Danville Express

Living - September 7, 2007

Presenting the Past: The Danville Grange, Patrons of Husbandry (Part 1)

by Beverly Lane

The Danville Grange Hall on Diablo Road stands as a reminder of an important San Ramon Valley farmers' organization, which has served the community for nearly 130 years.

The National Grange was founded by Oliver Hudson Kelley after the Civil War in 1867. Kelley was looking for a way to improve farmers' lives throughout the country and hoping this new fraternal order, the Patrons of Husbandry, would help heal some of the wounds left by that terrible war.

Movements to organize farmers had already started in California. In 1873 the new San Ramon Farmers' Union sent George McCamley and Robert Baldwin as delegates to a San Francisco convention to form a statewide Farmers' Union. Instead convention attendees heard about the National Grange organization and agreed to form a California Grange, Patrons of Husbandry.

On Oct. 1, 1873, Danville Grange No. 85 was organized, with 30 charter members (20 men, 10 women). It became the third Grange in Contra Costa County and the 85th in the state. Charles Wood of Sycamore Valley was elected the first Worthy Master. By 1875 there were 15,193 Grange members in California.

Grangers worked to improve rural economic conditions and educate their members. One major goal was to sell their wheat and secure larger returns for the farmers. The local wheat was a dry, flavorful grain which sold well at the Liverpool Corn Exchange for $68 a ton in the 1870s, but the farmers received only $28 a ton.

They organized several facilities to support wheat marketing. The Grangers' Wharf and railroad line in Martinez provided a deep-water location for their wheat. In April, 1874, Wood and John Chrisman helped found the Grangers Bank of California. Danville Grange members John J. Kerr, Erastus Ford and James Stone helped plan a new warehouse and business association.

Although the organization was non-partisan it was politically active. Grangers lobbied the state legislature for "Granger laws" to reduce the power of the railroads. Fully a quarter of the representatives elected to the 1878-9 California Constitutional Convention were Grangers, including Danville founder Dan Inman who was the first Worthy Master in Livermore. Several local leaders served in the state legislature, including ranchers Andrew Inman and Charles Wood and teacher A.J. Young.

Grangers took the lead in all aspects of valley life, with women and men sharing the Worthy Master position. The Grange Hall on Front Street in Danville became the community center hosting meetings and entertainments, picnics, and speeches on topics such as fair railroad rates, the need for a railroad, ground squirrel eradication and women's suffrage.

The impact of the Grange in the valley and nationwide was profound. Their meetings raised the level of civic discourse, brought new ideas to the Valley's rural setting and enriched the lives of farm families.

Grange Timeline

1868 Grange founded after Civil War by Oliver Hudson Kelley

1873 National Grange proposal presented at the Farmers' Union convention in San Francisco and the California Grange was formed

Oct. 1, 1873 The Danville Grange No. 85 was founded. 20 men and 10 women were Charter Members. Charles Wood was elected first Worthy Master

1874 Grange Hall was built in Danville west of Front Street. First meeting was held Nov. 14, 1874. Meetings and potlucks were held every Saturday

1870s Grange members helped organize the Grangers' bank, business association, warehouse and wharf. They promoted lower railroad rates and squirrel eradication

1887 A harvest feast at the Grange picnic grounds on Front Street drew 1,500 people from all over the East Bay

1909 Grange initiated a public high school in the Valley and the Good Roads League in the County

1913 Grange and Odd Fellows built a Social and Fraternal Hall on Front Street, using the original Grange building for the second floor.

1927 Grange relinquished Hall ownership

1952 New Danville Grange Hall built on Diablo Road, on land donated by former Worthy Master Will Stewart

2007 Today the Danville Grange No. 85 is the only active Grange remaining in Contra Costa County

Beverly Lane, a longtime Danville resident, is curator of the Museum of the San Ramon Valley and co-author of "San Ramon Valley: Alamo, Danville, and San Ramon."


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