Treasures of the Grange in the Suffieldiana Exhibit

Print More

Among the items at Suffieldiana, the current exhibit at The King House Museum & Barn, attendees will find small treasures such as Lester Smith Collects. Suffieldiana is a name concocted by Lester Smith to describe artifacts which are particular to Suffield. Many of the items in the exhibit are giveaways from local businesses, organizations, politicians or sports such as yardsticks, buttons, ribbons, matchbooks with names from the not-too-distant past – Bugbee’s, Kathy & Bob’s, Laureno, Babb’s, The Black Dog Tavern and politicians such as Kulas & Bertolini and Dan MacKinnon.

Officer badges from the Suffield Grange evoke the town’s agrarian history. The Grange, officially The National Grange of the Order of Patrons of Husbandry, was first organized in Suffield in 1875 or 1876. But the Grange, whose members once met in West Suffield’s Academy Hall and Mapleton Hall, now home of the Suffield Players, no longer exists in Suffield.

Photo by Jackie Hemond
Grange officer badges. Upper: Flora, Gatekeeper, Secretary. Lower: Treasurer, Lady Assistant.

The Grange movement was national and progressive. It was founded shortly after the Civil War as an agricultural advocacy group. Agriculture was its main focus but it also tackled non-partisan local, state and national issues. Lobbying state legislatures and Congress, its agenda included lowering railroad transportation costs particularly for agricultural products and free rural postal delivery. It helped found the Cooperative Extension Service and the Farm Credit System. On the local level, it formed consumer cooperatives with goods supplied by Aaron Montgomery Ward, provided financial assistance, insurance and aid to farmers. Membership increased dramatically: in 1873, its membership was 200,000; by 1875, it was 858,050. At that time, nearly every state had at least one Grange chapter.

Today, Grange membership has declined. In 2022, members were 150,000 with 1,700 local chapters in 36 states. Today’s mission includes supporting free trade and increasing the number of legal immigrants in order to address the crisis-level labor shortage in agriculture.

At a time when women could not vote, they were welcomed into the organization. Women held local leadership positions after 1877, state officer positions after 1895, and national positions after 1897, although the first woman president of the national organization was only elected in 2015. The Grange advocated alcohol temperance and women’s suffrage. Since the organization welcomed anyone who could shoulder a plow, teens also became members.

When first formed, the Grange was a secret society, much like the Freemasons. The meetings involved rituals, symbols, passwords, different degrees of membership and a particular arrangement of the meeting room. Ceremonial farm tools were displayed. Officer badges contained agricultural symbols pertinent to the position. Only a few officer badges are present in the Suffieldiana exhibit. They are Flora, The Gatekeeper, the Secretary, the Treasurer and Lady Assistant Steward. Flora’s position was merely ceremonial. One of the three graces from Greek mythology, she represented flowers. Unfortunately, the Suffield Flora badge is missing her symbolic flowers. The other graces were Ceres (grain) and Pomona (fruit). All three were generally young, unmarried women. The Gatekeeper whose badge is decorated with an owl, stood at the door to receive the secret password. The Secretary’s badge contains an unidentified Y-shaped symbol. On the Treasurer’s badge are keys symbolizing trust. Only the letters for the Lady Assistant badge remain, her symbol is a shepherd’s crook. She opened the Bible, presented the flag and assisted in the initiation of new members.

Photo by Jackie Hemond
New canopy in the south bedroom

Besides the Suffieldiana exhibit, Christine Ritok, the curator, and volunteers are busy. Fourth grade students toured the King House Museum in the spring and some brought back their parents for “the rest of the tour.” Portraits of Thaddeus Leavitt (1750-1813) and his wife Elizabeth (1751-1826), prominent Suffield citizens, were bought with donations and are now hanging in the parlor. Dorian Taylor and Linda Colson sewed a beautiful bed canopy for the south bedroom. The Ice Cream Social, held on the grounds, is Tuesday, July 9, 5:30-7:30 p.m.; rain date July 11. A tag sale will be held on the third Saturdays of July, August and September from 1 to 4 p.m. Free tours are available Wednesdays and Saturdays from 1 to 4 p.m. until September 28. The King House Museum & Barn is headed for a bright future.

Comments are closed.