MEIGS COUNTY — On Dec. 4, the Grange (formally known as the Patrons of Husbandry) will celebrate its 150th year of existence. Oliver Hudson Kelley was assigned the job in 1867 to survey the South after its destruction from the Civil War. The President wanted to know how to restore farmers to production. Kelley’s answer was simple: The government can do nothing; the farmers must do it for themselves. He was so convinced of this that he quit his government job and along with six others founded the Grange.
The word “grange” was chosen for its chapters as this is the old English word for “farm.” The Grange’s first goal upon formation was to stop the unfair prices railroads were charging farmers to haul crops. Thus, Congress passed the “Granger Laws” of the 1870’s to do this.
In the first half century of the Grange, it was completely a “farmer’s only” organization. The 20th century brought technology to the farm causing a drastic drop in the number of farmers. The Grange adapted by ending its membership requirement to be a farmer and opened up to all reputable people age 14 or older.
Although the Grange is no longer a purely agricultural organization, it still has agricultural issues as an important part of its work since protecting our food source is important to this nation.
The Grange boasts that it is the oldest family fraternity in the U.S. Children have always been allowed to attend meetings with their parents until age 14 when they would then have to join. It allowed women full membership from its beginning unlike nearly all other fraternal organizations. Unlike most other fraternal orders, a Grange member may obtain all seven degrees of the order.
The Grange has the oldest provable ritual of any organization in the world with the incorporation of ritual from ancient Greece, which was Christianized. It is also the oldest agricultural organization in the U.S. Rural free delivery of U.S. mail was obtained due to Grange efforts.
Grange was responsible for the founding of 4-H through the Grange’s four-leaf clover clubs (although the 4-H disputes this) and Future Farmers of America. While several insurance companies have been formed by the Grange, the Ohio State Grange allowed the Grange Mutual Casualty Company to become independent in the 1960’s and is no longer connected.
Today, the Grange has a wide variety of programs. Each meeting has an educational program. Each grange has a legislative agent to report on legislative issues; however, the Grange is totally non-partisan. Community service is an important activity. It has a deaf education program. It has contests for talent, crafts, needlework, sewing, creative writing, woodworking, photography, art, etc.
As a fraternal order, it has formal membership induction ceremonies where hazing is forbidden. It has four degrees portraying the lessons of faith, hope, charity, and fidelity, as well as the four seasons of the year and four stages of life (infancy, youth, adulthood, and old age.) It is totally Christian based although some outside the organization have incorrectly tried to say that it involved worship of false gods due to the use of the three women’s offices named for the goddesses Ceres, Pomona, and Flora. The ritual clearly states that they are there only to represent womanhood — not godhood — and the crops of grain, fruit, and flowers. There is no worship of any false gods.
The Grange is involved in Voluntary Optometric Service to Humanity with the collection of eye glasses for recycling. It also is involved with recycling of prescription medicine bottles.
The Grange is a totally grassroots organization. Positions on legislative and organizational operations begin in the local granges and then go to state granges. If the issues are of national importance, these continue on to National Grange for action.
The Grange has four levels. Local granges are called subordinate granges (which have four ceremonies to induct members); county granges, which are called Pomona granges. Then there are state granges and lastly the National Grange, which is the highest level. Each level has a ceremony to obtain membership. Unlike many fraternal orders, every member may obtain all seven ceremonies called “degrees.” The Grange also has a youth organization called the Junior Grange. This is for children ages 5 through 14. It teaches leadership, service, and development of individual talents of the children. Currently, Star Junior Grange at Salem Center is active in Meigs County.
The National Grange owns an 11-story building only a block from the White House in Washington, D.C. It is the only privately owned property within that close proximity. Its national legislative people lobby Congress from there. The Grange’s positions are important to Congressmen since the Grange is non-partisan and provides a good look at what the general national population feels about legislative issues.
The first grange in Meigs County was Bedford Grange No. 268 formed in 1873. A county-level grange called a Pomona Grange was formed on August 20, 1877, as the Meigs County Pomona Grange No. 46., which is still active Although, it was originally thought to have one grange for every township, often more than one was formed in the early history. There was even a grange in the 1950’s in the village of Pomeroy known as the Pomeroy Bend Grange. There have been more local chapters formed for the Grange in Meigs County than any other fraternal organization past or present.
In the early 1900’s, the Grange had a Meigs County Grange fair, which was very successful. It was so successful that it nearly killed the current Meigs County Fair. Not wishing to cause the end of that fair, the Grange amalgamated its fair into the Meigs County Fair.
Today, three granges operate in Meigs County. Star Grange No. 778 is located at Salem Center; Hemlock Grange No. 2049 is located at Hemlock Grove; and Racine Grange No. 2606 is located near Racine at Oak Grove. All of these own their own building headquarters. This year, Racine Grange had a float in the Racine 4th of July parade to celebrate the Grange’s birthday. Currently, Sarah Caldwell and Sarah Cullums of Hemlock Grange are the ones with the longest membership, which is over 80 years each.
Meigs County has had three Ohio State Grange officers in its history. H. Earl Starkey of Carpenter holds the record of the longest-serving state officer in Ohio with 38 years as state gatekeeper. Freda Kennedy was Pomona. Milton Rufus Meritt was overseer (i.e. vice president). Patty and Opal Dyer of Star Grange have served more than two decades at the Ohio State Junior Grange directors. Patty Dyer is currently the sound director for the ritual of the National Grange.
The Grange has a male youth ambassador and female youth’ ambassador (formerly called the prince and princess) eontest, Racine Grange has the distinction of having the most winners in the Ohio State Grange contest since its inception over 60 years ago. They are Carson Yost, Hannah Yost, Olivia Yost, Rachel Ashley, Whitney Ashley, and Emily Ashley.
Keith Ashley of Rocksprings has the distinction of being the only Meigs County Granger to have won National Grange contests. He once won a national banner contest. Later, he won the National Grange talent competition twice — last year being the most recent. Olivia Yost was recently chosen as 2017 youth chaplain of the National Grange youth team.
The National Grange honored one Meigs County Grange family this year at Spokane, Washington. Any family with five generations to have belonged were honored. Clifford and Lena Holter, parents of June Ashley of Racine, were members of Racine Grange followed by June and her husband, Robert; her children, Clifford, Keith (with wife Emma), and Heidi; as well as Keith and Emma’s children, Rachel, Whitney, and Emily, and their grandchildren, Bryce, Crockett, and Gavin Dennis, and Ella and Joseph Ditty.
Annually, the Meigs County Pomona Grange has a banquet at the end of April. The local granges visit one another each year. For decades, the granges have designed display booths at the Meigs County Fair. There was once a Grange co-op store in Middleport.
For more information on the Grange or on membership, contact Opal Dyer of Star Grange at 742-2805; Kim Romine of Hemlock Grange at 992-7079, and Keith Ashley of Racine Grange at 992-7874.
Keith Ashley is a historian and long-time member of Racine Grange.