Up and down the Kennebec Valley: Granges – Part 2 (Benton, China and Clinton)

Benton Grange.

by Mary Grow

Benton, China and Clinton

The 1915 hall that serves Benton Grange No. 458 is one of 16 Maine Grange halls listed on the National Register of Historic Places, and one of two individually listed in Kennebec County. It was added to the register April 28, 2004.

Starling Grange, now town-owned Starling Hall, in Fayette.

(The other Kennebec County Grange Hall on the register is the former Starling Grange, now town-owned Starling Hall, in Fayette. Friends of Starling Hall have a website and a Facebook page and welcome donations for preservation work.)

Located on a 1.7-acre lot at the intersection of River Road and School Drive, south of Route 100, Benton Grange Hall is a wooden building two stories high with a basement. The south-facing front of the building has a wide center doorway and large open porch. There are three front windows on the second floor; above them a hip-roofed dormer holds a sign, in need of repainting, identifying the building.

Architectural historian Christi A. Mitchell, of the Maine Historic Preservation Commission, prepared the nomination form for the National Register (as she did for two farms described in the March 10 issue of The Town Line). She calls the Grange building’s architectural style “essentially Colonial Revival,” and the more elaborate porch “Queen Anne-esque.”

Inside, the lower floor has a dining room beyond the entrance-way. Most of the second floor is a large open room for meetings and community activities, like the Saturday-night public dances the Grange sponsored in the 1950s.

Benton Grange was organized in 1906. Mitchell found that many of the charter members switched from Clinton Grange, established in 1887 or 1888, to the new one, probably because Benton was their home town.

In 1909, she wrote, town records showed that 94 out of 298 heads of household in Benton “(including retirees and widows)” gave their occupation as “farmer.”

Members met at the Benton Station school for the first years. By 1910, with close to 200 members, they decided to build their own Grange hall.

The decision was implemented five years later. Fairfield architect Frank M. Gifford designed the building; it was completed in mid-October 1915, in time to host that fall’s Grange fair.

Mitchell quoted a description of the Dec. 3, 1915, dedication of the building from the Dec. 4 Waterville Morning Sentinel. Speaker W. J. Thompson commented that the new building was one of the most expensive Grange Halls in Maine. Building it, he said, was a credit to Grange members and to the community.

Benton Grange, like many others, declined with the decline in agriculture. Mitchell wrote that the fairs ended in the 1940s. However, she wrote, Benton town meetings were held in the Grange Hall from 1915 to 1990, and as she wrote in the spring of 2004 Grangers hoped to make the second-floor space handicapped-accessible so town meetings could again convene there.

According to its Facebook pages, Benton Grange is still active, is seeking new members and as of March 2021 resumed renting the Grange Hall for private and public events (no alcohol allowed).

The deteriorating Silver Lake Grange, in China Village, in 2021. (photo by Roland Hallee)

The first of China’s three local Granges was China Grange #295, organized in South China on Dec. 29, 1887. Henry Kingsbury, in his Kennebec County history published in 1892, called it “flourishing.” Members met the first and third Wednesday evenings of the month in the Ancient Order of United Workmen’s South China hall.

(Wikipedia says the A.O.U.W. was another post-Civil War fraternal organization, created in Pennsylvania in the late 1860s with the primary aim of providing insurance for working men. The Harlem chapter, #39, of the A.O.U.W. was organized Aug. 27, 1885, with 13 charter members, Kingsbury wrote. Their name, Harlem, was the Town of China’s name from 1796 to 1818.)

By 1902, according to the Maine State Grange “Proceedings” of that year, China Grange had 111 members.

There is no record of a South China Grange Hall. The China bicentennial history says when the consolidated school on Lakeview Drive (now China Middle School) opened in 1949, town voters let the Grange rent the no-longer-needed South China schoolhouse on the south side of Route 3, just west of the Route 32 North intersection.

The China history says the China Grange remained active “until about World War II [until at least 1949, apparently], when it merged with Silver Lake Grange in China Village.”

Silver Lake Grange #327 was founded between 1892 and 1902, according to the China history. Looking at the numbers assigned to nearby Granges founded earlier (East Vassalboro Grange #322, in 1895) and later (Branch Mills Grange #336, Jan. 1, 1897) narrows the interval to 1895, after East Vassalboro, or 1896.

(Contradictorily, the China history references a February 19, 1876, diary entry saying a Grange had been organized that afternoon at China Academy, the high school on Main Street in China Village. Kingsbury, finishing his history in 1892, made no mention of a Grange in China Village, and the number 327 would not have been assigned in 1876.)

The inventory of the Maine Historical Society’s collection of Grange documents lists under “China” an 1894 “receipt” and “receipt books” for most of the years between 1935 and 1953.

Silver Lake Grange Hall, still standing on the west side of Main Street in China Village, was designed and built in 1908 by local builder Fred S. Wallace. The China history quotes from an account in the March 4 issue of the Bangor Commercial Farmer and Villager describing the Feb. 24, 1909, dedication and praising the new building.

