John F. Hill Grange

In any rural community, the local Grange, with its social and civic events, formed an integral part of family life.  The John F. Hill Grange membership and a list of its activities formed an important part in Eliot’s development over the years.  

The Eliot Grange was started by a group of people that had long felt the need for such an organization.  Albert W Nowell was credited for the original idea of starting the grange and was elected as the first Master.

On the evening of May 20, 1902, in the Eliot Town Hall, (which was later in years the first “Free High School in Maine”), Deputy W. C. Larrabee of Auburn, Maine, gave the grange obligation to then 28 charter members.  The first officers were elected that same evening and installed by the past Master Hamden C, Keene of the York Grange, assisted by Brother Homer Hobbs and his wife, of Berwick, Maine.

It was voted that the first grange be known as the “Piscataqua Grange #393,” but upon further consideration, members thought it was only proper that since one of our native sons had been governor of Maine, his name would be honored.  On June 2, the John F. Hill Grange became a reality.

Membership grew and enthusiasm ran high, and as the cold weather approached, it became necessary to meet in the vestry of the Congregational Church. Plans were made for building their own building and the Grange people raised money by having fairs, minstrel shows, publishing and selling a 61 page “cook book”, etc.  In the summer and fall of 1910, the building operations actually began.

Many gifts of money were made to the building committee, also Ex-Governor Hill and Mrs. Hill donated large sums of money to the project as well as expensive kitchen equipment.  On December 9, 1910, the grange building was dedicated as the new home of the John F. Hill Grange.

It should be noted that the mortgage was paid off on January 11, 1926, sixteen years after the building was completed.

In the year of 1935, a slump took place in the Grange attendance as many of the older members were unable to take an active part in the responsibilities.  As the war years approached, attendance gradually lessened as a combination of work shift and the war effort, and it became very difficult to maintain an active organization.  Things looked bleak in these times. The Grange bills were difficult to meet and this was a difficult time for the Grange.

Small groups persevered and eventually solved the financial problem by leasing the hall in 1946 to the Town of Eliot, Maine for a period of 15 years.  This building has been used by many business and social organizations throughout the years.

In later years (1948 era), through the efforts of the Master, Mrs. Edith Chase, the Grange once more gained new membership and began functioning with more success. Their first fair for that year proved to be a huge success as well as stage plays and card parties.  Thus, funds were added to the coffer of the local grange.

In 1951, the John F. Hill Grange won national recognition by taking in a record number of new members.  This created a 98% increase in membership, and much credit was said to be due to Brother M. Frank Murphy and Sister Lucy Murphy for their efforts for securing most of the new members.  The Lecturer, Lena M. Molleur, won first prize at a York County meeting for having carried out a record number of accredited projects, while another member, Richard Jasper, won a prize in the Highway Essay Contest.  Perhaps the most worthwhile project for the grange in the year of 1951 was the organization of a juvenile grange with twenty-five charter members.

The year 1952 started out with great promise under the leadership of Miss Jessie Dixon (now Jessie Kent) and continued this way for a time.  The celebration of the Fiftieth Anniversary of the John F. Hill Grange was held on May 26, 1952 in the grange hall with representatives from twenty-three neighboring granges present.  Awards of many types were presented at this special meeting. A huge five tier anniversary cake was cut by Ceres Marion Langley, assisted by Pomona Doris Evans (now Doris Grover), and served it with ice cream to two hundred grangers from Maine and New Hampshire.

Sometime in the 1950’s, the grange donated a flag pole to the South Eliot Post Office which was installed by the front door of the building.

The grange membership has been lower than usual in recent years, however, the Eliot Grange had 70 members and a reasonably active membership group in the mid-1990’s.  Along with their regular grange meetings, some of their past activities included collecting food for the Foot Prints Pantry each month, putting on a supper twice each month for the Eliot Lions, a pie sale once a year, giving the proceeds to Project Share for the Lions Club to deliver once a year at Christmas time.  They also used to hold a Farmer’s Market each Saturday from the first of June each year to Eliot Festival Day in September, along with the Eliot Garden Club and any other club or organization wishing to participate.

The grange donates money to the “Hinkley School” in Hinkley, Maine, once a year for the children there.

Our William Fogg Library used the Grange Hall often each year for their activities at no charge. The grange does, however, rent the hall to various organizations occasionally.