WHITEFIELD — Arlington Grange No. 528 has something for the first time in its 102 years of existence: a working bathroom.

The long overdue installation of a toilet is part of a bigger plan for the Grange, which stands on the top of Grand Army Hill on Route 126 in Whitefield. Secretary Debbie Rogers said the organization wants to “bring the Grange back to what it was in the past,” a place for meetings, events and other community activities.

“There’s a lot we want to do,” Rogers said Tuesday afternoon during a tour of the Grange with her husband, Dana. “We’ve gotten a good reputation by being active in the community.”

Rogers said the Grange, named for original organizer Fred Arlington Naray, held its first meeting Sept. 1, 1914. Currently, the Whitefield group has about 20 members, who pay a $27 yearly membership fee, and is growing. Members meet once a month in the building, which needs some cosmetic work but is in relatively good shape, considering it’s more than 120 years old.

“We want to be able to have events (upstairs), but in order to do that, we need electricity,” she said. The large upstairs meeting space and stage has only one outlet, which makes hosting any gathering difficult. One of the upcoming projects will include a rewiring of the entire building, making it more modern and conducive to hosting community events.

Despite the recent drop in Grange memberships across the country, Rogers said, the Whitefield organization is taking advantage of the “boom in organic farming” in hope of growing the Grange for the future.

“We have so many farmers in Whitefield, and this was a place where farmers would get together,” she said. “It’s about community and community service.”

The national organization, called the National Grange of the Order of Patrons of Husbandry, was the first group dedicated to farming when it was created in 1867. The nonprofit, nonpartisan, fraternal organization is in 2,100 cities and towns across the country, according to the group’s website.

The National Grange said active membership fell from about 270,000 to 70,000 between 1991 and 2012, and the number of local Granges declined from roughly 3,900 to 2,000. Current membership data wasn’t readily available, and a spokesperson for the National Grange did not return a phone call Tuesday morning.

Rogers and others have big plans for the Grange to continue to grow and add members. She said there have been discussions about hosting monthly bingo games, game nights during the winter and dances and other musical events.

She said growing its membership and holding more events go hand-in-hand.

“I think you gain more members from interest in what we’re doing,” Rogers said. “The more members we have, the more things we can do.”

There are other spaces in the Kennebec valley for meetings and events, including the remodeled Lithgow Public Library in Augusta; but for farmers in Whitefield who work long days, the Grange is more convenient.

“We want to make this pleasant, and we are trying to encourage people to come,” she said, “but it’s hard this time of year because people are busy.”

Any remaining upgrades to the building, Rogers said, would be done using money from fundraisers — such as a historical farming calendar and prize raffles — and the hard work of generous members of the community.

“It would be all hands on deck, and we’ll try to do everything ourselves,” she said. “We don’t have a lot of money in the bank.”

Her husband said one of the best things about the Grange is the different skills and abilities of its members, which allows the organization to complete projects without much outside cost.

For decades, members and guests used a dual outhouse inside the building, and Rogers said everyone seemed to be content to continue that; but in order to be more accessible and attractive to prospective members, a working toilet was a priority.

Several Grange members, including Rogers’ husband, worked for about a year and a half to finish the bathroom, which includes a toilet and a sink. The majority of the cost, Rogers said, was for the septic tank, which Whitefield resident and member Steve Smith completed last summer for just the cost of the materials, or about $1,500.

“God bless Steve Smith,” she said. Rogers said aside from the wiring, the other project of immediate concern is replacing the building’s wheelchair lift. The current lift is too high and requires the user to climb steps.

Rogers hopes continued marketing efforts, including updates to the Grange’s Facebook page, continue the organization’s push to grow its membership.

“We want to get back to the way it was,” she said.

The Grange meets on the first Wednesday of every month. A potluck dinner begins at 6 p.m., with the meeting following an hour later.

Jason Pafundi — 621-5663

[email protected]

Twitter: @jasonpafundiKJ

Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.