Silver Lake Grange Hall is a two-story, hip-roofed wooden building with an open front porch, a ground-floor dining room and kitchen and a second-floor meeting room. It has no basement.

The Commercial Farmer and Villager writer mentioned the “pleasant, sunny room for a gentlemen’s dressing room” near the entrance and the “ladies’ dressing room…, commodious and convenient” behind the dining room. Neither included toilet facilities.

The “well attended” 1909 dedication began with a 10:30 a.m. ceremony at which the State Grange Master spoke. After lunch in the new dining room, an afternoon program offered speeches and instrumental and vocal music.

A lengthy evening program included more music, recitations, a farce and two “scenic readings,” one of which had a dog in the list of participants.

Silver Lake Grange had a stable in 1909, because the China history says the local Masons appropriated $91.67 for one-third of it, probably for rental, not purchase. (In 1824 the two Masonic Chapters built their own stable beside the Masonic Hall, which was at the south end of Main Street.)

Silver Lake Grange “dissolved in the late 1960s,” according to the China history.

China’s short-lived third Grange, called China Grange #578 (or occasionally China Lake Grange, depending on the source), was organized in the fall of 1974 and took over the Silver Lake Grange Hall. Dennis Harding was the first Master.

The new organization lasted two years or less. The China history quotes Harding as saying one reason for its failure to take hold was that “the young people did not like to use the outhouse.”

Sometime after 1977, ownership of the hall reverted to the Maine State Grange. (The 1977 application for the China Village Historic District lists the China Grange as the owner.) The state organization sold it in the fall of 1983 to two local residents who hoped to create senior citizen apartments.

Their plan was never realized. The present owner of Silver Lake Grange Hall has had it on the market for several years.

Clinton Grange #287 was established in March 1888, according to Kingsbury, although its number implies it was founded in the last half of 1886 or in 1887. Kingsbury wrote there were 70 charter members, and by 1892 about 100 members. The Maine State Grange records show 231 members in 1902.

Kingsbury says in 1890, the Grange bought Centennial Hall, on Church Street, in Clinton. In 1892, he wrote, the second floor was for exhibitions and the organization used the ground floor for its other activities.

(John P. Billings built Centennial Hall in 1876, Kingsbury wrote. Billings was a Clinton native, born in 1828. In 1843, Kingsbury says, he was learning to make edge tools – knives, hatchets and the like – in Waterville.

In 1851 Billings joined the California Gold Rush that had started in 1848 and, Wikipedia says, attracted 300,000 hopeful gold-seekers by the mid-1850s. After 14 years as a miner, Billings returned to Clinton in 1865, apparently wealthy enough to build the hall, and resumed the “manufacture of edge and stone tools.”)

Maine State Grange records include a receipt book from Clinton Grange for the years 1933 through 1935.

One of a set of antique postcards on line shows an undated photo of a Clinton Grange hall, set on flat land, with newly-planted trees beside the building and across the street. The building is a three-story wooden rectangle with a high peaked roof and a flat-roofed open porch across the entire front.

The double front door has a window on each side, three windows above it and one more full-sized window under the roof. On the visible side of the building there are five windows on the ground floor (perhaps because the stairs go up the inside wall where the front one would otherwise be) and six on the second floor.

The building is painted white. The shutters on the second- and third-story front windows appear to be a yellow-green (probably because the postcard is discolored by time).

This writer does not know whether the building on the postcard is Centennial Hall or a later replacement.
Clinton’s 2006 town comprehensive plan lists the Grange hall as one of the town’s significant buildings, and says the Historical Society’s records are kept at the Brown Memorial Library (the library is the only Clinton building that is on the National Register of Historic Places).

A long-time resident says the former Grange Hall is now an apartment building.

The second Clinton Grange #287, according to state corporate records, was organized July 15, 1949, and dissolved Sept. 6, 2006, for failure to file state-required annual reports. An on-line history refers to a Grange and 4-H exhibition hall built in 1994, giving no details.

Main sources

Grow, Mary M., China, Maine, Bicentennial History including 1984 revisions (1984).
Kingsbury, Henry D., ed., Illustrated History of Kennebec County Maine 1625-1892 (1892).

Web sites, miscellaneous.

China broadband committee continues developing proposal

by Mary Grow

China Broadband Committee (CBC) members continued discussion of their developing proposal for extended and improved China broadband service at their April 8 meeting.

Joining them virtually were Mission Broadband consultants Mark Van Loan and John Dougherty, and Mark Ouellette, President of Axiom Technologies, of Machias. Axiom is the company CBC members chose to negotiate with, from three respondents to their request for proposals.

The April 8 discussion concentrated on three points: costs, the need for better service and plans to explain those points to China selectmen and voters.

Ouellette and the Mission Broadband consultants had revised Axiom’s original cost estimate from around $9 million for a complete new system to around $6 million. Both figures are based on many assumptions. Four main ones involve timing; the amount of work that will be needed; outside funding sources; and the “take rate,” how many people will sign up for a new service.

