The History of Danville Grange No. 85
By Inez Butz
Presented by Miss Butz at the Danville Grange Hall in 1984, part of the 125th anniversary celebration of the founding of Danville.
Friends, neighbors, Grangers, honored guests, good people. It's a pleasure to be here to talk to you about the Grange. Over a century ago a sizable gathering of townspeople met at the Grange Hall. Actually there were three distinct buildings and meeting places -- all on Front Street in Danville.
As we go from South to North, there was the Danville Grammar school. It had been moved to this location in the 1860s in two sections from San Ramon. It was also used as a meeting place for the community and the Grange. In 1870, after a fire, a new school was built.
Next was the Grange building. In 1874 the Grange built their own building on the site north of the school behind today's Village Theatre and Gallery. Granger C. E. Howard was a well know builder here who was put in charge of the construction. It first opened in November of 1874 with 132 people present. The third building -- as we continue north -- was the Presbyterian Church, dedicated in 1876. It sat where we are meeting today.
The history of Americans in the Valley really began with the Gold Rush of 1848. In the following decades the population of this area and the county increased amazingly. These emigrants to the new state of California were in the large part unmarried men seeking their fortunes in the Mother Lode. On trips from the mines to San Francisco to pick up their mail, to get supplies and to add a bit of color to their lives, many of them passed through the San Ramon Valley.
As agriculture was the leading industry at that time, many of them remarked that the San Ramon Valley would be a good place to have a farm. Many of these men had worked for their fathers in plowing fields, seeding, cultivating and harvesting crops. Farming was a way of life for them and they could not help but notice how rich the San Ramon Valley looked to be.
Even though there were not very many fences to protect their fields from grazing animals, the first settlers began to plant large areas with wheat and other grains. They planted the seed in the spring as they had done back home in the East but soon realized the summer did not bring the rain they needed. They learned to plant in the fall (and sometimes in the late winter) and soon found the wisdom of this approach. They called this system “dry farming” and accepted it as the best way to farm and produce grain in this area. By 1872 50% of the land was producing excellent crops.
The grain harvested was of a dry flinty quality, well suited to the long ocean voyage around the horn to American or European markets. It made excellent flour and the market reports in the newspapers showed that it sold in England (Liverpool) for $68 a ton.
The farmers who had produced the grain seldom received more than $28 a ton. On top of that, banks were charging one or two percent interest a month on money borrowed with which to buy seed wheat. Supply merchants charged exorbitant prices for burlap sacks and twine and wheat buyers set prices so low that it was practically unprofitable to raise wheat.
In 1870 farmers began to establish farmers unions to address issues of mutual concern. Farmers in the San Ramon Valley joined the movement and met in 1872 at the Danville Grammar School where they elected George McCamly as President of the San Ramon Farmers Union.
At the November meeting of the Farmers Union, when there were guests present from Walnut Creek, Robert Baldwin moved that, as the wife was an equal partner with the husband in farming, the ladies should be invited to attend the meetings and join the union. According to Inez, he was highly lauded for this proposed action, a second was obtained and the motion passed.
In May of 1873 George McCamly and Robert Baldwin were sent to attend a Farmers Union in San Francisco which had as its purpose the organization of a State Farmers Union. Early in the convention W. H. Baxter of Napa addressed the convention and introduced them to the organization and workings of the National Grange, Patrons of Husbandry.
He told them of the founding of the Grange in the South at the conclusion of the Civil War. President Andrew Johnson had appointed Oliver Kelley of Minnesota to go into the states of the defeated confederacy, study their agricultural situation and report back to him statistical and other pertinent information that he had gathered in his travels.
Mr. Kelley was, in the one-word vernacular of the post war south, a damnyankee. He met with continuous opposition. Finally he reasoned that one way to handle the antagonism, the bitterness, the distrust of the people of the South was to begin a farmers union, society, lodge, order or association which would be national in scope. All farmers, from every part of the country, could join to work toward their mutual betterment.
By 1867 the National Grange was instituted. Baxter went on to say that the plan of the Grange was to buy direct from the manufacturer and sell direct to the consumer. And he affirmed that the Grange was a family organization.
All thoughts of a state Farmers Union were abandoned and talk of the formation of a California State Grange was moved, seconded and carried by the body. The California State Grange, Patrons of Husbandry, was instituted in 1873. Pilot Hill in Sacramento was the first chartered Grange. Danville Grange was the 85th to be chartered with 15 men and 15 women as the Charter Members.
