Yorktown Grange - 862

A History of the Yorktown Grange

 In December 1898, Worthy Deputy A.E. Hall of Amenia, New York, conferred with a number of representative farmers in the area regarding the advisability of organizing a Grange at Yorktown Heights.  As a result, Yorktown Grange #862 was organized at a meeting on December 30, 1898, with 17 members.  At the January 12, 1899 meeting seven more members were received an officers elected as follows: Master, George J. Griffin; Overseer, James N. Strang; Steward, John A. Barnes; Assistant Steward, Lewis W. Mead; Chaplain, Wright A. Moseman; Treasure, E. Munson Frost; Gatekeeper, Samuel B. White; Ceres, Mrs. Floyd Q. White; Pomona, Miss Alice M. Griffin; Flora, miss Carrie Moseman; Lady Assistant Steward, Mrs. John A. Barnes.
In addition to these officers, the following are listed as charter members: Minnie U. Griffin, Floyd Q. White, James E. Rice, Alfred Curry, Henry Strang, Albert Lee, Oscar Bennett, Henry G. Kear, William E. Vail, Charles W. Flewwellin, Philander Moseman, and Elmer E. Reynolds.
Evidently, the new organization proved popular as new applicants were received at nearly every meeting during that first year.  Arrangements were made to meet in Tompkins Hall at one dollar per meeting.  Badges and Grange Melodies were ordered and later the ladies made court robes.  A picnic was held in July with about 100 present.
By November 1899, Yorktown Grange was already entertaining visitors from Putnam Valley Grange, who addressed the meeting and, of course, refreshments were served.  To quote from the minutes, “All went home with the feeling that it is a good thing to be a member of the Grange.”  In December, delegates were elected to attend State Grange the following February.
Two important and worthwhile projects were inaugurated during those early years.  In 1900, in conjuction with Mahopac and Putnam Valley Granges, the Westchester and Putnam Fire Relief Association was formed and directors chosen.  Within about six months, a fire loss nearly caused disaster to the new company, but it carried on with revised by-laws limiting the amount of risk, and later joined the state organization.  This was the forerunner of our present Grange Insurance Company.
The second big project was cooperative buying and selling, which was started in 1903 and flourished until about 1923 or later.  Feed, seed, fertilizer, etc., were bought in carload lots at great savings and then distributed among members.  To give you an idea of the size and importance of this project at its height, in a single year, 1914, 16 cars of feed, one of lime, and one of coal were purchased.  Over a ten-year period, total purchasing amounted to over $125,000.00, effecting savings of from 10% to 20%.  As farming declined in this area, purchases declined and were finally abandoned in 1924.
During all this period the Grange flourished, meetings were held regularly and interesting programs presented.  A particularly popular form of program seemed to be the debate, with three members on each team and judges to decide the merits of the case.  The topics were of timely interest or sometimes, humorous subjects.  There seemed to be no lack of musical talent among the members in those days.  Social events, such as Brother’s night, suppers, clambakes, etc., were often held.  I was much interested in reading of the cost of an oyster supper: five gallons of oysters at 60 cents a gallon, which makes $3.00, ice 10 cents, and freight 25 cents.
The year 1920 stands out as noteworthy, first because after due consideration by a committee, the building just across the railroad tracks was purchased from Theodore Purdy for a Grange Hall for $2,400.00.  After cleaning and fixing up, the first meeting was held there on April 1, 1920.  This led to a second event, which was to have far reaching consequences in the grange, namely, the first Grange Fair, on October 9, 1920.  I am told by Gertrude Hyatt that her father first suggested holding the fair as he wanted to show off his fine potatoes and see whether other Grangers could match them.  Those first displays included vegetables, canned goods, baked goods and flowers, all of which were auctioned off after being judged.  Upstairs in the hall were several side shows, with Sister Hyatt as a fortuneteller.  But the big hit of the evening was the bullfight, complete with matador and bull. Proceeds were $189.50.
Having pour own hall necessitated the purchase of numerous items, such as a stove, piano, flag, and chairs.  Also, we had assumed a $1,000.00 mortgage, so fund raising was a necessity.  An active Dramatic Club was formed, and over a period of several years presented the following plays: “The Real Thing”, “Bashful Mr. Bobbs”, “Nothing But the Truth”, and “A Full House”.  As each play was presented more than once, we were soon able to accumulate money to pay off the mortgage and held a “Mortgage Burning”.
