Ready for another century of service
A new foundation for the Broad Brook Grange hall was just one of many improvements made to the historic building in Guilford Center.

Ready for another century of service

With renovations now complete, a beloved Grange hall is set to begin a second life as the Broad Brook Community Center

GUILFORD — In 2014, a group of townspeople received the first estimate on the repairs that would need to be made to the Broad Brook Grange building to bring it up to code and to serve the town and the region for the next century.

Bobbie Fitch Haumann recalls that the estimate came in at $750,000.

“Oh, if that had only been true!” she says with a chuckle.

Bringing a 127-year-old building up to date would require an elevator, a sprinkler system, fire escapes, compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act, bathrooms, and more. The group also decided on pouring the cement for a full basement, for which the building had to be jacked up, adding to what turned out to be a cost of $2 million.

It took fundraising, grant seeking, gift matching, and the talents of all who were willing to help.

But they did it - and now, with the renovations to the building now complete, it's time for a free celebration, and everyone is invited.

The dedication for the Broad Brook Community Center will take place on Saturday, Oct. 22, from 2 to 5:30 p.m. A ribbon-cutting ceremony will mark the building as the latest addition to the National Register of Historic Places.

Guest speakers from the Preservation Trust of Vermont will be there, along with a representative from U.S. Sen. Patrick Leahy's office and other dignitaries.

Homemade apple pie, Vermont cheddar cheese, and fresh cider from Neighborhood Roots Food Collective will be served.

Finally, a family contradance with calling by Andy Davis will round out the event.

Parking will be limited, so party-goers are asked to park at the nearby Guilford Central School. Shuttle vans will be running.

“We want as many people as possible to come to the opening, see the building, and enjoy the celebration,” Rick Zamore, a Grange member and now the president of the board of directors for the Broad Brook Community Center, says with pride. “We took a 125-year-old building and made it usable for the next hundred years.”

An important part of Guilford

Fitch Haumann remembers when Dr. Grace Burnett came to the Broad Brook Grange.

“The Grange sponsored Dr. Burnett to come and give us vaccinations for smallpox,” remembers Fitch Haumann, who was born here and who was a child in the late 1950s. “I still have the scar on my leg. Usually it's given in the arm, but she didn't want the girls to have a scar that showed.”

The National Grange of the Order of Patrons of Husbandry - universally known as the Grange - was founded after the Civil War as a multifaceted organization.

With roots as a powerful political advocacy group to represent the interests of rural residents in an increasingly urban society, the organization is part service organization, a community club of sorts, and, in generations past, it included agriculturally themed secret rituals in its ceremonies.

Granges chapters are still active in every state in the nation, and they met in Grange Halls.

The Grange Hall has also been a gathering spot for Vermonters - the building in town where people would meet to swing their partner during a country dance, the place where you got to see your neighbors after a busy season of maple sugaring or chopping corn in the fall.

The Broad Brook Grange was chartered in 1874 by 15 men and 12 women. Members initially met in members' homes. In 1887, the group purchased a home in which they met. Then in 1895, members broke ground on a hall that has stood on Guilford Center Road for 127 years. The building was dedicated on Feb. 21, 1896 with a performance of a play, followed by a dance and a chicken pie supper. “The building was packed to suffocation and as a result the grange treasury will be swelled to the amount of nearly $200,” the Vermont Phoenix wrote.

According to writer Patty Bullock, in a piece about the Grange on the Guilford town website, “During gas rationing [during World War II], some of the local families, like the Houghtons, would hitch up a team of horses to take a large group of people to the Grange.”

“The admission [to a dance] was 75 cents for the gentlemen and the ladies could bake a cake and have a chance to kick up their heels to the tune of a three-piece orchestra. The cost of the orchestra was $9.”

When the Grange was established in Guilford, the population was approximately 1,277 people.

During those years, according to Fitch Haumann, the current Grange Master (or president), one in five people were members of the organization. And she ought to know: Her grandparents, who in 1910 moved into the home she now occupies, were among them.

“My father was raised in the Grange, and he became a Master just as I am now,” she says with pride.

Her parents insisted that she join when she was 14.

“My father was born in 1914 and his father, my grandfather, was very active,” she says. “They held Labor Day Dances, dinners for the Farmers' Associations and the Windham County Farm Bureau.”

“We still do some of the same activities as they did then,” Fitch Haumann continues. “We deliver filled stockings to town members who need a little lift at Christmas time. We still offer a $1,000 scholarship to a Guilford student each year and give new dictionaries to the third graders in Guilford School.”

But times have changed, and Grange membership isn't as high as it used to be in Vermont's small towns, even though the population since its establishment in town has almost doubled. Nationally, the organization lost 40% of its membership between 1992 and 2007.

“Brattleboro doesn't have a Grange any longer,” says Fitch Haumann. “Vernon doesn't have theirs anymore either. Around here, the active Granges are in Guilford and Dummerston.”

“In the past, the Grange has been a well-received organization, but not always well understood,” she says. “They didn't understand that anyone could become a member. My father would go and meet people and invite them to join us.”

A community need

In 2013, the Vermont Council on Rural Development came to town. That organization went around Vermont and facilitated a meeting process to consider what kind of resources each community had and what could be developed further.

This question was posed to those who attended the meeting: What kind of project would be most beneficial for the town?

After three months of community meetings, participants, identifying the need for a community center, turned their attention to exploring how to preserve the aging Broad Brook Grange Hall, which already had a venerable history as a community building.

A plan emerged to form a tax-exempt nonprofit organization to purchase, own, renovate, and maintain the Hall.

This, however, turned out to be a complex undertaking, Fitch Haumann explained.

“There are local chapters of Grange, and there is also a State Grange,” she says. “Although we owned the building, we had to get approval from the State Grange to sell it.”

Luckily, the state organization was receptive to what Fitch Haumann described as the “out-of-the-box thinking.”

In 2018, the new nonprofit, Broad Brook Community Center Inc., purchased the building at 3490 Guilford Center Rd. for $1,500.

“No way could we have saved the Grange Hall without doing this,” says Fitch Haumann.

A big undertaking

“Sure,” says Zamore with a deep laugh, “We were able to buy the building for $1,500, then we had to spend over $2 million to meet the requirements and codes. The list just went on and on.”

But that's OK, he says.

“That's what it costs these days to really do a good job updating a building to code,” Zamore says. “We got there eventually.”

The original committee to start the process for the new nonprofit was formed soon after the 2013 community meetings, with Fred Humphrey (who died earlier this year), Sara Coffey, Don McLean, Gail Nunziata, Katie Buckley, along with Fitch Haumann and Zamore, to get the ball rolling.

A lot of the people in the Broad Brook Grange community were also Community Center board members.

Everyone pitched in.

“This has been the best job I've ever had, and it's a volunteer job,” says Zamore. “We just got to work. We met the challenges.”

“It feels so good to do something lasting for the town of Guilford,” he continues, calling it “truly a town effort.” He says more than a third of households in town touched the project in some manner.

“Having the building become a community center fulfilled a dream of mine, and my father's. He always wanted the building to become a community building. He'd be so pleased,” says Fitch Haumann.

“There were people who scoffed and says it wouldn't happen, but this is a grassroots project - small donations, big donations, challenge donations,” she continues. “It renews my belief in this community.”

Despite the scope of the work, one thing haven't changed, the volunteers point out. Through the project, they have preserved the original architectural woodwork details that give the building its character and personality.

The Grange still meets in the building, and Guilford School and the town will also continue to use the it for some functions.

“Any Guilford resident and others will be able to use the building,” Zamore said. “Our goal is to have it used as much as possible.”

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