The original application for the Danville Grange charter is in the exhibit, courtesy of the current Danville Grange. At their first meeting Charles Wood of Sycamore Valley was elected Worthy Master and J. P. Snyder Secretary. The order met in the Danville Grammar School until they outgrew it.
The state Grange hired its own wheat agent, a Mr. Wolcott, from a highly reputable firm in New York. And, in his first transaction of chartering a wheat-carrying Liverpool ship, he outbid Isaac Friedlander, a San Francisco man who had a corner on the wheat trade. From Wolcott's first shipment, the farmers received $48 a ton. But the second year tragedy struck. The San Francisco firm failed and the farmers suffered severely. From this experience the Grange members determined that the Grange must be its own agent.
The years following saw the Grange organize a bank, a business association and facilities for storing and shipping grain. Beginning in 1876 warehouses were built and wharves completed in Martinez, allowing ships to take grain directly overseas. One year in the early period approximately 8 million pounds of grain were received and handled out of Martinez.
Back at the Valley the Grange began to thrive in many ways.
The Grange Hall, after it was occupied late in 1874, came to be the heart of the farmers' activities. In the early years meetings were held each Saturday from 10 in the morning until mid-afternoon. Families brought basket dinners which were shared with everyone. Later they met monthly and the meetings adjourned early enough so a family could get home before sunset.
It is hard for us today to understand that farmers had very little contact with the outside world. Visits to the market were few and neighbors were often miles apart. There was no telephone, no radio, no TV, no daily mail and no newspaper. There was church on Sunday if the roads were passable. When it rained, the roads could not be used.
Into the routine life of the farmer and his family the Grange brought social contacts, news of the outside world and the pleasure of laughing, talking and eating with new and old friends and neighbors. Programs were an established item in the order of business and people who had never spoken, sung or debated before an audience could now have that opportunity.
Charlotte Wood, who joined the Grange as a 14-year old, was a mainstay of the Grange. She was recognized as a 75-year member. She was recognized as the poet laureate of the Grange and wrote histories of both the Grange and the Valley, declaring in one that the Grange stood, in short, for "good citizenship."
Grange members sent articles to the Martinez Gazette and saw them printed for the first time. The Grange subscribed to the Gazette, the Rural Press and the Pacific Rural Press -- all of which were circulated among the members.
At least once a year a Harvest Feast was enjoyed by the members. In 1887, one picnic hosted by the Danville Grange was described in the Pacific Rural Press, May 14, 1887:
Grange Picnic at Danville
The weather on Friday of last week was decidedly unpleasant in Alameda and Contra Costa counties. In some parts, brisk showers of rain fell, and in others not enough to settle the dust. Saturday, however, proved one of the pleasantest days of the season, and Grangers, farmers and their friends wended their way to the picnic grounds at Danville in great numbers.
Four to five hundred teams and vehicles, gathered together from all parts of the country, were strung along the highway for a great distance, affording a very novel sight. It was estimated that at least 1500 people were in attendance during the day. It was undoubtedly the largest gathering ever held in that part of Contra Costa county know as San Ramon valley. The picnic grounds consisted of three good-sized lots, inclosing the Grange hall, Presbyterian church and schoolhouse. These lots were shaded an ornamented by well-grown locusts in full, snowy bloom, looking beautiful and adding sweet fragrance to the occasion. The speaker’s stand was handsomely decorated with American flags, but the greatest attraction of all was the
Decoration of Danville Grange Hall
Owned, together with the large lot on which is stands, by the Grange. Most beautiful, complete and appropriate were the decorations. all the Grange implements were accurately wrought in immortelles, placed on the wall farthest form the main entrance, including the plow, axe, spade, hoe, harrow, pruning-knife and sickle. Above all these was a crescent and stars of the same flowers; beneath, these words:
P. of H.
All this was the work of Mrs. William Z. Stone, Flora of Danville Grange, who had charge of the decorations, assisted by many and willing hands – sorry we know not the names of all. Beneath stood the piano, fringed with locust blossoms and wreathed with roses, while several vases holding beautiful bouquets were placed along its top. Festoons of roses drooped gracefully from either corner of the ceiling to the center, where they were caught up and finished by a long pendant of white flowers and bright marigolds, from which hung a huge ball of many-colored roses. The chandeliers were fringed with locust blooms, while each cup held, instead of the usual lamp, a bunch of roses. The windows were framed in festoons of wheat and wild oats. Wreaths were scattered all along the walls, while at each side of the main entrance were beautiful triangles of flowers, the work of Miss E. Wood….
