GREENE – For years, repairs and upgrades to Androscoggin Grange No. 8 have been postponed due to lack of money.
Members settled for small fixes to help the historic community center get by a little longer. A window replacement here, a raccoon eviction there.
But at a meeting with their insurer last year, members learned they couldn’t put off the most crucial and expensive renovations any longer.
The building is in desperate need of structural repairs, including an overhaul of its outdated wiring and a new roof. La Grange risks losing its insurance if these are not resolved, leaving the organization unable to hold events.
“It’s the saddest thing,” Grange Master Patricia Lehoux said. “If the building is not habitable, we will have to close.”
Their fate is far from unique. Over the past two years, Barns across the state has been forced to cancel events due to COVID-19 restrictions, losing much-needed money and accelerating the decline of aging organizations.
Each local Grange has a different role in the community, but they all share the same challenge of maintaining a hall, said Walter Boomsma, director of communications for Maine State Grange and member of Valley Grange No. 144 in Guilford. This has become increasingly difficult and expensive as buildings age.
But even as some Granges close their doors for good, others have adapted and continue to forge stronger ties within their community.
“If a Grange is relevant and meaningful in the community, people will support it,” Boomsma said.
Boosted by a few new members, the Grange hosted a variety show, haunted house and trunk or treat to great success last year. They aim to build on that momentum, already planning another variety show and pancake breakfast for the return of Greene Village Day in September.
“If we could do repairs here, we could do more in these rooms,” Lehoux said.
The three-story building includes a kitchen and dining room on the first floor, a meeting room and a hall with a stage on the second, and a warehouse on the third.
Not only does the Grange host events in the venue, but local bands also rent out the space during the warmer months.
The list of renovations is long. Almost all the windows, many of which date from the 1894 construction, need to be upgraded, holes in the structure repaired and the walls, interior and exterior, painted. The main entrance is also crooked and needs to be repaired.
“Some of the windows are just sitting there near a wing and a prayer,” Lehoux said.
And yet, despite the dismal state of the building, there is beauty and history around every corner. From the collectible crockery displayed on the walls in the dining room, to the century-old water pump in the kitchen, the banister on the stairs, and the decades-old photos of plays and historical re-enactments.
But most impressive is the painted canvas curtain on the second floor, a mainstay of the building for so long even Lehoux, a member of the organization for more than 50 years, doesn’t know who created it or when.
“As long as we continue to improve, (our insurer) will try to work with us through this,” Lehoux said.
Julia Coady is a member of the newly formed restoration committee tasked with bringing Androscoggin Grange No. 8 up to code. She created a GoFundMe page for the Barn earlier this month in a bid to start raising money online.
She has set an ambitious fundraising goal of $100,000, almost certainly more than the small community of 4,300 can raise on its own. They plan to reach beyond city residents and apply for grants to help meet the needs of the building.
By Friday, they had raised $270.
The group is also happy to receive donations of building materials or labor assistance.
Coady is one of many new, younger members looking to continue the organization’s longstanding legacy. it was the eighth Barn to be formed from hundreds in Maine.
After moving to Greene in 2015, she joined a number of local groups, including Conservation Committees and Greene Village Day, seeking to strengthen community bonds.
“I would love to see my kids enjoy this building one day,” Coady said.
Barbara Bailey and other members of Victor Grange in Fairfield managed to not only repair, but adapt their building to meet the changing needs of the community.
They’ve raised tens of thousands of dollars for their venue over the years, adding insulation and parking. The effort has allowed the group to host programs, even during the winter
She stressed the importance of telling the community not only what the organization needs, but why.
Members should be more vocal about their service to the community and their needs, she said. When Victor Grange asked the community to help him plow this winter, residents stepped up and offered to take turns doing it for free.
“Don’t be so quiet,” she said. “There’s nothing you do in these hallways that you should be ashamed of, so it’s okay, say what it is, say what you do, say what you think, and people jump inside… They love supporting the Barn Hall.”
Distributing quarterly newsletters with information and generously renting the hall to other community organizations has been key to their success, Bailey said. When they appealed for help plowing, the local Alcoholics Anonymous group, which rents the hall for $30 per meeting, gave them $1,000 to help with winter expenses.
Bailey also advised community organizations to break their renovation list into manageable stages, tackling one part of the building’s needs at a time.
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