The Grange organization united rural communities
For decades the Grange, officially known as the Patrons of Husbandry, was the center of social life in rural sections of Tuscarawas County.
“It was a wonderful organization, and it kept the community together,” recalls Don Fenton of Newcomerstown, a Buckhorn Grange member of 65 years and former County Master of Pomona Grange. “Some Barns met once a month, some met twice a month, and we looked forward to those Barn meetings because it was our community. The Barn and the church were our livelihoods at the time. .”
After:Commissioners accept deed to Brandywine Grange building
The National Grange was incorporated in 1873. The first Grange in Tuscarawas County was the Tuscarawas Grange in New Philadelphia, organized on April 14, 1874, with 25 founding members.
According to the Tuscarawas County Historical Society, a total of 38 Barns were incorporated into the county between 1874 and 1936.
As the organization grew in numbers, many Barns erected their own Barn Halls as meeting places. Fry’s Valley Grange dedicated its hall in 1898.
The two-story frame building stood atop Grange Hill in northern Clay Township, “a beautiful spot in the country, just the perfect location for a Grange Hall,” wrote SH Ellis of New Philadelphia in a story of dedication for a magazine called Ohio Practical Farmer.
Fry’s Valley was organized on February 19, 1875, with 20 founding members. It met regularly in Grange Hill School before the hall was erected at a cost of $4,000. The hall was 24 feet by 40 feet. The lower floor was 9 feet high and the upper floor was 11 feet high. It had seats for 150 people. At the time, Fry’s Valley had 80 members.
La Grange also defended the interests of farmers.
In 1906, State Representative Asa W. Elson, an attorney from Uhrichsville, introduced a resolution in the Ohio House of Representatives from the Schoenbrunn Grange and 87 citizens, calling for the bill to pass 12 of the House to give women the right to vote under the local option laws.
Don Fenton started early in the Grange. He was born in 1931, the son of Walter and Eva Fenton, and grew up on a farm on Lick Run Road north of Newcomerstown. His parents belonged to the Buckhorn Grange.
The organization set up a new meeting hall the year it was born.
“My father sat on the construction committee,” he said. “I always told people that I was there for the inauguration because they started in May and I was born in September. I started at the Grange from the beginning. I always thought that if dad was on the building committee, my mom was there for the groundbreaking, so that put me there too.”
One of the activities sponsored by Buckhorn Grange was bee quilting. “My mother was one of the quilters,” Fenton said. “Before I was old enough to go to school when they got together during the day for their quilt bees, I was one of the kids who went to the quilt bees. I had no choice .”
He joined the Junior Grange when he was 6 years old. Each year, Buckhorn Grange has sponsored a memorial service at Bethel Cemetery in Salem Township. Junior Grange members would lay flowers at the graves of former Grange members and veterans the day before the service.
Almost all the barns in the department organized a ball open to the community once or twice a month. Fenton attended several of these dances. “I danced all my life until I couldn’t anymore,” he said.
Buckhorn Grange also sponsored a square dance team that traveled to the Grange State convention.
Community service was an important function of the organization.
“I was old enough to drive a tractor when a gentleman was killed in an accident at his farm in the Port Washington area, and several members of Buckhorn went out there to the farm and plowed that spring and prepared the soil for planting,” Fenton said.
The Widder family of Sugarcreek was also deeply involved in the Grange.
Doran and Charlotte Widder, along with Russell Dessecker, Bill and Dave Albaugh, and Herb Beitzel, run the Grange Lunch Stand which served meals each year at the Tuscarawas County Fair.
At first, food was served in a tent at the fairgrounds. He later moved into the building where the Clover Cafe is now located.
“Before the fair started, they all got together,” recalls Doran and Charlotte’s son, Les, who now lives in Coshocton. “They had iron kettles that they brought, and my dad had what we called the butcher’s shop. There was a fireplace there that had two places to put two different iron kettles. Others had tripods in there. outside the butcher shop, and they did all the stewing there at my parents’ farm.
“I always liked working at the Grange food stand because you can see a lot of different people as they walk through.”
La Grange operated the food stand until 2005, when 4-H took it over.
La Grange also sponsored a Farmer for a Day program. “The idea behind it was to involve people from the city and understand farm life a little more,” Les Widder said.
Grange members could invite people to the event, held at a farm in the county. There would be farm tours, a speaker and a chicken barbecue.
“We usually had no trouble getting people to come because the chicken barbecue was a nice temptation,” noted Don Fenton.
One year the Grange brought in Harry Caton from Coshocton as a speaker for the Farmer for a Day event. He was secretary of the National Grange for 35 years.
“He knew five presidents by first name because the Grange was very powerful at one time,” Les Widder said.
The Widder family remains active in the organization. Les is a chaplain at the Ohio State Grange and his sister Brenda is a state singer.
By the end of the 20th century, membership of the Grange began to decline as people found other activities to occupy their time. In 2003, there were eight Grange organizations in Tuscarawas County. Brandywine Grange, located on the old National Road 39 between Dover and Sugarcreek, was the largest, with 74 members.
Today there are only two active organizations in the county, Winfield Grange and Fairfield Grange.
Some rooms in the Grange have found other uses. Jefferson Grange in Stone Creek is now the community center for Tunnel Hill, where dinner parties and square dancing are regularly held. Brandywine Grange is the new headquarters for the Tuscarawas County Parks Department.
Jon Baker is a reporter for The Times-Reporter and can be reached at [email protected]