The whole effect was most charming! Many, varied and constant were the expressions of delight. Great credit redounds to the able manager and her corps of efficient workers.
As the different delegations came in they were greeted in hearty Granger style by those who had previously arrived. A little before noon the call was made for all hands to gather around the speaker’s stand and listen to an take part in the following:
Exercises of the Day.
- Instrumental music.
- Remarks by the President of the day, Judge W. C. Blackwood.
- Address of welcome, by Hon. Charles Wood.
- Oration, by Dr. W. W. McKaig.
In addition to the social picnics and feasts, the members debated issues of significance at the regular Grange meetings. Women's suffrage was one example. The western states took the lead in approving women's right to vote after Wyoming took the step in 1869. By 1895 women could vote in Utah, Colorado and Idaho as well.
According to the Minute Book of March 6, 1886: The question of Womans Sufferage was discussed at considerable length. Very interesting remarks were made pro and con by Sister Jones, Sister Howard, Bro. W.Z. Stone and others. Sister Jones made a motion as follows, "How many are in favor of Woman Sufferage?" Ayes 11, Noes 12.
A California vote on suffrage was defeated in 1896, due in part to effective lobbying by liquor interests worried that women would restrict their sales of alcohol.
And perhaps they should have worried. In the Grange men and women could participate fully and the Grange minute book in Oct. 17, 1891, has Sister Stone commenting on the good of the order. She "thought we ought to try and put a stop to another saloon being put up in Danville. After a discussion it was moved by Bro Howard, sec. by Sister Stone. That a committee of three be appointed to investigate the liquor question."
The Contra Costa Gazette on Nov. 4, 1891, described a trip on the new train less than one month later which reflected this concern about easy sale of liquor:
When the San Ramon train arrived Monday morning it brought a delegation seventy strong from Danville, many of them ladies, and all of them among the best class of people of the neighborhood. Each wore a bit of blue ribbon conspicuously displayed, and on landing marched up the street in couples. It was soon ascertained that they had an object in view, and that was to appear before the Board of Supervisors and protest against the issuance of a license to sell liquor to one Flagel, who is now the only person engaged in that business in Danville, and whose present license expires today.
Most in that parade were Grangers.
Grangers were very active in getting the train to the Valley and in keeping railroad rates at a reasonable level for farmers. The first train came through in June of 1891, to the delight of just about everyone. George McCamly, who had deeded the San Ramon station land to Southern Pacific (subject to continued railroad use), skipped church and Sunday School that day and wrote in his diary for June 7: “Went down to R.R. to see the first passenger train in at 11:15 a.m. The opening of the San Ramon & Avon R.R.”
The train brought vast changes to the downtowns of Danville and San Ramon. A Gazette article on September 12, 1891, read:
Prosperity Comes with the Railroad
We are now living in the age of progression and have solid proof of it in many ways. On Mandy, September 14th, mail will come to Danville by train and depart in the same way on every train, which we consider perfect service. Town lots are not in demand, three having been sold here during the last week, and building will commence on them in a very short time. Since the arrival of the railroad we have had as many buildings erected in Danville (during the short term of 3 months), as there were during the past 30 years of its existence…
There is so much business now and so much hay and grain hauling that teams get wedged in our streets so thickly that sometimes a team is compelled to wait a half hour before it can move out…
Renters are now coming around and picking up vacant places. Contracts are being let for nut gathering, and all will be bustle for a month yet, when rains may be expected and cultivating will commence.
Ultimately the train and the invention of the refrigerator car moved the Grangers to change from grain crops and hay to fruit and walnuts. But for farmers throughout the Valley, no matter what they grew, one thing remained constant: the every-present, destructive pest -- THE GROUND SQUIRREL.
In the 1870's, the same period as the Grange began, the State Legislature passed a law which declared the ground squirrel a public nuisance, subject to eradication in Alameda and Contra Costa (and other) counties.
The ground squirrel which inhabited and still inhabits the County was the digger squirrel. A 1918 report said that three pairs of squirrels could, theoretically, at the end of three breeding seasons produce 640 squirrels. These squirrels knew no boundary lines, created huge tunnel networks and destroyed range and pasture land, field and truck crops and fruit and nut trees. Don Wood estimated that a heavy infestation of squirrels could destroy 25 to 30% of a total grain crop, 100% in areas about the burrows.
