Ground squirrels were a constant topic of discussion. These pests reproduced at a phenomenal rate and could burrow tunnels five miles in length. They destroyed huge quantities of grain crops. In the 1880s Charles Wood used a “smoker” which flushed fatal smoke into squirrel holes; grain poisoned with strychnine or bisulphide of carbon was another approach. Other techniques were also employed. It was essential that all farmers join to eradicate the rodents, since untreated properties resulted in a quick reinfestation.
At one Grange meeting Charlotte Wood brought a jar with grain from one squirrel’s cheeks and had members guess the number of wheat grains; Samuel Ramage guessed 900 and missed only by 2 kernels.
Twentieth Century Accomplishments
Well into the twentieth century, Grange members were responsible for a wide array of community improvements, including these:
- Supported rural free delivery by the post office
- Founded the Valley Improvement Association in 1905 which promoted telephone service and a new electric railway
- Initiated a new public high school district in 1909
- Organized the Good Roads League in the County with the goal of paving roads for the new automobiles and building a highway from Stockton to Martinez by way of the San Ramon Valley
- Started a circulating library which began in the Odd Fellows building on Front Street. The books came from the State Library in 1907
- Initiated a lobbying effort to create a State Park on Mt. Diablo, even before there was a California Park System
- Declared Charlotte Wood, a Grange member since 1878, their Poet Laureate in 1925
The Odd Fellows and Grangers built a new and larger hall in 1913 called the Fraternal and Social Hall. The old Grange building was turned and became the second story. An auditorium was created on the west end which was used for dances, high school basketball games, meetings and parties. Later the hall became a movie theater, a church sanctuary and a venue for live theater.
Today the building is owned by the Town of Danville and is called the Village Theatre; the second story is the 1874 Grange Hall.
The Grange membership gradually decreased in size. In 1946 former Worthy Master Will Stewart, at the humorous suggestion made by Grange brothers and sisters, agreed to donate 97/100 acre of his land to the Grange for a new hall. Fundraising began and today’s hall on Diablo Road opened in 1952.
The impact of the Grange was profound. The original Danville Grange hall served as the valley’s sole community center for many years. Granger members raised the level of civic discourse, brought new ideas to rural settings and enriched the lives of farm families in the San Ramon Valley and nation-wide.
On January 22, 2005, the SRV Historical Society dedicated a plaque to the Grange which is now located next to the front door of the Village Theatre.
Beverly W. Lane, 2019
Main sources: Butz, Inez, History of the Danville Grange, a speech given on March 23, 1984; The Grange Connection, A historical summary, web site: grange.org/history; Munro-Fraser, J. P., History of Contra Costa County, Slocum: SF,1882; Overholtzer, Betty and Beverly Lane, The Danville Grange No. 85, Nineteenth Century Movers and Shakers, lecture given on Oct. 4, 1995; Smith, Ross, History of the Danville Grange, California Grange #85 Patrons of Husbandry, manuscript, 2004