PALERMO — In this season of Thanksgiving, the Branch Mills Grange is giving thanks.

A little more than a year ago, the Grange in this southwestern Waldo County town was contemplating closure. Damage to the foundation of the century-old, four-story building made it unstable enough that members feared it might collapse. Fixing the drainage problems that led to frost heaves was more than they could afford, so they opted to close off the only public access to Branch Pond for safety reasons.

When town resident Gary Dyer proposed a fix at a Grange meeting open to the public in October 2015, it seemed fairly straightforward: Raise $7,500, pull together some volunteers and stabilize the foundation.

“The building kind of tips,” said David Parkman, master of the Branch Mills Grange. “We’ve got to tip it back the other way.”

Making that happen involved hours of coordinating donated labor, rented and donated equipment, logistics for moving supplies both purchased and donated, and racking up more than 600 miles for hauling, fetching and returning items. It demanded time from members and volunteers to shift stored items in the basement to make way for the complicated plans of installing temporary cribbing and I-beams for support as well as permanent bracing.

“It’s important to our Grange members that we acknowledge and express our gratitude to the people who have saved our Grange hall with their many hours of volunteered skill, labor and monetary donations,” said Pamela Swift, Branch Mills Grange secretary.

The National Grange of the Order of Patrons of Husbandry, generally referred to as simply the Grange, is a fraternal organization that was founded to promote the economic and political well-being of the community and agriculture. The Branch Mills Grange building has, at one time or other, housed the Town Office, hosted Town Meetings, given space to the Fire Department and opened its doors for community events such as school graduations.

A recent tally of the project set its value at $140,000 to $180,000, estimating what a commercial contract for the work would have cost.

With work wrapped up for this construction season, it’s clear the plan was a good one. It just proved — as do many renovation projects — far more complicated to execute than first anticipated.

“It was more than I thought it was going to be,” Dyer said.

Last year, Dusty Haskell dug a ditch along the side of the foundation with his excavator to funnel water away from the building and stop the chronic water damage. Then, working with Dyer, he stabilized the foundation by connecting it to deadmen — huge concrete weights buried in the ground off the side of the building — with donated cables and turnbuckles and locking it in place. Haskell also brought members of his crew to help with earthwork and excavation.

Donations for the project ranged from the simple — permission to use a stretch of private property adjacent to the Grange from Marie St. Pierre — to the more complicated — the loan of construction equipment from Blane Casey Constructors, and crushed stone from S.D. Childs.

Gary Robinson and Scott Bailey climbed four stories to the roof to remove the brick hazards around the chimney so workers could get in and out of the building’s west entrance without fear of falling bricks.

Dyer, along with a crew of volunteers including his son Colin and Don Salvatore, who is also a Grange member, spent hours digging out a trench in the basement. They scrambled the day the concrete was poured to reset the forms for the buttresses in the basement after they blew out when the concrete was first poured, and then scrambled some more with the help of the truck driver to shovel the concrete back where it belonged.

“There were some days this summer when working on the east side was extremely hot,” Tony Tuttle said. Tuttle, from Albion, and Jeff Grady, of Palermo, both longtime friends of Dyer, worked with him throughout the summer and into the fall.

“It made me mad when I found out Gary was down here working without me,” Grady said.

The volunteers finished the sectioned reconstruction of the eastern foundation wall by Sept. 30, in time to allow public access to the pond for the very end of the fishing season.

Work will continue in the spring on the west side of the building, when new footings will be poured under the west wall, which also will be stabilized.

“We keep chugging along,” Swift said.

When the west wall is fixed next year, the next item on the list is a ramp to make the building handicapped-accessible; and sometime after that, repair to the woodwork on the upper floors, where birds and bees have been getting in.

Although he spearheaded the project, Dyer is not one to toot his own horn. A volunteer, he said, is just a guy who’s so lazy that he didn’t step back when everyone else did.

And while he’s not a Grange member, he has dozens of memories of the Grange building dating back to his childhood, when it was the center of activity in Palermo.

He has attended only two Grange meetings in his life, but he said the work has been important for the town.

Just west of the Grange is the Branch Pond Mill. It’s been falling down over the Dinsmore Dam, and it’s now in the process of being removed so the dam can be repaired.

“We’re losing our landmarks,” he said.

Jessica Lowell — 621-5632

[email protected]

Twitter: @JLowellKJ

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