August - September 1999 Feature
One Hundred Years of the Yorktown Grange
Note: Click on a thumbnail photo to view the full size image.So, youve decided to grow your own vegetables. Youve been to the library, brushed up on gardening, found a nice sunny spot in your yard near a water source, and gathered all the necessary tools together. Youre a Future Farmer of America!
Next, you turn the soil and remove the rocks, weeds and grass. You rake the soil to break up the clods and add the correct mix of fertilizer. After planting the seeds or seedlings, you mulch to keep down the weeds, water and wait. After a couple of weeks, the plants are up and growing. The site is beautiful working hand-in-hand with Mother Nature, you imagine the bountiful harvest you will enjoy at summers end.
One day, however, you find a sweet little brown bunny in your garden happily nibbling on your lettuce leaves! You assess the damage and take immediate action; a three-foot high chicken wire fence goes up. Your seedlings are safe for awhile, until that voracious fat ground hog burrows under your fence and eats several rows of vegetable plants down to the earth. With fury and indignation, a much stronger, deeper and taller fence goes in, with a gate for human access. However, that doesnt keep out the slugs and beetles! Another trip to the garden center protects the few remaining tomato plants until theyre just the right height for you guessed it, the neighborhood deer population!
Such are the problems we suburbanite Yorktowners face today. However, for the people of Yorktown a hundred years ago, in a mostly farming community, the growing season presented itself with much greater challenges. It was for that reason the National Grange organization (officially known as the Order of Patrons of Husbandry) was begun in 1867.
Founded by a Minnesota farmer and activist, Oliver Hudson Kelley, the Grange was initially similar to the unions that were organizing industrial workers across the country. Farmers were at the mercy of merchants, both for much needed farm supplies and marketing their crops. The Grange provided lobbyists who worked for farmers interests, promoted social interaction among rural residents with the building of halls, and were instrumental in improving education to farm families. Rural Free Delivery, the Cooperative Extension Service, and the Farm Credit System all developed as a result of Grange efforts.
In December 1898, Worthy Deputy A.E. Hall of Amenia, NY met with a number of representative farmers from the area to explore the possibility of organizing a Grange in Yorktown. PH #862 was organized on December 30, 1898 and elected the following officers on January 12, 1899: Master, George J. Griffin; Overseer, James N. Strang; Steward, John A. Barnes; Asst. Steward, Lewis W. Mead; Chaplain, Wright A. Moseman; Treasurer, E. Munson Frost; Gatekeeper, Samuel B. White; Ceres, Mrs. Floyd Q. White; Pomona, Alice M. Griffin; Flora, Carrie Moseman; and Lady Asst. Steward, Mrs. John A. Barnes.
Other charter members were: 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.
By the first summer, membership had reached about 100 and the Yorktown Granges first picnic was held. Meetings were conducted at Tompkins Hall on what is today Commerce Street near Railroad Park. One of the large projects undertaken was cooperative buying and selling, until about 1924 when the number of farms had dwindled.
The Grange became a social organization. It was a place to debate the topics of the day, to gather for community suppers and clambakes, an outlet for artistic expression (the Dramatic Club presented many popular plays of the day like "Nothing But The Truth" and "Breezy Point"), and sponsor to other organizations such as the Boy Scouts, and 4-H.
In 1920, the Yorktown Grange purchased its first hall from Theodore Purdy on April 1st and held the first Grange Fair on October 9th in the new hall. By 1946 the crowds attending the fair grew so large that it was moved to the Yorktown School (YCCC building). The fair continued to expand and grow, along with the crowds and Grange membership. In January 1954, land was purchased and the first meeting and fair in the new location was held that September. According to Arthur Lee at the 60th Anniversary Celebration, "Three days of heavy rain made the new grounds knee deep in mud, and the fair a financial failure; not exactly an auspicious beginning." Many who have attended the fair in the succeeding 45 years will remember similar conditions!
The Grange Fairground was named Rochambeau Park at its dedication ceremony that September, in honor of the Comte de Rochambeau, General of the French Army during the Revolutionary War, who was encamped in Yorktown twice during the war and was instrumental in the American victory. Two years later, the Westchester Historical Society was entertained at the Park by the Yorktown Grange members, replete with historic costume, fife and drum music and a special guest, the representative of the French Ambassador, Major Marcel Madac.
This year, on September 10, 11, 12, and 13, the Grange will present its 75th Fair, rain or shine. Along with its long-time traditions of judging produce and baked goods, country crafts and art, 4-H projects, and farm animals will be the more contemporary addition of amusements, rides, circus acts, vendors selling food and gifts, and music of all kinds. The crowds will be enormous, the mood festive, and once again the Yorktown Grange will unite us in a spirit of community.
And, if any of your garden vegetables survived pests and the plague, you can enter them in the judging. You might go home with a blue ribbon for your efforts!
Click here to visit the Yorktown Grange Fair web site.
This article is dedicated to Walter "Andy" Androsko, who passed away this July 29th. Walter was the Westchester County Agricultural Agent for 25 years, Fruit, Vegetable, and Soil Conservation Specialist for Dutchess County, and taught Agriculture in Western New York State. He was a lifetime member of the Grange.
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