Old Holley Grange Hall memories hark back to another era

When the old Grange Hall in Holley burned down in 2013, it marked the last of an era for that community.

By then Grange 325 had already been disbanded and the building was being used as a residence. Luckily, the couple living there discovered the flue fire in time to get out, along with their two dogs.

In the past, Grange members were called Patrons of Husbandry. Those from Holley Grange had banded together as farmers in search of furthering their knowledge of agriculture through a friendly exchange of ideas abetted by information from the National Grange Association. In 1903 they applied for a charter and were aided by the Albany Grange Master, a Grange master the equivalent of a president.

All work on the Grange building was done by volunteers, who also supplied the materials needed to erect their meeting place on a lot donated by Norval Rice. It took a while, but in the meantime they met in the Baptist Church across from the building site. This was not the same church as the old Holley Church and it seems the Baptist Church disappeared long before the Grange Hall fire.

When the Grange Hall’s 75th anniversary called for celebration, Lois Robnett Rice wrote of its history. She also wrote a history of Holley itself, but she is best known to us as a primary founder of the East Linn Museum.

Both of these histories are, not surprisingly, included in the East Linn Museum’s files, along with newspaper clippings generally from The New Era. They will be consulted here, with a little outside information thrown in. We also want to give considerable respect to Lois Rice’s capabilities.

From her history of Holley we learn the first settlers arrived in that part of the Calapooia River valley between 1850 and 1855. Some squatted on the land; others applied for donation land grants, but nearly all came to farm. A living had to be literally raised from the soil, sometimes augmented by hunting and trapping. In some cases, garden plots and fields had to be hewed from the forest, in others, the Indians had kept some areas clear through seasonal burning.

By 1865 a subscription school supplied learning for the growing number of children in need of education. The students could range from the ages of four to twenty-one for a school term lasting three months.

By 1871, organization of the Christian church reached completion when a small church building was constructed. The Christian Church met in it one month and the Baptist the next. What we call the Old Holley Church was actually a new Holley Church, constructed in 1897.

In 1890 George Washington Pugh operated a post office in his small store and he gave the community its name of Holley after a town in Wisconsin he’d lived in. He was not misspelling the name of the tree made famous by the Christmas carol, “The Holly and the Ivy.”

By 1900, as a named town, Holley had a school, at least one church, two saw mills, a shingle mill and a grist mill. The mills stretched along the river and weren’t directly in town. Added to the list were the ever-important blacksmith’s shop and the store with its post office.

Logging interests did not yet dominate, and the farmers were the ones who banded together in search of an organization that would supply fellowship, keep them informed politically and help them lend support to the community.

By 1903, when the Holley Grange received its charter, the Grange movement had been around since 1867 and had gone nationwide. In 1872 it arrived in Oregon, so when the Holley organizers decided to become Patrons of Husbandry, they were not reaching into the unknown but were after a sure thing.

Whatever the Holley Grange members might have thought of it is not known, but the national movement involved itself very much in politics. It acted on a non-partisan basis, so it was claimed, to support legislation in favor of farm interests. Already, the Patrons of Husbandry had joined with other farm-oriented organizations to get regulations passed to quell some of the monopolistic practices of railroads and unfair rates used as a chokehold on farmers who needed ways of getting their produce to market.

This was specifically done in the Midwest, and had little effect on Holley’s farmers, since there would be no passing train in the vicinity until 1932 with the building of a spur line between Dollar Camp and Sweet Home, which was used strictly for logging.

Of more interest was the Grange’s assistance in gaining the postal Rural Free Delivery Act, which helped farm families across the nation as well as Montgomery Ward’s mail order business, in which the Grange movement had taken an active hand.

In different areas, granges supported co-ops, insurance programs and other legislation important to country folk, like the direct election of senators, the Pure Food and Drug Act, women’s suffrage and a varied assortment of issues pertinent not only to farmers but to the nation’s well-being. Nothing so far encountered, however, shows the Holley Grange to have been particularly influenced by politics, except it did serve as a polling place for elections.

The originator of the Patrons of Husbandry, Oliver H. Kelley, hailed from Minnesota. A visit to Virginia following the Civil War and the sight of abysmal farming practices impressed him with the idea of finding a way to bring knowledge of good farm methods to farmers in general. Forming a fraternal organization came to mind and he patterned his after the Masons; hence the Master as a leader and the focus on Faith, Hope and Charity as a creed, although he also added Fidelity.

