After 14 years without a permanent home, the Plattekill Historical Society has moved into new digs in the old Plattekill Grange No. 923 on Route 32. The volunteer work to renovate the circa-1903 building has been going on for more than a year and is still in progress, but enough of the renovation has been done that the first floor is ready. Monthly meetings of the organization are now held there on the third Saturday of most months, and the space provides room for exhibitions of the group’s collection of antique maps, documents and historic local photographs and postcards.
The Plattekill Historical Society is in the process of becoming a 501 (c) (3) nonprofit, and it’s even getting a new name: the Plattekill Historical Preservation Society, reflecting the organization’s mission to research, document and preserve the history of its community. The group has committed to a 99-year lease on the Grange building, located at 127 Church Street in Plattekill.
Ownership of the building will remain with the National Grange of the Order of Patrons of Husbandry, which was founded in 1867 to encourage farmers to band together to promote their economic well-being. The fraternal organization still maintains more than 2,100 community Grange Halls in small rural communities nationwide. The Plattekill chapter was among the earliest; according to local historian Elizabeth Werlau in her book about Plattekill in Arcadia Publishing’s “Images of America” series, Plattekill’s first Grange was organized in 1876, with the most recent group formed in 1902.
Plattekill Historical Society board member Shirley Anson says that she remembers many active Granges in the area when she was growing up. “Over the years, the Grange was an extremely important part of the community. Sometimes they would hold school functions – the Clintondale Grange held the local eighth-grade graduation ceremonies – and everyone that has dropped into the Plattekill Grange has talked about attending their dinners and dances, and even plays.”
The full stage where the plays were held still exists on the second floor of the partially renovated building. “What we’re going to do with it, we don’t know yet,” says Anson. “We haven’t begun the restoration upstairs yet. That will be a big exhibit hall, also; but we need to do fundraising now to raise money for these things. Everything has always been by volunteer work in the past, but now we have insurance and electric bills, things like that.”
After the Grange organization stopped using the building, a church used the space for a while, as did the Girl Scouts. These past seven or eight years it has been unused.
The Historical Society took the building over after the current “master of the Grange” in Plattekill, Marge Gardner, asked if it would be interested in leasing it. The group was not interested in selling it, says Anson. “They wanted to retain the building in case the Grange gets reactivated and they want to have meetings there. We made an agreement with them that we would provide space for them if they decide to do that.”
Once the commitment was made to move into the space, major renovations had to be done. “Last year we did a huge amount of work,” Anson says. “I think we were there every weekend, and during the week a lot. The majority of the work was done by volunteers. My husband, Robert Anson, has been in construction all his life, and he basically oversaw the work with the assistance of Ray Gilman [another local resident and member of the Historical Society]. I don’t think he and his wife, Nancy, missed a weekend working there.”
The first thing they had to do was go in and clean it all out. “The mice had taken over, and birds had gotten into there and made nests,” Shirley says. “A great deal had to be thrown out.” Not anything historic, she hastens to add. “There was debris everywhere…we had to clean and paint it and get the windows to open. It’s taken a lot of effort. We ripped out two bathrooms and put in one large family bathroom that’s wheelchair-accessible, and took out the boiler and all the old ventwork and pipework that went to it. We’re going to replace it with some type of electrical heat.”
The building will be open to visitors during the regular meetings and for exhibitions of historical interest, of which the group will post notice on its Facebook pages: “Plattekill Historical Society” and “PHS Plattekill Grange Restoration Project.”
The meetings often feature guest speakers, and the group hosts outside events that include cemetery tours. “We go out of our way to make sure we have really good programs,” says Anson. The annual golf tournament each summer is the group’s major fundraiser, and historic house tours may be added next year, she says.
More information can be obtained by visiting Shirley Anson and company at the annual Plattekill Day on Saturday, Sept. 19 from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. at Thomas Felten Park on Route 32 in Modena, or by e-mailing [email protected].