Timing: there was consensus that interest rates are likely to increase, and the plan includes the town borrowing through the Maine Bond Bank. Van Loan added that the contractor Axiom works with to build systems predicts a five percent increase in materials costs by June.

Amount of work: Van Loan expects any contractor to bid high and hope to save money. For example, he said, a bid is likely to cover replacing all the poles needed to carry the wiring, but the contractor might find some or most of the existing poles useable.

Outside funding sources: one possibility is that federal funds will cover part of the work China needs, depending on federal regulations and funds available. Ouellette suggested China’s project might be eligible for state planning money.

Take rate: the more people pay monthly user fees, the more revenue comes in to cover operating costs and debt repayment, and until a new service is defined and explained the take rate is a guestimate.

To the experts on the committee, the need for better service is a given. They cited results of a survey, to which 308 China residents responded, describing how they use internet in pandemic conditions.

Sixty percent of respondents said they needed the internet to work from home and 25 percent used it for their home office. Forty percent used it for elementary and high school education and another 11 percent for post-secondary education.

Twenty-three percent of respondents used the internet for telemedicine, a use that committee members expect will increase.

More than 80 percent used the internet for at least one of these categories: researching and getting news; filing taxes; social media; and entertainment.

Committee members Tod Detre and Jamie Pitney explained that Spectrum, which provides broadband to an estimated 70 percent of China residents who are connected, lacks technical capability to increase its speed up – the amount of information a user can send – to meet contemporary needs.

Spectrum was designed with more speed down, so that users can download from the web, with the original focus on entertainment. Now, Detre said, people are sending more – making zoom calls, sharing photos and videos, hosting games, for example.

Suppose, he said, someone in the house is making a zoom call. That call will use most of the available bandwidth going up, and if someone in the next room starts playing a video game, the zoom call will die.

An important difference, Detre and Ouellette said, is that Spectrum uses copper for the final connection from the system to the user’s house, and copper has limited capacity. Axiom uses fiber, which is longer-lived and, as they described it, more adaptable.

Ouellette is unimpressed with the quality of service provided by Consolidated Communications, the company that supplies the other 30 percent of China’s broadband.

Returning to Selectman Wayne Chadwick’s question at the April 1 CBC meeting, Detre asked Ouellette what would happen if something like the 1998 ice storm took down lines all over town. Ouellette replied that both the town and Axiom have insurance; as planning progresses, they can decide which would provide less expensive coverage for a town-owned internet system.

As the virtual meeting ended, Chairman Robert O’Connor mentioned the Spectrum outage earlier in the week that he said had canceled scheduled zoom meetings in other towns. China’s new system will need built-in redundancy, he said later, so a single downed line or equipment malfunction “won’t take out the whole town.”

CBC members have invited China selectmen to a joint meeting scheduled for 7 p.m. Thursday, April 29. Ouellette said he would forward more information to Van Loan and Dougherty that they could summarize for CBC members to share with selectmen.

CBC meetings are also scheduled for 7 p.m. Thursday, April 15, and Thursday, April 22. The virtual meetings can be viewed as they occur and on tape via the live stream connection at the bottom left of the Town of China website, www.china.govoffice.com.

China public hearing set for April 26 on town meeting decisions

Town meeting by written ballot

by Mary Grow

At their April 12 meeting, China selectmen spent the most time on two topics: the upcoming April 26 public hearings on June 8 town meeting decisions, and mask-wearing at the transfer station.

The June 8 town meeting will be by written ballot, so voters will not be able to get questions answered as they vote. The April 26 hearings, one on the proposed changes to the Tax Increment Financing (TIF) agreement that are presented as Art. 16 and one on the rest of the warrant, will be the only chance for group discussion.

The town website, china.govoffice.com, has a wealth of information about the hearings. Under the Elections tab on the left side of the screen, voters can find:

  • The Zoom link to participate in the hearings.
  • The warrant articles, in two forms: “Public Hearing Warrant Articles 2021” reproduces the four-page document mailed to residents, with brief explanations, and includes the Zoom link; and “Approved Warrant for ATBM June 8, 2021” is the warrant as it will appear in the 2019-20 town report, due out before the meeting.
  • The revised TIF document, titled “Second Amendment TIF,” with the changes marked; and a related document titled “Findings.”
  • A budget workbook that shows the items included in each warrant article and a comparison between the 2021-22 appropriations requests and prior years’ budgets and expenditures.

Some of the information, including instructions on participating in the hearing, is duplicated in a full-page notice in the April 8 issue of The Town Line (and again on page 8 in this issue) and in the four-page mailing to residents earlier this month.

Residents are invited to submit questions about the warrant to the town office by mail, email, telephone or hand delivery up to 4 p.m. on April 26. Participants in the hearing will be able to comment live at the time.

