By Mary Lou Nahas
For Capital Region Independent Media
I love it when people ask me questions about history. Often, I don’t know the answer they are looking for, so then I start looking for what they want to know.
Sometimes I don’t get to the complete answer or sometimes it takes quite a while to get there, but I learn much along the way.
Sometimes I am fortunate enough to know someone who immediately knows the story. This happened recently when I received a question about the Potter Hollow Grange. I contacted Janet Hull Nelson (as I very often do) and she not only had been a member, but had written the story for the Rensselaerville Historical Society.
Janet was generous in saying I could share her research with you.
The Patrons of Husbandry, or the Grange, was founded in 1867 to advance methods of agriculture, as well as to promote the social and economic needs of farmers in the United States. The Grange is a fraternal organization, something popular in those days that we don’t hear so much about now.
There are several levels of membership, each with a secret code and secret hand gesture. A member in any grange is welcome at any grange in the country. It was unusual when it was founded because women and any teen old enough to draw a plow (aged 14-16) were encouraged to participate.
The importance of women was reinforced by requiring that four of the elected positions could be held only by women. The group also had junior chapters. It was for the whole family. A lot of friendships developed through the organization.
The Potter Hollow Grange #1555 was such a fraternal organization. It was organized on June 13, 1937. There were 51 charter members, who developed their by-laws.
The organizational meeting was held in what was then the Old Mill, belonging at that time to Jay Makely. The first Master of Potter Hollow Grange #1555 was Floyd Ives Sr.
In 1938, regalia of the organization was purchased and the group began exhibiting at the Altamont Fair. In 1939 a building committee was appointed and on Nov. 13, 1939, a building site for the Potter Hollow Grange Hall was purchased from Myrtle Haskins. This land was deeded to the Potter Hollow Grange #1555 Patrons of Husbandry, Inc.
The records state that “our mortgage has been completely discharged, the generous gift of Mrs. Ada Brandow.”
The building, located at 4825 Potter Hollow Road in the town of Rensselaerville, Albany County, was erected in the early 1940s. Ed Goff contracted to put in a foundation and erected the main building for $4,200. This was a large hardwood floor hall with a raised stage area.
At the time, it was intended for the basement to be used for the kitchen and dining area. However, due to a water problem in the basement, the kitchen area had to be located on the upper level and the addition of a kitchen was not completed until 1948.
The first meeting in the new hall was held on Nov. 26, 1941.
Potter Hollow Grange held its regular meetings on the second and fourth Tuesday evenings of each month. They hosted Grange visitation meetings once a year. Then the hall was full of Grange members (usually 125-160 people) from neighboring Granges in Albany, Schenectady and Greene counties.
They had a grand time and developed many long-time friendships. Degree work was frequently held where new members would be accepted into the Grange. Grace Clapper noted there were 123 members at the time of the 25th Grange Anniversary in 1962.
Residents of the surrounding areas attended the Saturday night square dances, benefit dinners to raise funds for the upkeep of the building and expenses such as insurance, and the card game nights. The hall was frequently rented out to members of the community for a variety of uses: showers, Halloween parties, dances, wedding receptions, family reunions, special programs and as Sunday School rooms for the Potter Hollow Union Church.
In later years, The Rod and Gun Club used it and even put in an indoor shooting range in the basement, which is no longer there.
Potter Hollow Grange also raised money to purchase hospital beds, wheelchairs, crutches and walkers, which were loaned to community members. This was during a time where many people could not afford to purchase such items and they were not supplied by insurance companies. People were very appreciative that the Grange had them to loan.
In June 1999, the remaining members of the Potter Hollow Grange #1555 agreed that it was no longer feasible to continue to maintain their building. Since the Potter Hollow Union Church was a frequent user of the hall and had expressed an interest in purchasing the building, the current members of Potter Hollow Grange #1555 felt it would be in the best interest of the community of Potter Hollow to sell it to the church at a very reasonable price. The Union church, located in the upper part of Potter Hollow, did not have space to add on Sunday School rooms and bathrooms and has no access to adjoining land.
Today, the Potter Hollow Union Church owns and maintains this building. The local food bank also operates out of the building. It is conveniently located and has a large parking lot.