In August 1924, we entertained the Michigan Grange Tour.  Arrangements were made for their 20 cars to be parked at Mohansic Park where they camped, and the Michigan Grangers visited New York City by bus.
The thirties find our Grange sponsoring a Boy Scout Troop, organizing a Juvenile Grange, and contributing to the Revolving Scholarship Fund.  Annual picnics continued and always the annual Fall Fair, at which time a supper was usually served in the down stairs room, while the fruit, vegetables, and flower displays were upstairs.  The dramatic Club was still operating and presented “Here Comes Charlie” as well as several other one act plays, the Juvenile Grange often met with the Subordinate Grange on special occasions, such as picnics and Christmas parties, which on one occasion featured an outdoor lighted tree and community singing.  The juvenile Grange finally became inactive in 1947.
The popularity of the fair became so great that at the last fair held in the hall, the crowds upstairs were so enormous that fears were expressed as to the safety of the building.  There after, starting in 1946, the fair was moved to the Yorktown School.  Where the first year we used one half the gymnasium.  Next year all of it, then finally started putting tents up outside, sold space to commercial exhibitors, introduced livestock exhibits, gave a big prize raffle, had a merry-go-round and other rides for the children and ran the fair for two days, later three and finally four.  But by then we had outgrown the school and grounds and had to look elsewhere.  I will discuss that problem a little later.
In addition to the fair we carried on all the usual activities; held Booster Night, Brother’s Night, Amateur Night, Memorial Program, participated in Traveling Gavel, Friendship Chain, or what ever the neighbor night meetings were called at the time.  We have held the yearly cooking and dress making contests, held programs on gardening and allied topics, also safety, fire prevention and atomic energy.  We always have reports on current legislation.  We send delegates to State Grange, lecture conferences and others.  We have the Grange Monthly sent to every Grange family.  We have contributed generously to many funds, such as National Grange Building Fund, James Rice Memorial Library at Cornell, Red Cross, March of Dimes, Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts, Shrub Oak Methodist Church, annual prize for the Yorktown School and many others.  I wish it were possible to have a total of it all, for I know it would run into hundreds and, I believe, into thousands of dollars.  I tallied up just one year, namely 1950, when contributions amounted $170.00.  Most of this giving, nowadays, is done through the Service and Hospitality Committee, whose members have their own booth at the fair and raise funds that way.
Over the years, the hall has had much use by the community.  It has been occupied by the Branch Library, used for orchestra practice, Home Bureau meetings, and for suppers by various groups.  There are many records, too, of loans of our coffee urns, chairs, silver, and dishes when needed.  In 1948, as a community project, we made a parking strip along Saw Mill River Road, adjoining Horton’s Lumber Yard.  Later on, we entered the fair as our community service project and in 1951 were awarded a $50 bond as a State prize. In 1953 we won two $25 bonds ans a plaque for third place in the State.
Eventually the time came when the hall must be repaired and renovated, so as to comply with the modern building code.  The upstairs meeting room had no fire escape of any kind.  In 1952, fair directors were named and their recommendation was that we purchase acreage sufficiently large for a fair ground.  After serious study and discussion, both at meetings and in committee, it was eventually concluded to sell the hall, buy land and build a new hall.  Twelve acres were purchased from Brother Cash and plans for the new building were drawn by Brother Orthman.  A Quonset Hut was purchased for storage purposes and in January 1954, the ok hall that had served so long and faithfully, and had seen so many good times, was vacated and turned over to its new owners.  While the new hall was under construction, we met temporally in the Yorktown Methodist Parish Hall.
The first meeting was held in the new building in September 1954 and the fair was held on the grounds that September, too.  Three days of heavy rain made the new grounds knee deep in mud, and the fair a financial failure; not exactly an auspicious beginning.  However, we were soon buoyed up b the news that our last years fair, having been entered again as our community service project, had placed first in the State, for which we won a plaque and $200.00 and also placed us in the top 11 in the nation.  Shortly thereafter, we entertained the national judges, with high hopes that we would be placed at or near the top but we were not.  Nevertheless, our prize money was $500.00 and a plaque.  We surely had need of the money to finance our big investment in the new hall and grounds.  To offset this, we had the proceeds from the sale of the old building and also two lots we owned on Commerce Street.  These had been bought a few years before as a possible site for a new hall, but were later rejected as being too small for our purposes.  For several years, too, we had been accumulating a building found from fair profits.  In addition, $25 bonds bearing 3% interest were sold to members and neighboring Grangers, as well as a mortgage being placed upon the property.