The TIF hearing is scheduled to begin at 6 p.m. When TIF questions have been answered, the hearing on warrant articles 1 through 26 will begin. The hearings will be followed by a selectmen’s meeting that will start at 6:30 p.m. or after the second hearing, whichever is earlier.

On past showings, selectmen expect a low turnout for the hearing. But, they said cheerfully, on April 26 they might get 50 people – or 500.

The mask issue came up during the April 12 town department reports, delivered by Town Manager Becky Hapgood. Selectboard Chairman Ronald Breton claimed the mask mandate that applies to all town properties has not been obeyed at the transfer station.

Hapgood replied that signs are posted and staff are masked. She does not want to ask staff to risk confrontations by telling people to put on masks.

During the discussion that followed, Breton queried town liability if someone claimed to have contracted Covid-19 at the China transfer station. Selectman Blane Casey thought there was no problem, because someone who consistently refused to wear a mask and got sick would be unable to prove a source of infection.

In other business April 12, Hapgood reported for Public Works Director Shawn Reed that the Welcome to China sign on Route 3 is repaired and back up; the directional sign in South China listing other Maine towns named for foreign countries and cities (“the Postcard Sign”) is down for repairs; the docks at the public landing at the head of China Lake’s east basin are in; and weight-limit road-posting signs have been removed for the year.

The state has extended two deadlines, Hapgood said. Town Clerk Angela Nelson reported that the late fee for 2021 dog licenses will not be charged until June 1. Assistant to the assessor’s agent Kelly Grotton said applications for tax exemptions – homestead, tree growth and others allowed in Maine – can be submitted until 30 days after the state-wide emergency declaration ends or until China’s tax commitment day, whichever comes first.

2021 Ice Out winner!

The Town Line’s official ice out judge has ruled that ice went out of China Lake on March 30.

Therefore, Tricia Rumney, of China Village, has been declared the winner of the $25 gift certificate to North Country Harley-Davidson, on Rte. 3, in Augusta.

Up and down the Kennebec Valley: The Grange – Part 1

Vassalboro Grange (photo: vassalboro.net)

by Mary Grow

The mother and father of all United States agricultural organization is the Grange, formally known as the Order of Patrons of Husbandry. The national Grange was organized in Washington, D. C., on Dec. 2, 1867, by a seven-person group headed by Oliver Hudson Kelley (1826 – 1913), a Bostonian who moved to Minnesota in 1849 to become a farmer.

A Grange historian quoted in Ruby Crosby Wiggin’s Albion history wrote that the organization was a response to the “depressed condition” of agriculture after the Civil War. The 1873 financial panic hastened its growth.

In 1864, Kelley, working for the national Bureau of Agriculture, inspected post-war farming conditions in the southern states. He realized the need to help farmers earn their living from their land, found like-minded friends and created the Grange.

Kelley intended the organization as “an agricultural fraternal order,” not unlike Masonry, with rituals, named offices, degrees and an aura of secrecy, Maine Grange historian Stanley R. Howe wrote in a 2010 article reproduced on line.

“Fraternal” was never accurate, however; Howe credited Kelley’s niece, feminist Caroline A. Hall, with gaining women near-equality in the Grange. They had voting rights from the beginning and four of the 16 elected offices in each Grange are exclusively for women.

(Online information says in 1893 the Minnesota Grange elected a woman named Sarah Baird as the first female state Grange President [Master] in the United States. Minnesota’s current state Grange president is a woman, and so is the president of the national Grange, for the first time: Betsy Huber, of Pennsylvania, a Granger since she joined a Junior Grange at age five, has been national president since 2015.)

The name Grange comes from Great Britain, where the part of an estate used for agriculture was called the grange, Howe explained.

As the organization developed and spread, four main purposes emerged.

Economic improvement remained central. Means included cooperative stores, where the organization bought in bulk and sold to members at cost; discounts on things like life and health insurance; and spreading information about improved agricultural techniques, new machinery or seeds and other benefits to farmers.

Education, agricultural and general, was important. Granges published reports, newspapers and bulletins; many Grange halls had libraries; most Granges sponsored educational presentations on topics important to local farmers and the community; many hosted classes and workshops.

Having an organization that operated locally, state-wide and nationally gave Grangers political clout. One of the first national efforts was to pressure Congress to lower railroads’ shipping rates so that farm products could be sent to market more cheaply. Grangers also wanted grain elevators’ charges controlled.

The Grange lobbied for the postal service’s Rural Free Delivery system, so that isolated farmers would not have to choose between driving miles to the post office or paying a commercial carrier to pick up their mail. Grangers supported a variety of national cooperative farmers’ institutions; one source says they were instrumental in making the head of the United States Department of Agriculture a member of the President’s Cabinet in 1889.

Grange members lobbied for the Prohibition movement (implemented by the 18th Amendment to the United States Constitution, in effect Jan. 16, 1919, and repealed by the 21st Amendment, in effect Dec. 5, 1933). They helped implement progressive political ideas, like direct election of Senators (the 17th Amendment, in effect April 8, 1913) and voting rights for women (the 19th Amendment, in effect Aug. 18, 1920). Current national President Huber advocates expanding access to broadband service, especially in rural areas.