Unlike the Masons, there was no separate organization for women, as was the Eastern Star for the Masons. Men and women met together and couples are listed among Holley’s charter members, including David and Ruthie King, Dave and Ann Hildreth, Harvey and Mary Hamilton and Tom and Minta Philpot. Holley’s Grange once actually had a lady master during its 100-plus years of existence. The definition of equality obviously sometimes meant not exactly being equal.

When people recall the Holley Grange, likely more thought is given to pies than to politics – especially regarding Bertha Malone’s famous butterscotch pie.

Most of the Holley meetings included potluck dinners, during which the tribulations of the day could be discussed over fried chicken and the latest in casseroles. During the organization’s long span, the menus numbered many variations.

Tribulations included World War I, the 1918 flu epidemic, the Great Depression, World War II, the various fracases in Asia from Korea to Vietnam aside from the usual upheavals in politics and economics.

At such times the old Grange building served as a refuge of normality, a place bringing relief and merriment among those who knew each other well.

The hall itself reflected the passage of time. Originally, it began as a simple building with “comfort stations” away out back as Lois Rice put it.

For five dollars in gold, two young men dug a 16-foot-deep well as a water supply.

One of the first improvements came with the addition of a lean-to kitchen, but as membership and activities increased, the ladies insisted on gaining a real indoor kitchen and a restroom.

The east wall was also knocked out to enlarge the building to help accommodate dances.

At times the organization literally supported education. Between 1914 and 1915 the high school met there so youngsters who could not afford to go into Sweet Home for high school classes could keep up with their studies. In 1948, when the Holley grade school burned, the Grange building became a temporary school house.

But the Holley Grange was best known for its annual fair. Held in September, it was the Grange’s biggest fundraiser. The kitchen came into real play and food offerings ranged from barbecue to slabs of cake and slices of pie and zucchini bread.

Kids scrambled for pennies and played games. The products of home canning and crafts gained admiration, some coming under the judge’s eyes along with garden produce and flowers.

Likely, at least one lady had to be a good sport when she received just second prize for her most beautiful dahlia or a gardener may have been surprised by finding a blue ribbon on his big tomato entry.

Fairs showcased talents of 4-H members and FFA boys, while talents of a different nature enlivened the evening entertainment when local musicians, singers, dancers and thespians displayed unexpected capabilities.

To attract younger members, the Holley Grange ventured into the formation of a drill team, although we don’t have word of its success. (For reasons unclear, fraternal organizations like Grange 325 sooner or later felt the need of having a drill team, participation being a part of the pleasure. Some of us wonder why, especially when viewing mismatched lines of out-of-step individuals sashaying to the thump of a drum – or more likely of an upright piano, as they formed circles and squares.)

At one time, the Holley Grange counted 140 members, but not even the addition of the drill team could keep the organization indefinitely alive.

It was finally set to merge with the Lacomb Grange and then seems to have faded away. For awhile, the aging building remained. Then in 2013 it, too, disappeared, but rather spectacularly in the destructive fire.

Granges continue to exist in Oregon and across the nation. They are perhaps most popular in the Midwest, where farmers are more isolated than in our valley area. In the past they flourished as centers of communal exchange for ranchers, dairymen and farmers, people living in the country, eager for human contact.

Maybe the four miles between Sweet Home and Holley left those around Holley not isolated enough.

The old blacksmith shop with Homer Rice’s motto, “If it is beyond repair, it can be rebuilt,” disappeared many years ago.

The Old Holley Church is the only church left among the scatter of houses that make Holley a community, not a town. The post office no longer exists, though the Holley store remains. The church, store and grade school are all we see of Holley’s civic life as we drive through on Highway 228.

When Lois Rice wrote of the Holley Grange’s 75th anniversary, she predicted it would go for many more years. It had its 100th anniversary with an aging and dwindling membership, and now its history sits in a file drawer in the museum Lois Rice founded. With her history of the Holley Grange, Lois Rice has enlivened our appreciation of local history and the museum she helped create has done so much more.

Let’s hope the museum’s complexity protects it from a fate similar to that of the Holley Grange, especially at this time when our access to social media can keep us isolated even as we electronically socialize.

It used to be that if you went to the Holley Grange fair you were reminded to sample Bertha Malone’s superior butterscotch pie. Now we can just imagine that pie as we try to stay healthy. We can still wear a mask and limit our distances while visiting the museum. The safety drill is in place.

In the meantime we can keep the Grange creed in mind as Lois Rice put it: “Faith in our flag to make us all free, Hope for a better community, Charity for all who are in need, and Fidelity to all in both thought and deed.”

For many years it served the Holley community well.