Now that the fair and grounds were such a big proposition to handle, it was decided to form a Fair Association.  By-laws were drawn up in December 1954 and the first annual meeting was held on February 24, 1955.  Thus the fair business and planning could be done outside of Grange meetings.  The size and scope of the fair was such that it took months of careful planing  ahead, as well as intensive hard work at fair time.  Many booths and concessions were let to other organizations, with the Grange receiving part of the profits.  There is still much work to be done to improve the grounds.  The fairs held more recently have encountered better weather, and have been successful financially, though we never make huge amounts since our expenses are high.
In March, 1955 we were invited to conduct a forum at Farm and Home Week at Cornell on the topic, “How to Conduct a County Fair”.  Six members attended and participated.
Here we now have a Grange history repeating itself: a new hall and mortgage, with interest to be paid on it as well as on the bonds we sold.  The hall brought in some income, as it was rented regularly to Sister Dixon for her dancing classes.  It was also rented for a few months by the Lutheran Church for Sunday morning services.  Fund raising was carried on with different members exercising their respective talents.  A supper and open house was held first at the home of Brother and Sister Hill, another at the Odell home, and a Monte Carlo Night at the Williams’ home.  Other members sold candy, cards and jewelry, and a rummage sale was held.  Each year, too, the fair won us $40 or $50 in bonds and a bar for plaques.   In all we have won three State plaques (besides the National plaque) with four bars attached.  In a period of four years we were able to retire $2000.00 worth if the bonds that had been sold. 
On the grounds we have a blacksmith shop moved from Armonk in 1956.  This is in keeping with the old time rural atmosphere of the fair, and enables today’s children to have a glimpse of yesteryear.
Annual Christmas parties have been held for children of members.  We know sponsor a Cub Pack and also a Boy Scout troop, both of which meet in the hall.
The Service and Hospitality Committee keeps very busy.  Last year it received a Certificate of Merit and bkue ribbon for having the most entries in the State Sewing Contest, and one of these contestants, Ellen Cornish, placed fifth in the State, thereby receiving a blue ribbon and check.  Sister Ochs, chairman, also received a blue ribbon and citation.  So it will be seen that the Grange is active in many fields of community endeavor besides the fair.  Of all these accomplishments, high tribute should be paid to the many Brothers and Sisters who have labored so faithfully over the years for the good of the order.
Among our members we have numbered persons of more than local prominence.  James R. Rice, a charter member, was Professor of Animal Husbandry at Cornell University for many years, and a Memorial Library there was named for him.  Another member, John J. Dillon, was editor of the Rural New Yorker.  Brother Enos Lee was an organizer of the County Farm Bureau, and President of the New York State Farm Bureau and a national director, to mention a few.  From the Yorktown membership have come three district deputies, two juvenile deputies, two Pomona masters, a number of other Pomona officers, and at least one State officer.  Yorktown Grange should be proud of the record of the last 60 years and should continue to be a vital force in this community in the future.

The material for this history has been gleaned from the old Minute books and old newspaper clippings, from talking with members, and from my own memory.  Of necessity much has been omitted.  I am indebted to my late father-in-law, Brother Anson Lee, for having preserved so many of the old clippings.  Among these was a very comprehensive account of the 30th Anniversary Celebration.  I should like to close this historical account by quoting from a talk given by Brother Albert Lee, a charted member, at that celebration.  These remarks, made 30 years ago, are also peculiarly appropriate to the present time.
 He said, “In looking backward, I am impressed with the many changes that have taken place in our community.  The Harvest and Gleaner are rapidly disappearing from our beautiful hills and valleys.  Our territory is changing very fast from a farming district to one of residents, summer homes, parks, parkways and development schemes of various kinds, and brings with it conditions far different for us to face, from other associations, such as ours.  These problems must be met if we would keep abreast of the times.”
So Brothers and Sisters, let us carry on our tradition of 60 years, but let us be ever ready to meet the problems of today, and challenge of tomorrow.  Thus will the future of Yorktown Grange be as bright as it’s past.