Last Saturday’s affair at the Waterboro Grange Hall No. 432 was billed as an open house that played out more like the intermission for a large-scale production.

The building recently was purchased by the Waterborough Historical Society, whose mission is to collect, preserve and educate others about key people and places in  the town’s history. And, the old grange hall certainly fits that bill.

Once a popular gathering spot for grange activities, community events and the stage performances of countless generations of schoolchildren, the hall has seen better days.

In recent years, grange membership dwindled, leaving the hall often vacant and subject to vandalism. With little manpower and even fewer dollars for  repairs, grange members sold the property to the historical society in hopes that the building could be saved.

The move officially brought the curtain down on grange life as it once was known. The new proprietors intend to restore the hall and reopen it as a venue for shared community life and a source of potential revenue for the society’s programming and projects.

Grange Master Gloria Ross, 74, of Waterboro said the hall was sold to the historical society for $1 plus the costs of associated legal paperwork.

“We wanted the historical society to have it because we knew they would care for it,” said Ross. “It’s going to take a lot of money and a lot of work; but if anyone can do this, they can.”

Constructed in the 1860s, the grange was leveled by fires in 1911 and 1947 and rebuilt each time. The present 30-by-60-foot cedar-shake structure was erected in 1950, featuring a more modern design that may qualify it for National Register of Historical Places status as a rare example of 1950s era architecture.

Attendees’ first glimpses of the old hall, on Saturday were through a tangle of weeds and trees that had shot up on the long ungroomed property. Inside the building, paint easels were erected on the main floor, displaying photo collages of people and past events at the hall.

Just beyond those images were the signs of more recent happenings – namely, vandalism and time – that have left their mark on the interior walls and ceiling. Though, one recent upgrade was immediately noticeable: portable toilets on the premises replace the old two-seater outhouse at the rear of the property, that was damaged during the vandalism spree of three years ago.

“The hall was literally trashed,” said Ross, a 60-year grange member. “Vandals broke all of our dishes for our monthly turkey suppers.

They punched holes in the walls, stabbed through bibles, ripped our flag, smashed (light fixtures) and sprayed fire extinguishers all over the walls. They also tried to start a fire. We had a beautiful, maroon, velvet stage curtain, that had been donated to us, that they shredded.”

Historical Society President Jim Carll first glimpsed that old curtain as a young boy who arrived at the hall, sporting a coonskin cap, for a grade school production he was in.

Last weekend, Carll returned to the hall in his work clothes to help with cleanup efforts – including hauling the old stage curtain away to the dump.

Waterboro native Dianne Holden also recalled attending many functions at the hall throughout life, including a few tap dance recitals she performed. Her parents and grandmother were 65-year-plus grange members.

On Thursday, Holden celebrates her 43rd wedding anniversary. The reception was held at the hall on May 27, 1967.

Holden is the historical society’s restoration project chair. Last weekend, she invited open house attendees to sign up to serve on various committees overseeing everything from grant writing and fundraising efforts to teams that will head up grounds care, construction, cleanup and other projects associated with the restoration.

Those teams will confer with Holden to prioritize what can be done immediately, like applying a fresh coat of paint, to larger jobs like upgrading the plumbing system. Heading the to-do list are roof repairs, replacing the heating system, installation of a septic system and modern toilets, replacing the outer porch and making the building handicap accessible.

“This was very much a community-orientated hall,” said Holden. “Our intention is to revitalize it and bring it back to life.”

Holden said that, with the exception of adding modern toilets, the plan is to keep with the original character of the building, that will once again be open for community gatherings as a rented facility for receptions, banquets and functions.

Likely, Grange No. 432 will be among those returning to familiar ground.

Its 15 members, most of them Ross kin, have been meeting in their respective homes. But the historical society has extended an invitation for them to hold meetings at the hall for as long as they remain a state sanctioned grange chapter.

Staff Writer Deborah Sayer can be contacted at 791-6308 or at: [email protected]