Complementing these economic, educational and political goals, at the local level the Grange became the social center for rural towns across the country, providing a community meeting hall and sponsoring suppers, dances and local and imported entertainments. One historian called this function especially important to rural women, who were more isolated than the men.

The Maine State Grange was organized in Lewiston on April 21, 1874, a year after the first Grange in the state was established in Hampden. Grange and state websites say there were 64 Maine Granges with about 2,000 members by the end of 1874; within two years, 228 Granges and 12,000 members; in 1907, 419 Granges and more than 55,000 members; and in 1918, 450 Granges and 60,000 members. Membership peaked at around 62,000 in the 1950s and has declined in recent years.

In 1918, according to that year’s Maine Register, W. J. Thompson, of South China, was Master of the state Grange. His wife held the position of Flora (one of three ritual stations, with Ceres and Pomona, Howe explained) and D. E. Foster, of Augusta, was Steward.

(Wikipedia says Ceres was “the Roman goddess of agriculture”; Flora was “the Roman goddess of flowers” and of spring; and Pomona was “the Roman goddess of fruit and nut trees.”)

Political positions the Maine State Grange took included supporting funding for local schools and the University of Maine and opposing the repeated efforts to move the state capital from Augusta. Augusta’s Maine Farmer newspaper, published from 1823 to at least 1900 (see The Town Line, Nov. 26, 2020), was a Grange publication.

The organization promoted causes that benefited not only farmers, but other segments of society. Howe mentioned sending care packages to soldiers overseas during World War II and building and supporting Grange Cottage to house orphans at Goodwill-Hinckley School, in Fairfield.

Since 1945, the Maine State Grange has been headquartered on State Street, in Augusta.

In the 1880s the state organization added county Granges, called Pomonas. Juvenile Granges started in 1944; Palermo’s Sheepscot Lake Juvenile Grange #106 and Augusta’s Capital Junior Grange #274 were active in the 1950s and 1960s.

A current on-line list from the Maine State Grange says there are 103 active Granges in Maine, counting both local and county Granges. Local ones listed are Benton Grange, Fairfield Center’s Victor Grange and Branch Mills Grange, in Palermo; Vassalboro Grange, in East Vassalboro, should also be on the list, according to its Facebook page.

Albion Grange #181 was one of the earlier local Granges, past and present. Maine State Grange Master Nelson Ham oversaw its organizational meeting on July 6, 1875, historian Ruby Crosby Wiggin wrote. There were 36 charter members: 34 couples, the son of one couple and an unmarried woman.

Wiggin said in 1875, only farmers and their families were eligible to join the Grange. Doctors, storekeepers and all other non-farmers were excluded.

In 1873, Albion residents had organized a local stock company to build a community hall. The hall was finished in 1874, and the first Grange meeting was held there.

Until January 1881 Grangers rented the hall only for meetings. In January 1881, the Stock Company leased it to the Grange at $35 a year, and in 1886 the Grange bought the building.

Beginning in October 1875 Grangers ran a cooperative store, buying a variety of items – coffee, salted fish, cloth, raisins, rock salt, cheese, sugar, chewing tobacco, grass seed – in bulk and selling them to members. Meetings included panel discussions, suppers and other forms of entertainment.

On Oct. 4, 1879, Albion Grange held its first fair, in conjunction with Freedom Grange. Independent Albion Grange fairs were held annually into the early 1950s, Wiggin wrote.

By 1892, Henry Kingsbury wrote in his Kennebec County history, Albion Grange had 150 members. In 1902, the Maine State Grange Proceedings says there were 252 members.

In 1903 Grangers added a dining room to their building, which they still used when Wiggin published her Albion history in 1964. On-line sources suggest the Grange had been re-established in 1957, probably after an interval of inactivity.

In Augusta, records show two Granges. The earlier, Capital Grange #248, was organized April 7, 1883, according to Capt. Charles E. Nash’s chapter on Augusta in Kingsbury’s history. The second Capital Grange Master was Samuel L. Boardman, who wrote the chapter on agriculture in the same book.

On Nov. 12, 1901, according to records of the national Grange, Brother Obadiah Gardner carried an invitation to those attending the national convention to visit Augusta on Nov. 19, traveling by train. The flowery letter was signed by Capital Grange Master G. M. Twitchell and Augusta Board of Trade President C. B. Burleigh.

Attractions included touring the city and the State House; meeting Governor Hill and his wife at “the mansion of the late Hon. J. G. Blaine, which remains as it was when he did his great work”; and visiting “the national home at Togus,” then caring for 2,600 Civil War veterans.

The Grange records say that Brother W. K. Thompson, of South Carolina, moved to accept the invitation. Discussion was postponed from the morning to the afternoon session, when Brother Thompson’s motion was “considered at considerable length and unanimously adopted.”

