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Living - September 21, 2007

Presenting the Past: The Danville Grange, Patrons of Husbandry (Part 2): Grange Halls in the Valley

by Beverly Lane

The First Grange Hall

After the Danville Grange was founded in 1873, members and families first met in the Danville School House on Front Street. There was such enthusiasm for the new organization that they came into town every Saturday for meetings in the morning and afternoon, with a potluck for lunch.

Soon the number of members and their families swelled beyond the school house space and they discussed building a hall. From 1859-1868, the three-story Union Academy sat on the border between Alamo and Danville and served as a boarding high school and a place to meet. But after it burned down, there were no large meeting spaces in the Valley.

So a Grange Hall was built, just west of Danville's Front Street. C.E. Howard built the hall with $1,383.70, which was collected for the land and building.

The Pacific Rural Press of July 11, 1874, noted: "The frame of the new hall for the Danville Grange of the Patrons of Husbandry, 30 by 60 feet upon the ground, is already up."

Grange Halls were constructed all over the country and became the hubs of community life. According to Grange historian Inez Butz:

"It is hard for us today to realize the dreariness of farm life a century ago. Visits to the market were few and neighbors were often miles apart. Into this dull life of the farmer and his family the Grange brought social contacts, news of the outside world, and the pleasure of laughing, talking and eating with new and old friends and neighbors. Programs were an established item in the order of business and people who had never spoken, sung, or debated before an audience could now have that opportunity and experience."

For 40 years, the Grange Hall was the largest meeting room in the Valley and served as a community center. All kinds of meetings, speeches, plays, parties, church services and graduations were held there. The Grange park near the hall was the site for many outdoor parties.

The Harvest Feast in 1887 in Danville was one huge event. As reported in the Pacific Rural Press, "four to five hundred teams and vehicles from all parts of the country strung along the highway. It was estimated that at least 1500 people were in attendance" at the picnic grounds, enclosed by the Grange Hall, Presbyterian Church and school house.

1913: A Fraternal and Social Hall

The need for a larger meeting space was recognized by the turn of the century. In 1911, spearheaded by Minnie Coxhead Lynch and the San Ramon Ladies Association, the San Ramon Community Hall was built near the San Ramon school house and general store. It became the center of social life in San Ramon and served as a meeting, party, dance and graduation location.

Several Danville organizations also wanted a bigger hall. The International Order of Odd Fellows had been meeting for some time in an upstairs room in a two-story building on Front Street. So in 1913, the Odd Fellows and Grangers jointly built the Fraternal and Social Hall. The Grange building was turned and became the second story and a large auditorium was created to the west. A Dedication Ball on Nov. 28, 1913, celebrated its opening. The large room was used for various purposes, including high school basketball games, graduations and movies.

Today the building is owned by the Town of Danville and is called the Village Theatre. It was a movie theater after World War II and the Zion Fellowship Church for several years before its rehabilitation by the town beginning in 1988.

It is interesting to observe how residents recycled buildings and spaces in this period. Not only did the 1874 hall become a second floor, but the old Odd Fellows rooms were used for high school classes. One newspaper article discussed the renovations which were done to these rooms so that the classes could move from the small house (on Church Street) to the Front Street site. The new SRV Union High School was finally completed in 1916.

The New Grange Hall

The Grange membership gradually decreased in size, and they lost ownership in the Social Hall in the 1920s. They were left without a meeting place. But, in 1946, former Grange Worthy Master Will Stewart, at the humorous suggestion made by Grange brothers and sisters, agreed to donate .97 acre of his land to the Grange for a new hall. Fundraising began, donations were solicited, and the new Grange Hall on Diablo Road opened in 1952. This popular building near Vista Grande Elementary School is still used by many different groups and provides an ongoing presence for the Grange in the 21st century.

Next week: Leaders of the Grange.

Sources: Archives of the Museum of the San Ramon Valley.

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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