Danville Express

Living - October 12, 2007

Presenting the Past: The Danville Grange, Patrols of Husbandry (Part 3): Leaders of the Grange

by Beverly Lane

This is the last of three articles on the Grange, an important organization in the San Ramon Valley for over 130 years.

Stalwart men, they, like patriarchs of old,

Who had ventured far West in their long quest for gold,

Or to seek for new homes in contentment and peace,

With their loved ones to dwell, where joys ne'er cease

-Stanza of a poem written in 1958 by Charlotte Wood, who was an 80-year Grange member.

The Grange began in California as ranchers and farmers in the San Ramon Valley saw the need to promote better agricultural practices by working together. The uncertainties of land titles in the Alamo and Danville area had been settled late in the 1860s. Downtowns were thriving, with post offices and grammar schools well established by the early 1870s. A rail line would have helped the economy and, for the next two decades, the Grange pursued getting a railroad to the Valley.

After The Patrons of Husbandry, Danville Grange No. 85, started in 1873, members of this farmers' fraternal order took the lead in improvements throughout the Valley. These "stalwarts" referred to in Charlotte Wood's poem served as Grange Worthy Masters and lecturers, won election to the state legislature and school boards, and organized the County fairs, Grange banks and Grange wharves.

Here are some of these outstanding Grangers:

* Charles Wood (1830-1907) was Grange Worthy Master from 1873-75 and in 1878. He and his wife Cynthia were charter members. He often lectured at Grange meetings in the East Bay, was active in the Grange Business Association and was elected to the state legislature. Their children, Charles J., Elizabeth and Charlotte were very active in the Danville Grange.

* William Lynch (1827-1910) moved to San Ramon in 1850. A skilled carpenter, he helped build the first wood frame house in the San Ramon Valley for William Norris. He was a prominent landowner, having an assessed valuation of $13,000 in 1876. A member of the Grange Hall committee, he loaned the Grange $355 to purchase land for the Hall, built in 1874. For a time San Ramon was called "Lynchville" after him.

* Mary Ann Jones (1825-1918) was a Grange charter member who was widowed in 1870. She promoted early religious camp meetings and founded the Cumberland Presbyterian Church in Alamo. She assisted her husband, John, as the first Alamo postmaster and helped get the first Alamo grammar school started.

* Robert O. Baldwin (1828-1908) came to the valley in 1852 and soon owned 900 acres of prime land in Danville. In 1872 his assessed valuation was $19,132. He was credited with one of the earliest successful wheat crops in the County, was a Grange charter member and served as Worthy Master from 1887-1888. He was also Trustee of the Danville Presbyterian Church and Grammar School and a writer for the Contra Costa Gazette.

* Elizabeth Wood (1859-1924) was Grange secretary for 14 years, serving as Worthy Master in 1891. A single lady, she worked on the Woodside Ranch in Sycamore Valley and was an artist and photographer. In 1887 one Pacific Rural Press article said that the Wood dairy was "engineered and operated to perfection by Miss Libbie Wood who takes entire charge of the establishment."

* William E. Stewart was Worthy Master from 1905-1907 and promoted the County Good Roads League and new high school. He was a trustee on the San Ramon Valley Union High School Board when the school first began. In the 1950s he donated land for the current Grange Hall on Diablo Road.

These stalwarts left their mark and made the Valley a better place to lives during our agricultural past. Today the Danville Grange No. 85 is the only active Grange in Contra Costa County.

Source: Information came from the museum archives, from Ross Smith and from Virgie V. Jones' "Historical Persons and Places ... in 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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