The future is uncertain for a historic Thorndike building that once housed the local Grange chapter, but has fallen into disrepair and no one’s sure where the money to fix it will come from.

The Harvest Moon Grange No. 57 surrendered its charter in August, and voted to donate the Main Street building it has used since 1905 to the Thorndike Historical Society.

Hazel Rumney, a member of town historical society, who had been a member of the defunct chapter said the Grange disbanded because, with only seven to nine active members, it could not regularly come up with the required seven-member quorum to hold meetings.

“The other members are elderly and several of them have passed away, and we just don’t have new members joining,” she said. “The Grange, I think, is just slowly disappearing. It’s not a farming community like it used to be.”

The property transfer was halted in October when Thorndike officials notified the Maine State Grange that residents had complained about the structure and ultimately declared it as dangerous.

Thorndike Code Enforcement Officer Charles Porter said the two-story building has a fire escape that is rotten, its floors are in bad shape and there is an entrance without a landing. The building also leans outward in the back.

Those problems must be addressed before the town can issue an occupancy permit, he said.

But former Grange members Thursday said they are frustrated with the town’s decision to close the building and believe the Thorndike Board of Selectman intends to demolish the structure.

Rumney said the selectmen did not explain why the building was closed to the local group or the Maine State Grange and that the town would not allow members back access to collect personal property.

“We just want the townspeople to know what the board is doing,” she said. She’s concerned the town may demolish the building, which once served as a private residence known as the Johnson Building and a store before the Grange took it over.

Since the Grange chapter disbanded, ownership of the building transferred to the Maine State Grange, the parent organization of Grange chapters across the state.

The building’s closure derailed plans to transfer ownership to the historical society, Rumney said.

Maine State Grange Master Vicki Huff said the organization was not aware at the time the Thorndike Grange disbanded that the historical society was not incorporated under state law.

While the society has since incorporated, Huff said the group must prove it has the means to repair the building before the Maine State Grange will transfer ownership. The Maine State Grange has also considered transferring ownership to another group that would have used the structure as a railroad museum, but that group passed on the building.

Huff said she couldn’t predict what will happen if the historical society does not come up with the money to fix the building. The Maine State Grange would have to make that decision when it meets later this month, she said.

First Selectman Jim Bennett denied the town is planning to demolish the structure.

“It’s not fit for people to be in, so what we’ve done is just put up a sign so they can’t enter,” he said. “They have to come up with a plan, and they have to tell us what it is.”

Bennett said the Maine State Grange requested more time to come up with a plan to save the building and the board acquiesced Wednesday night. There is no deadline for the Grange to return with a plan, he said.

The town has also agreed to let the Grange back into the building for a day to collect personal property so long as the group agrees to a waiver indemnifying the town of any fault in the event they are injured in the process, he said.

Bennett said it’s too soon to say what will happen if the Grange doesn’t come up with a viable plan to bring the building up to code.

“I’m not even going to answer that, because I don’t know,” he said. “It takes a vote of the selectmen, and we haven’t gotten that far.”

Bennett said the historical society didn’t have the money to repair the building, instead planning to seek grants to pay for the work.

“But who is going to put $400,000 into a building in downtown Thorndike?” he said.

Rumney said the historical society planned to seek a listing for the structure on the National Register of Historic Places.

Founded in 1867, the Grange is a national agricultural advocacy organization designed to promote economic and political well being of its communities.

“It’s hard to explain what the Grange is, so the Grange is different for everybody and has something for everybody,” Huff said.

Huff said many Granges are similar to the one in Thorndike in that they don’t have enough members dedicated enough to attend regular meetings. The decline in Grange interest has more to do with community support than with a decline in farming, she said.

“The Grange needs to support its community and the community needs to support its Grange,” she said, adding that research shows that for every five members that join a grange the group must approach about 100.

With the tagline “American values, hometown roots,” Granges are not limited to farming communities, Huff said, with active Granges in metropolitan areas like Portland and Bangor.

She said she is working toward the Maine State Grange becoming more active in the Maine Legislature.

Evan Belanger — 861-9239

[email protected]

Twitter: @evanbelanger

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