By Mike Walker
Towards the end of last year, I spent a couple of evenings sifting through records of the Charlotte Grange, pulling together photographs to map out how the Grange Hall has changed over the years and adapted to new uses. My reason was to inform an application for a grant for restoration work, but it soon became clear that this was an interesting and worthy exercise on its own.
My first surprise was how little the building has changed in its external appearance over the years. What we see now is remarkably similar to how the hall looked when it was built in 1870. There have been a couple of changes to the original entrance—it had a platform in front, presumably to accommodate horse riders, which was removed in the 1920s. One hundred and twenty years later a new platform and ramp was built for wheelchair users. The only other major external change was the addition of a fire escape. Minimal change, given its 150-year history.
The Grange as an organization has seen a greater ebb and flow. From 1908 to 1958 it had no permanent home, using four different locations in town for meetings. However this didn’t impact on its popularity and in the 1930s and 40s it boasted almost 200 members–one in five of the town’s residents! Since then, there has been a steady decline in membership, but we’re now experiencing a quiet resurgence as interested townsfolk come together to foster a spirit of cooperation and maintain a hub of community activity.
I was also struck by the role the organization played in community service. Whilst traditional social events such as card parties and bingo nights peppered the Grange’s calendar, annual “community service” reports record a wide array of activities including donating to organizations across the whole of Chittenden county. Pride in our little town was also a driving factor, and between 1989 and 1992 Grange Members made and installed the blue “Welcome to Charlotte” signs on all the roads entering the Town. Tree planting was also carried out, on the Grange’s own property and in locations across town. And in 1987 members bought and installed a picnic table at the rest area on Route 7 in hope that “our local residents and many travelers will stop to enjoy the beautiful view of the mountains.” It was further noted in a later report that in 1992 mowing and maintenance of this rest area “was taken over by Grange members due to a cut in funding by the State.”
The Grange is funded by donations from its members and interested townsfolk, and our work to preserve the Grange Hall has been supported by Preservation Trust of Vermont and the Department of Historic Preservation. Vermont is the only New England State that does not automatically exempt Granges from paying property taxes, and so every few years the Town asks voters whether they wish to exempt the Grange. This time has come again, and we respectfully request that voters support the preservation of this historic Hall by voting to exempt the Grange from property taxes for another five years.