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Historic grange building being restored for Sandwich project



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Sandwich Historical Society Director Matt Powers describes historical documents at the Mount Israel Grange. Erin Plummer. (click for larger version)
October 20, 2010
SANDWICH — A building that played a major role in the history of the Sandwich Fair is now undergoing a renovation project.

On Friday, Sandwich Historical Society Director Matt Powers and President Tom Shevenell gave a group of National Forest volunteers a tour through the Mount Israel Grange building.

Volunteers from across the northeast toured the grange as part of a project encompassing the Quaker meeting houses and cemetery. The project is part of a Passport in Time effort spearheaded by Forest Archaeologist Terry Fifield and Assistant Forest Archaeologist Sarah Jordan of the White Mountain National Forest.

The Forestry Service started Passport in Time to bring volunteers into historic preservation and archaeology efforts. The group, including volunteers from Washington, D.C., Pennsylvania, Connecticut, and New York, took tours of the areas Quaker meetinghouses ending at the North Sandwich Meetinghouse and doing clean up work at the Quaker cemetery.

Shevenell and Powers gave the group a tour through the grange building, describing the ongoing project.

"It's a work in progress and we're doing construction on it right now to make it accessible to the public for functions," Powers said,

The building was built after the original Quaker meetinghouse in Center Sandwich burnt down in 1860 and was used as a meetinghouse. In 1892, Mount Israel Grange was founded and utilized the building. The Quakers then moved to a meetinghouse in North Sandwich, which is currently used today as the Friends Meetinghouse.

The grange was influential in getting an early form of the Sandwich Fair off the ground.

"Mount Israel Grange was formed and immediately the fair just got its legs again," Powers said.

The grange acted as an exhibit hall during the early days when the fair was mostly a street fair. In the later part of the 19th century, Powers said the grange wanted to devote more time to social movements and pulled out of the fair. Eventually residents started to form fair groups, and the Sandwich Fair Association was formed. The fair started again in earnest in 1910.

The grange remained active as a meetinghouse until membership started to dwindle in the 1980s. The Sandwich Historical Society bought the building in 1994 for $10 and the grange was officially disbanded in 1995.

After the installation of a climate control system, the Historical Society has used the grange building as a storage area for artifacts. Recently, the Society has endeavored to restore the building and have it open for activities.

Work has gradually been done on the building over the last few years. An old chimney was taken down and a new fire exit door was put in the upper floor. The cellar was cleaned out and plastic was put around the walls.

Powers said many old chairs and benches were found in the grange building and at town hall. The grange's original piano and tables are still in the building and Powers said they found costumes and props from some of the grange's past events. Powers said efforts are planned to put up a stage curtain on the second floor stage where events had been held.

Long term projects include updating the electrical system, structural repairs and exterior improvements, cleaning, putting new plaster on the stage ceiling, and other projects.

Powers said the historical society also found many old photos. A project is underway to digitize the photos and put framed reproductions up on the walls of the grange.

"Quimby Trust has been very nice funding this project," Powers said, saying the project was able to get a new printer/scanner thanks to this donation.

Over 700 photos have been digitized with over a thousand items in total.

Shevenell said the project has received money from the Quimby Trust and from supporters of the Historical Society. The project also received a small grant from New Hampshire Electric Co-op. Local builders have also offered their services for a set price or on a volunteer basis.

"It's sort of been a community effort," Shevenell said.

Powers said they will try to keep the building as it was but plans are always in progress.

"That's the dilemma of places like this; you can't have it all so you have to think strongly of what you're trying to interpret," Powers said.

The Society is looking for funding for the project. For more information contact the Sandwich Historical Society at 284-6269.

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