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Around The Grange
Vermont Grange coming back to life

By Alvin Reiner, Press Republican, Essex, Vermont (5/25/10)

  MAY 30, 2010 --

Edward "Ted" Cornell says the volunteers working to renovate the Whallonsburg Grange in Essex, Vermont, are "keeping the spirit alive."

Organized through a group calling itself the Friends of the Whallonsburg Grange Hall, the renovations is once again making the site a center of activity for the hamlet of Whallonsburg and the township of Essex.

"We want to recreate the lyceum atmosphere, which will have evenings such as historical lectures and debates," Cornell said.


One of the primary goals was to remove the false ceiling, which would allow the balcony to be exposed and bring the hall back to its previous dimensions.

An auxiliary heating system was installed to keep the pipes from freezing or being drained, without having to heat the entire hall during the winter.


The work list includes finishing the main hall, laying linoleum, creating an office and installing a septic system and well. Previously, the hall received roof water that was diverted into a cistern, which would not be acceptable by today's health standards.

A community kitchen will eventually be refurbished.


So far, more than $60,000 has been raised, with Cornell estimating an equal amount in volunteer labor. Contractors have made contributions of materials and, in many cases, have charged less than the going rate.

"We want an A-1 structure, and the best of contractors have lent their skills," Cornell said.

The Town of Essex has also been helpful, he said, especially in providing trucks to haul away debris.

"The most exciting thing to me is that we have received only a few small grants and that most of the funding has been from local people with different-sized gifts. It's mainly people just working to see this happen."

Cornell hopes these efforts will "create a place for the greatest number of people for the least amount of money."


Whallonsburg Grange transferred ownership of the property to Essex for $1, with the provision that the town continue the Grange's mission of providing entertainment and education for the community.

Essex, in turn, asked the Whallonsburg Civic Association to become the overseer.

Rita Fitzgerald got the ball rolling on renovations in 1999 because she wanted to do something for the hamlet. She talked to Harold McDougal at the old fire house and got a group going. Articles of incorporation were drawn up in 2000.

Steps are under way to place the structure on the National Register of Historic Places.

The Grange hall has been used recently by several groups, including Champlain Valley Film Society and Boquet River Theater. Monthly square dances have been held there.


"Ted convinced me that this is a worthwhile project," Mary-Nell Bockman of Whallonsburg said as she cut lumber to make an office space.

"We're all hoping that over the course of the next year people will be using it virtually every night. It's so hard to look at this place now and think of what a big difference it will make to the town."

Andy Buchanan offers his services because he thinks the idea of having a community space is appealing.

"It's something the community is doing for itself. It generates a sense of community with our collaborative labor, which makes us more than just a collection of houses."

Norma Goff first came to the Grange hall more than a half century ago. While applying a coat of paint with a roller, she commented, "My parents belonged to this Grange. We had a Junior Grange, square dances, card games, parties and shuffleboard here. I am so glad it is being repaired and being used."


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