With agrarian roots dating back to the days of its first settlers, Greene County communities have seen farming play a huge role in the local economy. Soon after the national grange movement began in 1867, numerous granges popped up in Greene County like mushrooms after a rain.
While Greene County’s grange legacy included many throughout history, today there are only three remaining. Here’s an in-depth look at the county’s granges, in East Franklin, Harveys Aleppo and Carmichaels.
Vicki Funk, president, said the East Franklin Grange dates back to November 30, 1916, when it received its charter. A one-room school house on Sugar Run Road served as the first hall, which has since been converted to a private home. The present hall, at 218 Smith Creek Road is 3 miles south of Waynesburg.
“A lot of people think you need to be in agriculture to be a member, but you really don’t,” said Funk, who’s been a member for 10 years. “We believe strongly in family and in giving back to the community.”
The East Franklin Grange took pride in its annual contribution of $500 to local organizations such as the Wounded Warriors, elder care facilities and volunteer fire companies. However, since a flood in 2017, the grange hasn’t had the resources to make the annual donation because it’s trying to repair the flood damages.
Currently, the grange donates its hall for use as an election site, as a meeting place for hunter safety classes and a monthly foster family care program. To raise funds, it makes and sells jams and jellies (elderberry, strawberry, peach, dark cherry, watermelon and triple berry) for $6 a pint. Grange members also make hot mustard, bread and butter pickles, which they sell at various festivals.
In October, members make apple butter in a 22-gallon kettle over an open fire. It’s sold in pints for $7.
“We buy or use donated apples, peel them, add spices and a little sugar, then start stirring from beginning to end over a 12 hour period,” Funk said. “If you don’t stir, the apple butter will scorch on the bottom.”
To order any of these foods, phone 724-627-1588.
During the Greene County Fair, the local granges set up a display and some members enter their produces for judging. Each year, the grange also organizes a group trip. Past excursions included Amish Country in Ohio, the Cass Scenic Railroad in West Virginia and a symphony performance at Trinity High School in Washington.
The grange currently has 23 members. Meetings are at 6 p.m. the second Thursday of each month, and the annual membership fee is $44, plus a one-time-only $5 application fee.
“We have fantastic members,” Funk said. “Each year, a committee of three picks our Granger of the Year, who we honor at one of our meetings.”
Mary Jane Kent, president of the Harveys Aleppo Grange, attended the grange with her parents and grandparents since the time she was a little girl. Now a lifetime member, she’s one of six generations to have been a grange member ever since her great-grandfather, Franklin Headley first joined the organization. Her granddaughter, Alexis Keller, is the latest to join.
Her grandfather, Elmer Dinsmore founded the Harveys Grange in March of 1910. Later renamed Graysville, the original name stood when the grange merged with the one in Aleppo.
“We have always been a farm advocacy group, but have lately focused on community organization,” Kent said. “We fight for legislation for any cause we believe in, not just for farmers. Ideas for legislation start at the local level and move upward to the state. From there, they move on to the national level. If the proposal is thought to have merit, our lobbyists then get to work on the issue.”
The grange has 30 members who meet monthly at 6 p.m., on the 4th Wednesday of each month. The grange is located at 106 Grange Road at the intersection of Roy Furman Highway.
Members donate the use of the hall to the boy scouts, senior organizations and for CPR and hunter-trapper safety classes. It’s also available for rent for weddings, meetings and reunions.
The grange participates in the Greene County Fair by putting up a joint display, and members also participate individually. The grange is also active in the Jacktown Fair, and one of its members is on the board of directors.
“Our grange has been awarded Distinguished Grange status six years in a row by the National Grange,” Kent said. “Last year, there were only four granges in the state to earn that honor.”
Each November the grange recognizes veterans with a special program, donates to a softball league and sponsors a meet the candidate night before elections.
“While we never endorse any particular candidate, we do encourage people to vote,” Kent said.
In Carmichaels, 50-year grange member Wilda Humbert remembers seeing the grange hall full of people when she first started.
“It was a thriving place, where people used to come, have fun and attend large dinners and square dances,” she said. “Now, everyone has grown up, moved away or got old.”
With 35 active members who meet at 7:30 p.m. the first Tuesday of each month, the grange features a speaker once every two months and also hosts candidates for a discussion before the elections. The grange hall is on Ceylon Road and Route 21,
“At the meetings, we usually have only eight or nine members,” said president William Hurbert. “While we are a community service organization, we don’t have enough members to do much. People just don’t seem to be interested in joining the grange. In fact, we sold our meeting hall to back Bay Catering, while retaining its use for us as a meeting space.”
Hurbert said the grange has sent out letters to residents inviting them to join but said it seems as if there are too many other things to do besides becoming a member.
“I think eventually, we’ll have to close,” Humbert said. “I hope not, but I assume that’s what will happen.”
The national grange organization continues its commitment to agriculture and rural issues, but it is also community service-oriented. One major issue is the effort to bring broadband service to rural communities so that Internet services are available to all citizens.
“After the Civil War, the U.S. government sent Oliver Kelley down South to see what farmers needed to get back on their feet,” said Wayne Campbell, president of the Pennsylvania State Grange. “One of the things he discovered is that they needed a unified voice and thought the granges would help give them that.”
Kelley’s niece, Caroline A. Hall, is credited with giving women a prominent voice in the grange organization and insisted that it be a pioneer in recognizing and providing equality to women.
According to the Pennsylvania State Grange website, the state’s first grange, Eagle Grange #1, was officially founded on March 4, 1871 near Williamsport, Lycoming County. The height of grange membership in the state came in 1922 when there were 96,000 members in 960 granges. Today there’s about 6,000 members in just under 200 granges.
For more information visit the Pennsylvania State Grange’s website at www.pagrange.org.