Rome Grange celebrates its 100th year

Rome Grange wasn’t quite built in a day, but it has lasted nearly a century.

In fact the grange, midway between Bellingham and Nugent’s Corner on Mount Baker Highway, will turn 100 on March 25, and members are celebrating with a series of special events in April.

The National Grange calls itself the country’s oldest farmbased fraternal organization, and I have no reason to doubt it.

The first granges in Washington formed near Walla Walla in 1873. A few months before Washington became a state in 1889, the Washington State Grange organized so farmers could have more say about the new state constitution.

Haynie is the oldest grange in Whatcom County, begun in 1906, the same year that Pomona Grange, the countywide umbrella grange organization, began. North Bellingham and Laurel granges began in 1907, and Rome followed a year later.

CoCo Lomas, who is writing a booklet about the history of Rome Grange, acknowledges that granges here and elsewhere have lost members over the decades as the economy shifted away from farming and people found other groups and activities.

“All of those fraternal organizations are struggling,” she said.

Over the years, 51 granges have been chartered in Whatcom County. By 1920, the list of active ones had shrunk to 25.

Today, there are seven: Haynie, Hopewell, Laurel, Lummi Island, North Bellingham, Ten Mile and Rome, which has just more than 100 members.

“At our peak, we were a little over 200,” Lomas said. “That was in the ’60s.” Pomona also remains active.

The grange has had a lasting impact on Washington as a strong advocate for public utilities, agricultural education, consolidated schools, and Washington’s blanket primary that’s much-loved by voters and much-despised by political parties.

Rome Grange has been active. The group won national awards for community service in the 1950s and ’60s for helping refurbish the old Territorial Courthouse building in Old Town, for sponsoring swimming and gun-safety lessons for kids, and for providing life jackets and boats for children with disabilities.

In the 1960s, member Bill Mize helped organize local town hall meetings on issues of concern to both city and rural residents. In time, the meetings evolved into candidate forums named to honor Mize.

These days, members sponsor monthly pancake breakfasts for the community, support 4-H clubs and a Boy Scout troop, and stay involved in grange activities. Indeed, Rob Horgren, the president of Whatcom County’s Pomona Grange, is now president of Washington State Grange.

Lomas and her husband, Doug, joined the grange in 1979 when they moved to the county and settled in Deming. Lomas, a former administrator for Girl Scouts and at the Bellingham Senior Activity Center, is accustomed to community organizations.

She also enjoys cooking for large groups. Thankfully, the Rome Grange hall is fully serviced. In the early days, members hauled in water with milk cans and cooked massive meals on wood stoves.

“They’re hale and hardy people,” Lomas said.