The Grange was the social center of the town
WILTON – In 1900, the best – and sometimes the only – show in town was The Grange. In addition to providing social contacts for a scattered and mostly rural population, the Grange presented guest speakers with the latest in agricultural news and methods, concerts by both local and traveling groups, plays, and lively political debates. There were also box socials, dances, suppers, and picnics.
At a recent meeting of the Wilton Historical Society, member Marcia Potter presented her research into Wilton’s Advance Grange No. 20, which was formed in 1874, and also much information about the National Grange in general.
Founded in 1867, and officially known as The Patrons of Husbandry, their stated goal was to improve the economic and social situation of U.S. farmers. After the panic of 1873, the Grange became a political power, lobbying for free trade, better education, railroad regulation and homestead protection. They were instrumental in establishing Rural Free Delivery by 1901, and rural electrification after World War II.
The Grange was in advance of its time in that women were considered equals and able to hold any office, and four places were reserved for women.
Advance Grange was instituted on Feb. 20, 1894 with 30 charter members. They met at the town house in Wilton Center, now the home of Andy’s Summer Playhouse. In 1924, the building was called “Citizens’ Hall” and was wired for electricity in 1925. The building was sold to the Lions Club in 1932 “to be used forever by the public.”
According to “Historical Sketches of Wilton, N.H. 1739-1939,” there were 249 members in 1939, and membership had expanded beyond farmers to include mill workers, business men and office employees. The aim was to “encourage peace and friendship among the Wilton hills.”
At the time the Grange was formed, there was a farmers’ club which petitioned to become a subordinate body of the national organization.
In the Grange hierarchy, the local unit, which consisted of four degrees, was called a “subordinate Grange.” The county level, called Pomona Grange, was the fifth degree. To join state or national levels, required taking two more degrees. Hillsboro County Pomona Grange No. 1, the first in the state, was formed in 1883 in Milford.
There were, briefly during the 1930s, two other Granges in town called Wilton and Laurel Granges.
After 116 years, Advance Grange disbanded in 1990 for lack of members. The remaining members united with Brookline Grange.
Like many local organizations, the Grange was replaced by other interests, other entertainment opportunities, and a decline in agriculture. Those units remaining have evolved into social service organizations.
The Grange still exists at the state and national levels with a presence in Washington to promote agricultural interests.