(Obadiah Gardner [1852-1938], a Michigan native who moved to Maine in 1864, graduated from Coburn Classical Institute, in Waterville, and farmed in the Rockland area, was Master of the Maine Grange from 1897 to 1907. He ran unsuccessfully for governor in 1908; was appointed to the United States Senate in September 1911, after William P. Frye died in office; and lost his re-election bid in 1912, leaving the Senate March 3, 1913. He was then appointed to the International Joint Commission to deal with boundary-water issues between the United States and Canada, on which he served until 1923.)

In 1902, M. F. Norcross, the Deputy of West Kennebec County, reported on his Nov. 21 visit to Capital Grange, which then had 60 members. He found there were “[n]ew rituals and badges,” and the members were much interested in “working the third and fourth degrees” under a capable Master. “Bound to succeed,” he summarized.

Later references to Capital Grange are hard to find. The on-line index to the University of Maine’s Raymond L. Fogler special collections library says the library has 110 years of Capital Grange treasurers’ records, from 1883 to 1993.

Capital Junior Grange seems to have been created in or before 1955 and to have lasted until at least 1961.

North Augusta Grange #348 was founded in or before 1899 and existed until at least 1973. In the 1902 Proceedings of the Maine State Grange, Norcross, reporting as Deputy for Kennebec County, said North Augusta Grange had 126 members and a Degree Team and appeared to be doing well.

Nineteen pages later in the same book, Norcross, listing himself as Deputy for West Kennebec County, reported on his Nov. 4 visit to the North Augusta Grange. The Master told him meetings had been suspended temporarily “on account of a drama.” Norcross gave no details, but commented, “It is hoped that the work that the Grange is designed to do is not made a secondary matter.”

19 Granges in the central Kennebec River valley, in the order in which they were founded (as nearly as this writer can determine)

Victor Grange #49, Fairfield Center; established 1874, still active.

Oak Grove Grange #167, North Vassalboro; May 11, 1875.

Albion Grange #181; July 6, 1875.

Albion Grange #181, Oct. 28, 1957; suspended Aug. 26, 1998, for failure to file state corporate reports (according to an on-line source).

Sidney Grange #194; November 24, 1875.

Cushnoc Grange #204, Riverside (Vassalboro); January 13, 1876.

Capital Grange #248, Augusta; Apr. 7, 1883.

Windsor Grange #284; June 2, 1886.

China Grange #295, South China; December 29, 1887.

Clinton Grange #287; March 1888 (according to Kingsbury; this date is out of sequence).

Clinton Grange #287, July 15, 1949; dissolved Sept. 6, 2006, for failure to file state corporate reports (according to an on-line source).

Winslow Grange #320; in existence by 1894.

East Vassalboro Grange #322, 1895; still active.

Silver Lake Grange #327, China Village; 1895 or 1896.

Branch Mills Grange #336, Jan. 1, 1897 (organized in China, most of its life in Palermo); still active.

North Augusta Grange #348, in existence by 1899.

Sheepscot Lake Grange #445, in existence by 1905.

Benton Grange #458, 1906; still active.

China Lake Grange #578, also called China Grange; fall 1974-1976?, China Village.

19 Granges in the central Kennebec River valley, alphabetical by municipality

Albion (two) Albion Grange #181, 1875; Albion Grange #181, 1957.

Augusta (two) Capital Grange #248; North Augusta Grange #348.

Benton Grange #458.

China (three) China Grange #295; Silver Lake Grange #327; China (Lake) Grange #578.

Clinton (two) Clinton Grange #287, 1888; Clinton Grange #287, 1949.

Fairfield Center Victor Grange #49.

Palermo (two) Branch Mills Grange #336; Sheepscot Lake Grange #445.

Sidney Grange #194.

Vassalboro (three) Oak Grove Grange #167; Cushnoc Grange #204; East Vassalboro Grange #322.

Waterville had none, apparently.

Windsor Grange #284.

Winslow Grange #320.

Main sources

Kingsbury, Henry D., ed., Illustrated History of Kennebec County Maine 1625-1892 (1892).
Wiggin, Ruby Crosby, Albion on the Narrow Gauge (1964).

Websites, miscellaneous.

China Broadband Committee rearranges future schedule

by Mary Grow

With four of China’s five selectmen joining their April 1 virtual meeting, China Broadband Committee (CBC) members rearranged their future schedule and discussed what might be good news.

Committee members had been scheduled to make a presentation at the April 26 selectboard meeting. Instead, they added a Thursday, April 29, meeting to their schedule, with selectboard members specifically invited to join the live stream.

The CBC was already scheduled to meet at 7 p.m., April 8, April 15 and April 22. Selectmen – and interested residents – are welcome to watch those meetings also, via the Live Stream tab at the lower left of the town website, china.govoffice.com.

