Friday, September 26, 2003
The Carlisle Grange Once part of the social structure of this town
I remember driving past the Grange Hall as a kid. It was a mystery. Having spent my whole life in the suburbs, I had no idea what a "grange" was. Then one day it was gone. Not exactly gone, but converted into a home, a grange hall no more. Carlisle was just that much less rural, less agricultural, and the era of the grange here had come to an end.
The National Grange was founded in 1867. The first Massachusetts grange was established in Greenfield in 1873, and was quickly followed by eighteen others in towns from Acton to Pittsfield. Carlisle's first grange, No. 258, was chartered in 1906. It was disbanded for lack of sufficient interest sometime after 1914. But with renewed interest, Grange No. 402 was organized in 1937. While there is minimal extant information about Grange No. 258, the Carlisle Historical Society collection contains meeting notes, correspondence, and scrapbooks from No. 402. Some of its members still live in town.
The grange was foremost a fraternal organization. Born of an era that saw the exponential growth of groups like the Masons, the grange began as the Patrons of Husbandry. It employed a hierarchical leadership structure similar to that of other fraternal organizations, but women were always welcomed with full equality. Its founder, Oliver Hudson Kelley, decided to make it a fraternal organization, but during the creation process he had also considered making it a union. One of the most important missions of the grange has been to act as a lobbying group for farmers, who otherwise would have had no collective voice. The National Grange continues this work today.
The grange was an important component of the social structure of this town. Carlisle has always offered its citizens a variety of opportunities to join groups and organizations, which serve to maintain town institutions as well as insure that participating residents will feel invested in the community. There were various church groups, women's societies, and volunteer associations, including the fire department. Because of Carlisle's agrarian nature, the grange held an important place among these groups. In the spirit of fraternal organizations, the grange had dual missions: contributing to the community and taking care of its own members. Members of Grange No. 402 hosted parties for children, gave blood, and raised money for charitable causes through street fairs and suppers. In 1943 they picked the strawberry crop for a family who was unable to do the work. During World War II they raised money to purchase a service flag for Carlisle's nineteen citizens serving in the Armed Forces, and in 1944, they helped to organize a breakfast for the Armed Forces at the U.S.O. in Lowell.
In 1954 the Grangers sent Christmas boxes to those in the service and gave a basket of groceries to a family who was dealing with polio. In 1956 they arranged for polio vaccine to be given to 117 children, and in 1957 an American flag was presented for the new school building. Perhaps their most important project was sponsoring the Town Honor Roll located on the Town Green, which acknowledges those Carlisle residents who served in the Armed Forces. It was dedicated on May 6, 1945.
In addition to volunteer work and aid to neighbors, Carlisle's Grangers also had fun. There were "suppers, dances, barbecues and bazaars." They put on plays, held card parties and auctions, food and rummage sales, and offered a woodworking class. There were clambakes in the summer and sleigh rides in the winter. By helping those in need, as well as through their own activities, the grange fostered a sense of community.
No. 402 first met at the Brick School, Union Hall, the Congregational Church, and even in a member's garage, but from the beginning they knew that they wanted their own place. In 1938 the Maynard Grange donated $2 to the building fund to get it started. Fortunately, in 1951 Mrs. Rena Clark donated the land on which the Hall was built, sparing them the expense of purchasing a lot. With only $1,200 in the building fund and bids to put in a foundation much higher, No. 402 members, along with volunteers from another grange, did the job themselves, digging the trench by hand and laying the rocks for footings. The money was used to contract a mason (the building was made of cinder blocks.) Grangers from adjacent chapters contributed their time and skills to install the ceiling, wiring, and the heating system. Later, members donated an icebox, a piano, and an electric stove. Money to pay off the construction loan was raised through grange projects. The Hall was proudly dedicated on April 21, 1953, the 16
Over time, interest in the grange waned, as it has with many other fraternal organizations. Once a thriving community group, membership decreased as the agrarian character of the town changed. The Grange Hall was sold in 1977 and converted into a dwelling; the organization disbanded, and the era of the grange in Carlisle became instead a part of its history.
(Thanks to Arthur Mills, who kindly answered my questions about Carlisle Grange No. 402.)
© 2003 The Carlisle Mosquito