History of the Columbia Grange

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Columbia Grange #267 has a rich history, much of it recorded in meeting minutes dating back more than one hundred years, along with photographs, documents, posters, awards, and stories handed down through generations.

As it has been throughout its history, the Columbia Grange continues to serve as a relevant social and community center for area residents. Columbia Grange #267 is where individuals can unite for more strength and community. As our Grange motto states: “In essentials unity, in non-essentials liberty, in all things charity.”

Founding
The Columbia Grange was founded on October 9, 1893, with 17 charter members—all local members of the Corbett community. The first members gathered for meetings at lower Corbett, or in various homes in the area, planning to build their own hall. Grange member Orland Zeek gifted land for the Grange, a picturesque hillside, close to the Oregon Trail, which years later would become Highway 30 on the Columbia Gorge. Together, a small group of pioneers in the area began planning to build their Grange Hall. 

Columbia Grange’s minutes from early in its history are full of people who many of today’s residents know only as street names: Littlepage, Hurlburt, Bell, Rickert, Rasmussen, Benfield, and Evans, just to name a few. All of these pioneers were Grange members. 

The first Grange members, along with others, helped establish rural mail delivery in the Corbett community, along with electricity in later years. The Grange became influential in politics and helped to set up farmer-owned cooperatives, grain elevators, and factories to manufacture farm machinery. From the beginning, Columbia Grange #267 encouraged education and ways to promote community betterment.

One of the many vibrant members of the original Grange was Annie Zeek, who was married to Orland Zeek, who donated land for the Grange meeting hall. Annie was a dedicated midwife. Often, she would use a pump car on the local train track, getting great exercise as she hand pumped the small car down the tracks to travel wherever a pregnant woman needed her midwifery skills. Then, she would stay for a week to take care of the new mother and baby, and head home with her pump car. Annie Zeek is listed on the Grange’s Pioneer Monument as one of the original Columbia Grange #267 members.

The Grange Hall
By 1898, the membership had built a large, two-story hall with more than 3,000 square feet, and the upstairs included a beautiful wood floor made from old-growth fir hauled in from nearby Bridal Veil Falls. Today, that original floor still graces the upstairs. Modifications have been made to modernize the old building with a small upstairs kitchen, bathroom, and large closets, but there are still signs of the original building, including two fireplaces, now retired. 

The original furniture for the Grange was built by F.N. Lasley and presented to the Grange membership. The founding charter members and first officers of Columbia Grange #267 in 1893 included the following:
C.J. Littlepage, Master
G. Knieriem, Overseer
L.H. Rickert, Lecturer, 
Grant Bell, Steward
Etta Bell, Lady Assistant Steward
A.B. Chamberlain, Chaplain
Rosa Littlepage, Treasurer
John A. Hurlburt, Secretary
M. Rickert, Gatekeeper
M.E. Reed, Pomona
Mary Hurlburt, Flora
Emma Rickert, Ceres
Samuel Swirsky, E.G. Rickert, and
A. Hughes, Executive Committee

Early Meetings
In the early days, members would begin their Grange meetings by reading the minutes from the previous month’s meeting, then discuss applications for new membership. The members also carefully scrutinized their Grange bills and expenses. That could take an hour or more. Then they took a recess for dinner, which was usually a potluck. This became a great opportunity to catch up with neighbors, who often didn’t see one another because of their rural environment and long days working their farms and local businesses. Dinner was also a good time to casually continue their Grange discussions on the meeting’s topics.

In the past, meetings also featured music, contests, card games, and other types of entertainment. The social aspect of the Grange was at least as important as other elements in the late 1890s and early 1900s, especially given the solitary nature of farming. It was not unusual for a Grange meeting, or perhaps more accurately a gathering, to last for four hours or more into the late evening.

In the late 1920s, singing and card parties became a part of the Grange activities. An average card night (most likely pinochle or bridge) could have about 50 people attending, and bringing in about $13 in profit for the Grange—not bad, in those days!

National Grange
As of 2016, Columbia Grange #267 is one of more than 180 Granges statewide in Oregon, which are called “subordinate” Granges. In turn, the Oregon State Grange is part of the national network of Granges, which is represented in more than 2,100 communities nationwide by The National Grange of the Order of Patrons of Husbandry

The Grange movement was founded in 1867 to advance the social and economic needs of rural farm life, becoming the first nationwide farm organization. The Grange also secured equal participation in leadership and membership for women, some 60 years before women won the vote in the United States. 

From the beginning, the Grange movement supported women’s suffrage, and the famous suffragist, Susan B. Anthony, gave her last public appearance at the National Grange Convention in 1903. In addition, the National Grange was the first farm organization to support African American farmers in 1870, following the Civil War. 

The Grange movement is credited with helping advance many technologies vital to farmers, including cooperative systems put together by small farmers to help create rural communication companies, such as the RFD (rural free delivery of mail), and promotion of the Rural Electrification Program in the 1930s and 1940s. The Grange movement was also instrumental in developing water cooperatives, telephone cooperatives, volunteer fire departments, police departments, and public utility districts. From the beginning, the Grange has organized and supported farmers, and the political and economic rights of farmers and consumers.