Since the Grange’s membership continued to dwindle, Potter Hollow Grange #1555 officially consolidated with Hiawatha Grange #1480 in Dormansville in December 2006. The seven remaining members of Potter Hollow Grange #1555 at the time of the consolidation were: Marion Bryan, Ralph Hull (Master), Vanessa Lewis, Janet Nelson (secretary and treasurer), Daniel Theiss, Evelyn Van Voorhis and Zola Whitworth. Ralph Hull, Daniel Theiss and Evelyn Van Voorhis had been members of Potter Hollow Grange since the 1940’s.
The charter members of Potter Hollow Grange #1555 were: Nelson Abrams, Carcello Bates, Carrie Bates, Clarence Bates, Effie Bates, Ellinor Bates, Hetty Bates, Florence Bates Brandow, Grace Clapper, Gurdon Clapper, Catherine Cook, Donald Cook, Earl Cook, Edith Cook, Stanley Cook, Raymond Cook, Bruce Disbrow, Elise Disbrow, Alton Haskins, Doyle Haskins, Eva Haskins, Florence Haskins, Henry Haskins, Leona Haskins, Maynard Haskins, Stanley Haskins, Eva Hull, George Hull, Madeline Hull, Walter Hull, Floyd Ives, Ruth Ives, Edna Makely, John Makely, Mattie Makely, Maynard Makely, Everett Matthews, Natalie Matthews, William Mercer, Florence Abrams Newkirk, Abram Rivenburg, Sadie Rivenburg, Eva Mae Rooney, Hector Rooney, Zina Rose, James Sanford, Mae Sanford, Mary Van Loan, Olive Van Loan, Howard Wilsie and Gilbert Young.
Janet Hull Nelson, commented that “Back when my parents joined, it was a social organization for farmers. Farmers had little time to socialize and this would provide them with a night out with people they knew. They would also promote programs related to farming such as exhibits at the Altamont Fair. Dad [Ralph Hull] made the exhibits for years. Floyd Ives Junior, one of the sons of the first Master, was a member of the East Durham Garage. Dana Ives, remarked that he remembered hearing that his mother and father, Charlotte Volker and Sheldon Ives, met at the Grange. Linda Mormile’s whole family, parents and sisters, belonged to the Potter Hollow Grange and participated in its activities.
One of the events put on by the Potter Hollow Grange was a three-act comedy, “A Family Affair,” produced in May 1940. Actors were Grange members. Almost every business in the area took an ad in the printed program: Dean’s Mill’s, V.E. Wilsie & Son general merchandise in Potter Hollow; A. J. Cunningham in Greenville; Ralph Cooke, General Trucking Oak Hill; John Smith, Locust Grove Creamery; Haskins Esso Station in Cooksburg; West Winds; W.P. Elsbree & Son in Preston Hollow; Hall and Burnett in Oak Hill; Oak Hill Garage; W.E. Lounsbury; Floyd Ives; Nelson Abrams Garage and Service Station in Preston Hollow; Alton S. Potter, dealer in lumber and wood in Preston Hollow; Makely’s Diner in East Durham; Andy’s Dinette in East Durham; and Fred Reynolds’ General Merchandise in Durham.
Another dramatic offering was “A Hill-Billy Wedding: A Combination Barn Dance, Hill-Billy Jamboree and a Womanless Wedding.” Programs were mailed for one-cent stamps to area residents. Tickets were 25 cents plus 28 cents tax (53 cents) in advance; 35 cents plus 39 cents at the door; children 15 cents.
Floyd Ives Senior and his wife Ruth were charter members of the Potter Hollow Grange. Floyd was the first grandmaster. Their two sons, Floyd Jr. and Sheldon, were also grange members.
Grange members regularly put on plays and entertainment for other members. Pictured here are Flo Young, Diane Reed, Cathy Briggs, Mrs. Briggs, Natalie Matthews, Daisy Wood, Ruth Hull, Ernest Hull, Ralph Hull and David Young.
Another evening of fun was this skit. Cathy Briggs was driving the horse made up of Diane Reed and Ruth Hull.
Mrs. Marshall Bell’s students presented a musical evening at the Potter Hollow Grange Hall.
Many grange members participated in A Hill-Billy Wedding
Another popular comedy was A Family Affair produced in 1940