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Around The Grange
The Rise of Rutherford Grange (California)

By Mike Trelevin (Napa Valley Register 6/23/10)

  JUNE 24, 2010 --

For most of the early 20th century, the Rutherford Grange had been a thriving institution, anchoring the farm community around it.

But as the grange approached its 100th birthday in the 21st century, all was not well. Membership had shrunk to three. The organization and its Craftsman-style Highway 29 meeting hall seemed destined for oblivion.

That was in 2009.

Today, the Rutherford Grange is experiencing a radical turnabout. Of more than 3,000 granges in the U.S., it's the fastest growing, members say.

Members credit the re-introduction of Saturday morning pancake breakfasts last November as the catalyst for the turnabout. Sixty-eight people ate breakfast that fall morning. Ten signed up for membership.

More than 120 people are members today, not far behind the historical high of 165 members.

As part of the Rutherford Grange renaissance, members are renovating the down-at-the-heels meeting hall. "People have been waiting to do something with the building for some time. It's an old building with a lot of history," said Susan Hirschy, a preservationist.

Returning the hall to tip-top shape comes with a estimated price tag of nearly $200,000, said Davie Peña, a vintner and vineyard manager active in the revitalization effort.

Restoration is advancing as money becomes available. Work on the roof trusses should be completed in the next several weeks. The electrical work will be done when there is money to pay for it, members say.

"We have lot of people and tradesmen doing everything from electrical to architectural. And they are doing it all pro bono," Hirschy said.

The stucco facade, which dates from the 1960s, will be taken off, exposing wood shingles. "The redwood underneath is pristine. It looks like it was just milled yesterday," Hirschy said.

Chandeliers will eventually be re-installed in the ballroom to give the space an elegant look, members say.

The ultimate goal is to get the Rutherford Grange listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

The National Grange of the Order of Patrons of Husbandry, as the organization is formally known, is the oldest agricultural entity in America.

It was started after the Civil War as a fraternal organization to address the issues of farmers. In the early days, it advocated for rural mail delivery and fought railroad monopolies.

The Rutherford Grange dates from a time when America and the Napa Valley were more rural than they are today. The site on Highway 29 was purchased in 1916 for $10. Fundraisers were held to raise $2,800 to build the hall.

Today, the grange hall serves as the social heart of a more diverse town of Rutherford. The building is an inexpensive rental site for weddings and receptions. It hosts crab feeds, wine tastings and serves as a polling station on election day.

The grange is thinking about developing a Farm Trail pamphlet listing fruit stands throughout the county. "Maybe we could be a drop-off point for people wanting to donate their extra bounty of summer vegetables," Hirschy said.

"We are not trying to make a lot of money. This is a place where locals can get together," Peña said. "It is a jewel of a building. It is one of the few that has a ballroom, a full kitchen and dining hall. It's a real asset for Rutherford."

Grange membership costs $35 per year, or $70 for a family.



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