The history of the Norwich Grange begins with its chartering in 1905 as the 335th grange in the state. It was the second in Norwich, the first one being Rescue Grange #122, which was organized in 1874 but ceased activity in the mid-1890s.

The 28 charter members of the second Norwich grange took the name “University Grange” and began meeting in February 1905 in Union Hall, now the upstairs storage space at Dan & Whit’s. The purpose of the Grange is to pursue the mission of “legislation, education, inspiration and community service for the betterment of mankind.” The Grange became and is today a democratic playing field for grassroots initiatives, with ideas passed from the subordinate or local grange, such as the University Grange, to the Pomonoa county or regional grange, to the state and finally to the national organization.

The national Grange’s support of temperance and women’s suffrage, in addition to farm issues, was reinforced in Norwich, where a 1906 Grange speaker focused on members’ duty to engage actively in political issues. Grange meetings entertained serious discussions on such topics as the value to farmers of taking in “city boarders” (1910) or whether “success on the farm is due to location, the farm, or the farmer?” (1929). Locally the Grange was central to the social life of the town, sponsoring both the 4th of July celebration and the annual town fair on Labor Day when elaborate events engaged hundreds of residents. Grange women met frequently to plan such events and to enjoy food, literary readings (often original works by members!) and discussions about such household matters as good nutrition, shrewd clothing purchases and the proper administration of medicine. During World War 1, the Norwich Grange women regularly gathered at the Red Cross workroom to make surgical bandages. One month in 1917, 86 Norwich women made 18,000 bandages.

In 2002 Norwich’s University Grange #335 and Hartford’s Cascadnac Grange #507 joined to form the Upper Valley Community Grange #581. Throughout the years the Grange has offered its hall for meetings, church services, and family birthday parties, has welcomed senior citizens for holiday dinners, opened its doors on Halloween for a haunted house and participated in the Christmas Pageant. Its frequent pancake breakfasts and bake sales brought the community together and permitted the Grange to give dictionaries to school children in Norwich and Hartford and make contributions to a host of worthy local organizations. Since Covid, the building has been closed and the Grange has been challenged to preserve and maintain the building. It is the goal of the Norwich Community Collaborative to preserve and re-open the building, providing a collaborative community meeting space for all, including the Grange.

Watch

Historic New England and the Vermont Folklife Center give Vermont’s agricultural heritage a starring role in this documentary film. “Rooted: Cultivating Community in the Vermont Grange” explores how this national farmers’ organization has worked to strengthen and preserve rural communities since 1867.