from New Hampshire also transported Granite Staters to the convention.
The number of Grangers and local Grange Halls has diminished considerably since 1948 as have the number of working New Hampshire farms; however, because of my Dad’s involvement in the Grange and reporting skills for The Laconia Evening Citizen I am able to identify some of the area Granges and members who made the trip to Portland, though my Dad and Mother along with myself and siblings became National Grange members a few years later at a convention in Burlington, Vermont. Some of my relatives and neighbors did make that trip to Portland as members of the Squam Lake Grange in Ashland or the New Hampton Grange. The master of Squam Lake Grange, Kenneth Torsey, was still a teenager, and his cousin, June Smith ,was one of the youngest Grangers to join the National Grange in 1948.
A main event of the gathering of Grange members at this occasion was to take the 7th degree which makes them National Grange members, a route that starts with either the Junior Grange or Subordinate Grange of their community to the county level or Pomona and on to the 6th degree which makes them members of the State Grange, and then on to the National. On New Hampshire Day in 1948 the two and one-half hour long degree ceremony was conducted by officials on the National level six times, the last beginning at 10:30 p.m. Those riding the train returned so as to reach home about 24 hours after they left the previous day.
The trains taking Grangers to Portland included those from in their teens to those in their eighties; 84 year old Willis Draper of Gilford Avenue, a member of Paugus Grange, and 82 year old Sylvester Higgins of Goshen were among the oldest travelers. One of the riders, Arah Huckins of Mt. Livermore Grange of Holderness was one of those attending the National Grange Convention who had received the 7th degree years previously. His father, George Huckins, was born in 1844 in the house where I now live in New Hampton.
Some of the other Granges with members on the trains included Pine Grove Grange of Bath, Derryfield Grange of Manchester, Friendship Grange of Northfield, Province Road Grange of Laconia, Harmony Grange of Sanbornton including Belknap County Pomona Master George Currier and a group from Henniker.
In 1951 Raymond Pickering reported on the 50th anniversary celebration of the Wicwas Lake Grange where nearly 200 people gathered to observe the occasion. The local Grange had been organized on October 19, 1901 in the vestry of the Meredith Center Baptist Church. The Grange continued to meet at the church vestry for a number of years with a lease from the Ladies Circle with the provision that “There shall be no grand right and left, no up and down the center. Just plain Promenade.”
The Grange erected its own building in 1929 on land deeded to them by Warren K. Kimball only to have it destroyed by fire in 1930. It was rebuilt in 1931. The only surviving charter member at the 1951 anniversary observance was Mrs. Evelyn Plummer Collins, Mrs. Eva J. Felker had been a continuous member since January, 1902. One of the significant past members was Andrew L. Felker who was New Hampshire commissioner of agriculture from 1914 until his death in 1946. According to Mr. Pickering’s account the following Granges had members in attendance: Winnipesaukee, New Hampton, Newfound Lake, Laconia, The Weirs, Paugus, Piermont, Lawrence, Mt. Israel, Moultonboro, Plymouth, Lower Intervale, Kensington, Winnisquam, Quincy, Garnet Hill, Franklin, Squam Lake, Thornton, Barnet, and Chelsea, Vermont.
For those not acquainted with The Grange, the first one was organized in Fredonia, New York in the year 1868 and was designated Grange #1. Its purpose was to unite and help those involved in agricultural pursuits and to promote their causes. With the decline in farms in New Hampshire many local grange groups, including some mentioned in this article , no longer exist.
Others, including several mentioned in this column and dozens around the state, continue to meet and have an impact on their communities and beyond.