Our cafe is located in the historic York Grange Hall. At various points in the history of York, Maine, there was a school house across the street, a tiny post office next door, and a blacksmith down the road. There was a second grange chapter in York Village called the Georgiana Grange which existed for about five years.
According to York County Grange information, the chapter began with 30 charter members. The first few meetings were held at “Brixom Hall,” but that building was destroyed by a fire. “Undiscouraged and with true Grange spirit, they at once proceeded to erect a hall of their own, which was duly finished at a cost of about $2,000.”
The “Granger Movement” (officially known as The Patrons of Husbandry) came into being after the Civil War as a way for farmers to organize in the face of a changing agricultural landscape. It started in 1857 in the Midwest when farmers united against monopolistic railroad and grain elevator (owned by the railroads) practices. The farmers were being charged exorbitant prices to transport their grains and other agricultural items.
The Grange movement in Maine started with the formation of farmers’ clubs starting in about 1850. The first Grange in Maine was established in 1873 in Lewiston. By 1907, there were 419 Granges and over 55,000 members in the state.
Over the years, the Grange grew to be more than a place for farmers to congregate and pass on farming techniques and agricultural advancements. It became a platform for grassroots activism representing rural residents and concerns, a center to advance and promote reading and education, and a space to discuss and debate the issues of the day. It also became a hub for country social gatherings such as suppers, pie sales, and dances. It was a refuge for often isolated farm women to interact and share homesteading tips and local news. In fact, the organization played an early role in the women’s suffrage movement.
As society changed over the decades and original Grange members passed away, the Grange movement lost popularity. In Maine, many grange halls fell into disrepair. However, there remain a number of active chapters in the state and membership is on the rise.
Sadly, the York Grange #No 340 was also abandoned and in severe decay (photos below). It was rescued from demolition in the early 1990s. Since then it has been used as a general store, a school, a catering business, and yoga studio.
Now as the Brixham Grange Cafe, the York community can again have a place to congregate and enjoy this beautiful piece of history.