Their eradication was a primary goal of the Grange and articles suggesting various methods appeared regularly in the Pacific Rural Press and in the Danville Grange minutes. Some people said the farmer alliances were organized primarily to rid farms of squirrels.
Eradicating squirrels was one ongoing effort of the Grange. But their many other accomplishments must be noted as well:
- Promotion of the railroad
- Joining to market products, including organizing a bank and a warehouse association
- Pursuing lower taxes and lower railroad rates for farmers
- Enrichment of members' lives by bring lecturers to meetings and picnics and by sharing articles and poems at regular meetings
- Beginning the Valley Improvement Association in 1905
- Beginning the county Good Road League
- Beginning the first public high school in the Valley
- Beginning the first library
- Promoted electricity, phones and electric railroad
By the turn of the century many of the charter Grange members were gone or were getting well along in years. Two men who joined the Grange in 1903 helped rejuvenate the Grange by their activities and interests. Will Stewart promoted support for better cream distribution. He also focused on better roads for farmers and was involved in organizing the County Good Roads League in 1909. By 1911 the state highway commission had agreed to build a highway from Stockton to Martinez by way of the San Ramon Valley.
Bruce W. Stone was the second new Granger. He was also a member of the Odd Fellows (IOOF) and subscribed to the theory that bigger was better. He persuaded both groups to join together and enlarge the Grange Hall. Remember that the building measured 30’ X 60’ and sat north-south on the plot. By 1913 a new building appeared which used the old Hall as a second story. The newly named Fraternal Hall included a large auditorium with a two story section on Front Street. Today the Village Theatre (with some additions which created a back stage) is essentially the Fraternal Hall. The Museum's 1995 exhibit is upstairs in the Danville Fine Arts Gallery -- once upstairs you are in the original Grange Hall.
Both of these members were active in the Grange when it initiated the San Ramon Valley Union High School, beginning in 1909. Families who wanted their children to go beyond grammar school were forced to send their children to San Francisco, Berkeley or Oakland where they boarded and lived away from home. The Grange organized a high school district and passed this resolution taken from the June 18, 1909, Grange Minutes:
HIGH SCHOOL RESOLUTION
Believing that the establishment of a High School in this portion of the county is needed.
Whereas the present school system makes it necessary for pupils to attend a High School in order to attain a higher education.
Whereas there being no High School in this portion of the county thereby rendering it impossible for most of our children to receive such advantages
It is therefore resolved by this Grange in regular session that we direct out efforts and influence toward the establishment of a High School in Danville and appoint a committee of five, whose duty shall be to learn the requirements necessary and secure information as to proper method of procedure to obtain one and report as soon and as often as is deemed expedient.
At one point the Grange considered putting in the Grange Hall or Hall annex, but decided against the proposal after some discussion. The first high school class met in a house on Church Street, the next upstairs at the IOOF hall. By 1914 the San Ramon Valley Union High School building was planned and the first class graduated.
The Grange was also instrumental in bringing a library to the Valley. The State Library noted that it was possible for a small town to secure a total of 50 books for a period of three months at no cost to the community. In 1907 the first list of 100 titles was circulated in the Grange for the selection of the 50 books.
It is interesting to note that there had been only one book lost during the reign of the traveling library: Turkeys and How to Grow Them.
In 1913 the County Library system was inaugurated. In March of 1913 Danville became a branch library.
To move 40+ years forward, Will Stewart was still a Granger when the Village Theatre was leased to people for a movie theater; they did not want any organizations to continue using the building. According to the Minute Book of January 24, 1947 :
At the dining tables some exciting and hilarious remarks were heard when threats were made to stake out a claim on Brother Stewart's ranch for a new Grange Hall and several of the members volunteered their services to build it.
The first suggestion may have been made in fun, but Stewart did actually respond. He deeded land for what is today the Grange Hall at 743 Diablo Road and the building was dedicated in 1953.
The Grangers were the movers and shakers for the San Ramon Valley beginning in 1873. Charles Wood, the first Worthy Master and longtime Grange lecturer, said it well in a 1893 speech:
The Grange has made neighbors more neighborly, more liberal minded, more cordial, more charitable and more lenient to the opinions of those who differ with them in ethics, politics or religion. What the influence of its meetings have been upon others is not for me to say, but I never attend its sessions without feeling enlightened and refreshed, and never leave without feeling somewhat wiser, more contented with my lot and with better resolutions for the future.
Transcribed by Beverly Lane, 1985