By Bob Audette, as seen in the Brattleboro Reformer: https://www.reformer.com/stories/grange-hall-to-reclaim-role-in-guilford-activities,559930
GUILFORD — In 2013, the Vermont Council on Rural Development visited Guilford to facilitate a community discussion. During that process, the renovation of the building belonging to the Broad Brook Grange was identified as a top priority.
“The Guilford Grange building is an irreplaceable community resource that can have a growing role as a community center and focal point for culture, youth activities and programs, entertainment and civic life,” stated the VCRD in its final report.
In response, a group of concerned citizens formed a nonprofit organization known as the Broad Brook Community Center, and in January 2018, the group purchased the building, which was built in 1896, from Broad Brook Grange No. 151.
“This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to save an invaluable community resource for the good of all our townspeople and the wider region,” said Grange Master Bobbie Haumann at the time of the sale. “We are proud to be part of this effort to save Guilford’s Grange Hall and expand its use for the long term.”
The board commissioned a study from Stevens & Associates to assess the building’s condition, reaching a conclusion it would cost about $1.2 million to renovate. In 2017, fundraising was begun and since then, BBCC has raised nearly $880,000. Recently, BBCC completed Phase One of the two-phase project. The second phase is scheduled to being in 2020.
Phase One of the project included an ADA-compliant ramp, exterior fire stairs from the auditorium on the second floor, new accessible bathrooms, and a first round of kitchen renovation. Phase Two will see the addition of an elevator to the second floor, plus further kitchen, heating, insulating, window, septic and wastewater improvements. Painting, floor sanding and other freshening up will also take place in Phase Two.
Anne Rider, a former member of the Select Board and a current Grange member, said the effort to revitalize the building’s role in the community is emblematic of the character of Guilford.
“This is just another example of the incredible volunteer spirit in this town,” she said.
“We have a tremendous amount of community support,” said Gail Nunziata, chairwoman of the BBCC fundraising committee. “The building is an important piece of Guilford’s history and of the town’s social structure. It’s been a fixture in Guilford for social and civic gatherings. We want to continue that tradition.”
“In the 1940s, most every courtship in the town started with a dance at the Grange,” said Verandah Porche, a member of the Guilford Select Board. “We want all our young people to have access to that same opportunity.”
At the same time, said Porche, the members of the Select Board and the BBCC are working on ways to integrate the renovated building into official town activities.
The building has been a gathering spot for Grange-sponsored activities such as brunches and the annual sugar-on-snow supper. It has also hosted town events such as pre-town meeting and elections and town-wide celebrations such as the town’s 250th anniversary New Year’s Eve Party. The Guilford Free Library has been using the building for group activities such as middle-school movies, school vacation week workshops, Halloween parties and summer camps.
Sara Coffey, chairwoman of the BBCC Board of Directors, said the board has had many productive discussions with the town’s Select Board.
“They are very enthusiastic about our plans,” she said. “They see it as a part of a network of community resources. Our hope is to have the building be used much more by the community. It is going to be as vibrant as our community wants it to be.”
Suggestions for future use include playgroups and parenting talks, history lectures, computer classes, gardening, food preservation and canning workshops and yoga. A USDA approved commercial-grade kitchen will open the BBCC to a number of activities that support local agriculture. Small farms and businesses could rent the space for processing, creating value-added products that increase farm viability. There will also be opportunities for casual gatherings such as open mic nights, game nights, movie nights and community potlucks.
Other town organizations have expressed an interest in using the facility. They include the Vermont Performance Lab, which will organize community dances and regular line dancing and social dancing classes. The Guilford Food Coalition wants to offer horticultural workshops and classes and organize a regular food market featuring food from Guilford and Windham County farmers.
Modest rental fees will cover the cost of maintenance and overhead.
Broad Brook Grange No. 151 was established in 1874. In the early years of its existence, its members met in private homes. In 1895, its members voted to build their own Grange Hall. The Grange holds monthly meetings, generally beginning at 7 p.m. on the first Thursday of every month.
The Grange, officially referred to as The National Grange of the Order of Patrons of Husbandry, was founded in 1867 to advance methods of agriculture, as well as to promote the social and economic needs of farmers in the United States, according to the Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History.
The Broad Brook Community Center is accepting pledges and donations. For more information, contact Sandy Garland, Treasurer, at 802-257-0080. Donations may also be mailed to: Broad Brook Community Center, Inc., Donations, Sandy Garland, 1968 Weatherhead Hollow Rd., Guilford, Vt., 05301.
The BBCC has also received generous support from the Crosby-Gannett Fund and Thomas Thompson Trust.