The Chelsea Grange building marks its 100th anniversary this year, but the aging structure needs a couple of new things: a replacement roof and more members for its organization.

The building, across from Chelsea Market on relatively busy Route 226, can be easy to miss. It’s used once a month for meetings of Chelsea Grange 215, the local group of the national fraternal organization. While most community events in the middle of the 20th century were held in the building, it’s now rarely used.

Without a new roof for the building and new members for the organization, it’s uncertain how the group of around 15 members will be able to maintain the building, said Esther Shaw, overseer of the local organization.

“I really don’t know,” said Shaw, 89. “I think it will go the way of other grange halls — fall down. It’s a shame. The interior of that grange hall is just beautiful.”

The group has been trying to raise the roughly $12,000 needed to replace the leaking roof for more than a year, but have raised only around $3,300 so far, Shaw said. She said members of the local chapter of the National Grange of the Order of Patrons of Husbandry built the building between 1913 and 1914 for $4,000, which is equivalent to $96,000 now.

Membership at the national and state level of the fraternal organization has declined over the years. The National Grange, founded in 1867 as a coalition of farmers, peaked at more than 500,000 in the 1870s and 1880s and again between the 1920s and 1950s, according to the organization. Last year, the number of local chapters was around 2,100 and there were around 160,000 members.

The Maine State Grange had a peak of 50,000 to 60,000 members in the mid-20th century, but last year that was down to fewer than 5,000 members.

Chelsea Grange 215 is now more of a civic-minded organization, donating dictionaries to third graders at Chelsea Elementary and Pittston Consolidated School and folding napkins for Meals on Wheels. If the group is forced to close, its building will be transferred to the Maine State Grange and be sold, Shaw said.

“Or if it doesn’t sell, it will just sit there and fall down, just like the Pittston Grange. It will just be a derelict building, and it’s too nice a building to let that happen to it,” she said.

In an effort to raise awareness about Chelsea Grange along with other community organizations, the town plans to distribute a packet of information about the group in the tax bills that will be sent to residents later this year, said Board of Selectmen Chairman Ben Smith.

With several vacancies on municipal committees and recent struggles attracting volunteers, he said the town has been looking for ways to increase involvement in the community. The town’s website is advertising the group’s current membership drive.

Smith said the board also plans to hold at least one meeting at the grange, likely in September. The board previously held some meetings in the building a few years ago, he said.

“It was actually a really nice environment to hold a meeting in,” Smith said of the grange. “I think people felt that it was a place of historic significance that the board could function and the public could have access to community meetings.”

Paul Koenig — 621-5663

[email protected]

Twitter: @paul_koenig

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