The maybe good news came to CBC Chairman Robert O’Connor in an email from Peggy Schaffer, Director of the ConnectMaine Authority. She notified him that the 2021 American Recovery Act will provide $23 million in broadband funding to Kennebec County, with China’s share expected to be $430,000.

Schaffer’s email said the United States Treasury has not issued guidelines for using the funds. CBC members therefore do not know how much, if any, money might be applicable to China’s project.

CBC members looked into an earlier grant that provided funds only for unserved and underserved areas. Most China residents have access to broadband service at some level. At the April 1 meeting, committee member Jamie Pitney cited two estimates of households with no access, out of 2,100 to 2,300 properties: 83, according to ConnectMaine, or 140, according to current provider Spectrum Community Solutions.

Schaffer suggested the CBC prepare an informational presentation to the Kennebec County Commissioners.

CBC members spent most of the April 1 meeting repeating previous discussions for the benefit of selectboard members, with O’Connor, Tod Detre and Jamie Pitney sharing their expertise.

They said China needs better broadband service than Spectrum can provide with its current equipment and technology. A faster, more reliable and more flexible system would expand opportunities for residents, including adults working from home, children attending school remotely and everyone looking for entertainment and communication; and it would give China an advantage in attracting new, high-tech businesses.

They prefer a model that would have the town own the infrastructure and contract out building it, maintaining it and providing service. Under that model, should a service provider be unsatisfactory, town officials could seek a different one.

After reviewing proposals from Spectrum and two other companies, CBC members are negotiating with Axiom Technologies, of Machias, with assistance from consultants Mark Van Loan and James Dougherty of Portland-based Mission Broadband.

They are not ready to make a recommendation to the selectboard. They have no firm cost estimates; no consensus on covering costs (a bond issue has been discussed); and no agreed-upon definition of services to be provided.

Their present position is that the contractor(s) would do the billing and would maintain the town-owned infrastructure. After Selectman Wayne Chadwick asked what if something like the 1998 ice storm brought down lines all over town, CBC members thanked him for the reminder and planned to include a provision ensuring the contractor handled disasters as well as routine repairs.

Chadwick remained skeptical about town involvement. Everything government does is “top-heavy and inefficient,” he said; he would prefer a private contractor take on all aspects of the service.

CBC members agreed they will present updates at selectmen’s meetings, either by Selectman Janet Preston, the board’s non-voting representative on the CBC, or by O’Connor. Should they get new information, like Schaffer’s email, between meetings, they will share that, too.

PHOTOS: Scouts take a hike

Photo by Lee Pettengill

On Saturday, March 20, Scouts from China Troop #479 hiked Beech Hill Preserve, in Rockport, and enjoyed a beautiful sunny day. The hike helped prepare the Scouts for more challenging upcoming hikes. This hike included a visit to the 1913 hut at the top of the hill of the 295-acre conservation property.

Photo by Lee Pettengill

Photo by Lee Pettengill

Photo by Lee Pettengill

Maritime Energy supports LifeFlight with gasoline and diesel sales

Maritime Energy and Maritime Farms convenience stores are once again supporting LifeFlight through gasoline and diesel sales at their 13 Maritime Farms convenience stores. This program, titled “Pennies for Life,” donates one cent for every gallon of gasoline and diesel fuel sold during the months of April and May.

“LifeFlight receives a request for transport about every four hours, every day of the week. It has probably helped save the life of someone you know as it has provided critical care and transport for over 30,000 patients throughout Maine” says President of Maritime Energy, Susan Ware Page. “Our state needs this essential service, and we want to do what we can to help the organization.”

Here’s just one story of a young man and his need for the service. There are thousands more, and new needs every day.

Thirteen-year-old Adin Grey was riding his new bike near his home in Camden when the chain came off and the bike stopped short, driving the handlebar into his abdomen. He crashed in a heap on the sidewalk, just across the street from the fire department. Several of the firefighters were outside, they rushed over to help and noticed substantial bleeding from Adin’s midsection. They grabbed a first aid kit from the fire truck and used wound dressings to apply pressure while they waited for the ambulance to get there.

Upon arrival at the hospital it was determined that Adin needed to get to specialized care at Maine Medical Center as soon as possible. The LifeFlight helicopter could make the trip in less than 30 minutes and provide the critical care that Adin needed along the way so the call was made for transport. Once safely in Portland, Adin went into a four-hour surgery to fix the damage and stop the bleeding. It was two more days before he stabilized and his doctors and family breathed a sigh of relief. Adin and his family are happy to report that he has made a full recovery and is a thriving honor student at CHRHS. He is also working part time and recently received his driving permit.

Pennies for Life will help LifeFlight purchase a new state-of-the-art helicopter, which will complete an entire fleet upgrade. These new aircrafts are faster, more powerful, have a larger interior workspace, and advanced avionics that will give LifeFlight more options to safely and reliably answer more calls for help. This translates to more patients served, and served more quickly.

China TIF committee reviews mission statement

by Mary Grow

China’s Tax Increment Financing (TIF) Committee members covered two of the three items on their March 24 agenda, without reaching final agreement on either.

