Saturday, July 31, 2021
The History Of Our Grange

Note:  The following piece was written by Marion Beecher for the 100th Anniversary Celebration of Winchester Grange, held June 5, 1988, at the Gilbert School in Winsted, CT. 

An Informal History of Winchester Grange #74
on the occasion of the 100th Anniversary

June 5, 1988

The history of any organization can be interesting, or very dull.  It can be long, or it can be brief.  If we were to cover the one hundred years of Winchester Grange in detail, it would be very long, and undoubtedly very dull, before it was finished.  However, I will attempt to make this interesting, and not very long… and do hope that you will enjoy this informal history of Winchester Grange.

One hundred years ago, on January 2, 1888, on a cold and blowy evening, twenty men and eleven women met in the living room of the Tunxis Goodenough home in Winchester - now the home (for many years) of John Houlihan and his family.  We've heard the tales of little Francis Goodenough  and little Corny Johnson hanging over the railing at the top of the stairs, listening to what was going on in the living room… feeling they were much too old to be playing with the "little children" in the bedroom.  With the folks in the living room were the more experienced Grange members from Hope Grange No. 20 in West Torrington - Brothers Whiting, Wetmore, and Kimberly, Sister Kimberly, and State Deputy A.F. Miner.

All the charter members were instructed in the four degrees and officers were elected that evening, with Tunis Goodenough the first Master.  The following month he was elected Master of the newly organized Mountain County Pomona Grange also.

From the beginning the organization was a sturdy, healthy group.  Reading the list of names shows that many of the families that organized Winchester Grange have maintained an interest in it through the years, forming a continuing bond of concern in the strength of Winchester Grange.  Hanging in the hall at all times, except for today when it is in with the memorabilia items, is a plaque listing the Charter Members, lettered a number of years ago by Past Master Karl Kandler.

The minutes of the third meeting read thus:  "The third meeting of Winchester Grange #74 was not held.  The blizzard of the 12th of March putting an effectual blockade in the highways and byways of this community."

Throughout the years Winchester Grange has continued to grow steadily - not spectacularly, but steadily.  There have been good years and bad years - years with many losses and years with many gains.  Primary interest at all times has been to the community which it serves, with a broadening concern for the Pomona, the State, and the National Granges.  Many members of Winchester Grange have served in offices on all levels of Grange work, and at the present time the Master of the Connecticut State Grange, Ellsworth M. Beecher, continues to serve his own Grange as well.

The first meetings of Winchester Grange were in a hall over the store owned by the Bronson Brothers - now the Lamp Museum, owned by George Sherwood.  This was rented for the magnificent sum of fifty cents a month!  In 1894, learning that the building known as Hurlbut's Store was for sale, a committee was formed to investigate and decide on whether or not to buy.  The decision was made and Winchester Grange had its own home - the price was $600.00.  The old Hurlbut Store became the Grange Hall - the scene of many events for many years in Winchester Center - plays, dinners, auctions, dances, card parties, and lots of fun for many young people growing up in the Center.  Wedding receptions were held there, minstrels performed, and the famous plays, presented by the Winchester Players drew people from miles around to Winchester Grange Hall.

And in 1951 the dear old Grange Hall burned to the ground, closing one chapter in the history of our Grange, but opening another, as members, both brothers and sisters, gathered their time, their strength, and their talents, and under the direction of Sherwood Berger, and the Building Committee, rebuilt the hall.  It burned on June 21, 1951, and the new hall was dedicated and ready for use on June 25, 1952 - at which time a dedication ceremony was held, with a wonderful program and service to bind this new Grange Hall into the community - much as the old hall had served.

None of us will forget the years that followed immediately after the rebuilding of the hall, as well worked to pay off the mortgage on the beautiful new building - but pay it off we did, in a comparatively short time.  We paid it off with "blood, sweat, and tears" and by serving FOOD in so many ways!  Receptions, dinners, auctions, food sales, antique shows, fairs - you name it and we did it!  And we burned the mortgage with much fanfare!

Perhaps it is fortunate that a group must work in order to maintain a building, as well as to pay off the mortgage.  If you have nothing for which to work… then why work?  With the building that we have, the upkeep which it demands, and the pride which we have in the building, the members of Winchester Grange continue to work in many ways to keep our treasury healthy.  Recent renovations have been the installation of new lights throughout the building, and new fans in the upper hall to be installed in the next few weeks.  It is a never-ending "project."

We have had many things of which we could be proud in our Grange, but probably one of the things of which we are the proudest is our excellent Junior Grange - Winchester Junior Grange No. 32 - a strong and active group of young people who celebrated the 50th Anniversary of our Junior Grange this past April.  Grandchildren and great grandchildren of those first organizers of Winchester Grange are among the present members and we are happy to say that most of the chidden become members of the Subordinate Grange when they leave the Junior Grange.  It is "expected!"  Many of our Junior officers have gone on to become officers in the Subordinate Grange - they serve our organization well.

For several years during the 1940s, a major 3-day Fair was an event of the summer, but this was finally consolidated into a one-day Fair, when after two years of rainy weather, the third year found a real hurricane barreling into Winchester Center, blowing down the tents, upsetting the animals, and generally creating havoc.  Since that time, the second Saturday in August is the Grange Fair and Flea Market in Winchester Center, and this has served us well, without as many heartaches and headaches as the 3-Day Fair brought.

The well-known Winchester Strawberry Festival was taken over by the Grange a few years ago, and continues to be held on Father's Day, the third Sunday in June.  The slogan is "Take Dad to Winchester for Strawberry Shortcake," and many do just that, enjoying the delicious berry dessert, as well as the beautiful laurel that lines the roads to Winchester Center.  Two years ago a series of Third Sunday Dinners was started and continue to be held successfully from September through April.  Many hands help regularly in many ways to make these events successful.

Since its organization in 1948, the Winchester Volunteer Fire Department has been housed in a section of the Grange Hall and a very good relationship is enjoyed by the two organizations.

For a number of years a monthly newsletter was sent to all the members of the Grange, but with the increasing membership, the cost of postage, and the time consumed in the project, the monthly letter was discontinued.  However a "big" letter is mailed out about three times a year to all families, to let them know what has gone on, what is going on, and what will be going on in their Grange.  A "mini" letter is distributed at every Grange meeting to all those attending, and this has become a valuable part of our Grange life, letting members know what has happened between meetings, what plans are being made, member show might be sick, or celebrating some special event.  We feel this communication is a very good part of our life in Winchester Center.

Times does not permit telling about the many things which the members of Winchester Grange have done over the years - some of great importance and some of importance only to ourselves.  Nor would it be interesting to read - except for those members!  Suffice it to say that our Grange life is interesting, it is fun, it is rewarding, it is gratifying, sometimes it is frustrating - but it is a way of life.

The members of Winchester Grange - that is the important part of the organization - of any organization - those members are the ones who have built this Grange, who have maintained this Grange, and who will continue to love it and to cherish it, and to keep it - the brothers and sisters who have been members for many years, and those who have joined more recently.  Today we pay tribute to the members - those who organized our Grange one hundred years ago - those who have worked so hard through the years, in good times and bad - and those who will continue to work for Winchester Grange, as we join the other Granges in Connecticut who are now in their second century of existence.

In 1898 Mrs. S.A. Wetmore wrote an essay on Winchester Grange, and she ended it by saying "Long live Winchester Grange #74!"  To that we say, "Amen."

-- Marion Beecher, Secretary


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