Committee members reviewed the committee’s Mission Statement, last written in August 2018, and the application form for organizations seeking TIF funds. Both will be back for reconsideration at their April 20 meeting, along with the procedures document they did not discuss March 24.

Chairman Thomas Michaud had the 2018 statement and proposed revisions from committee members James Wilkens and Robert MacFarland. Most of the discussion was over how specific the statement should be, with detours into whether it is a mission statement or a vision statement, and how large the committee should be.

Discussion of the application form was more complicated, beginning with whether to set an application deadline and if so, what it should be. Suggestions ranged from January to August, for requests for the fiscal year that would start the next June.

Committee members are effectively dealing with three timelines. They need to have requests for TIF money early in the calendar year, so they can develop a budget request for the following fiscal year by March.

After town voters approve the budget at the annual town meeting in the spring, committee members need to recommend specific expenditures from TIF funds to the Selectboard, which authorizes issuing checks. And the date at which money will actually be given to requesting groups depends on fund availability.

Central Maine Power Company provides TIF funds through taxes paid on its north-south power line in China and its South China substation. Like other taxpayers, CMP pays twice a year; if voters approve selectmen’s recommendations for the coming fiscal year, local taxes will be due Sept. 30, 2021, and March 31, 2022.

Committee members also talked about what information should be requested on an application form. They left almost all their questions to be resolved at their next meeting, scheduled for 6 p.m. Tuesday, April 20.

At earlier meetings this year, committee members developed a Second Amendment to China’s TIF document, including a fund request for 2021-22. The document and fund request are in Art. 16 of the town meeting warrant on which voters will act June 8. Public hearings, on the Second Amendment and on the rest of the warrant, are scheduled to start at 6 p.m. Monday, April 26, before that evening’s selectmen’s meeting.

Colby professor says China Lake has moderate amounts of nutrients

China Lake (photo by Eric Austin)

by Mary Grow

Colby College Professor Denise A. Bruesewitz, Ph.D., gave China Planning Board members “more than a little bit of food for thought,” Chairman Randall Downer remarked after her presentation at the board’s March 23 meeting.

Bruesewitz is a limnologist (the word means an expert on scientific aspects of inland waters) who has studied lakes in New Zealand and various parts of the United States. She is currently engaged in a National Science Foundation water quality project that uses robotics and computer modeling to study algae in lakes in Maine, including China Lake, and in other states.

Bruesewitz said China Lake is classified as mesotrophic, meaning it has a moderate amount of nutrients in the water. (A eutrophic lake has so many nutrients that algae blooms are common; an oligotrophic lake has few nutrients and therefore is unlikely to have algae blooms.)

Older surveys of China Lake have involved taking water samples from a boat and analyzing them. Bruesewitz said the current study uses drones that collect data and learn to recognize hot spots. There are plans to create diving robots.

Downer invited Bruesewitz to help board members develop standards for shoreland erosion barriers. She said she and her colleagues are not familiar with the type of solid vertical barrier that caused the planning board discussion, but in principle such barriers are not a good idea.

The zone where water and land meet, an area that is alternately wet and dry, is ecologically important, she said. Technically named the reference line, it is home to microbes that eat nutrients and is therefore critical to protecting water quality.

The shallow water on the lake edge of the zone houses life forms that are part of the lake’s food web, so it, too, should be protected from man-made disturbance, Bruesewitz said.

Downer asked how to quantify effects of a solid barrier. Bruesewitz replied it would not be easy. She suggested three possible methods: measure on-land nutrient uptake over the seasons and in different conditions; or look for relevant studies from comparable water bodies; or begin a citizen-science monitoring and sampling program.

Bruesewitz shared several documents with planning board members, including New Hampshire’s 2019 Shoreland Water Quality Protection Act that several members considered worth studying.

Replying to questions from board member Scott Rollins, Bruesewitz said China Lake’s biggest threats are the phosphorus that is already in the lake, plus on-land factors, like roofs, paved areas and other impervious surfaces and lack of buffers, that add more unwanted nutrients. Remedies, she said, include providing vegetated buffers that control run-off without separating land and water, and minimizing soil disturbance in the watershed.

She told the board she will be able to share results of the National Science Foundation project with them and with the Kennebec Water District, which uses China Lake’s west basin as its water source.

In other business March 23, Codes Officer Jaime Hanson’s report to the board included the comment that China is experiencing “a definite uptick in construction,” based on permit applications for new houses and other construction.

Board members continued review of the draft solar ordinance that, if approved by voters, will give them standards for reviewing applications for solar installations, both individual and commercial. The ordinance is not on the warrant for the June 8 town business meeting.

All solar installations require permits. Hanson bases his reviews on the six-year-old International Residential Code, and planning board members have been adapting standards for new structures to cover rows of solar panels.

The next China Planning Board meeting is scheduled for 6:30 p.m. Tuesday, April 13.