Merriconeag Grange No. 425 in Harpswell is undergoing a variety of repairs through the spring. From left are Mike Doyle and John Ott, respectively the Grange’s steward and overseer, and longtime member and former Grange master Sam Alexander. Alex Lear / The Forecaster

HARPSWELL — A visit to the main room of Merriconeag Grange No. 425 brings back vivid, early memories for Sam Alexander.

“Some of my happy memories are listening to the old guys talk,” the septuagenarian said Dec. 27, recalling the exploits of one Grange member who’d sailed the South China Sea. “Before the dance got started I’d sit there with my eyes bugged out. … I would imagine sailing to Hong Kong.”

The popular dances that followed Grange meetings were “the social event of the week,” he said.

A builder by trade, Alexander now is deeply involved in the restoration of the Grange, built in 1918 at 529 Harpswell Neck Road and entered last year into the National Register of Historic Places.

The restoration could cost about $70,000, which the Grange has raised largely through a Belvedere Historic Preservation Fund grant and $50,000 from an anonymous local donor who, like Alexander, has warm memories of those Friday evening dances.

Structural work, to continue through the spring, includes repairing damaged sills, interior flooring, sections of siding, the trim, and balustrades. After that will come a new roof coating, exterior painting, and work on the exterior trim, porch entry and doors.

The paint job is a significant indicator of cost. If lead paint is found further remediation will be required, increasing expenses.

“With any old building, you never know what you’ll find once you get in there,” said Lili Ott, a former Grange member and wife of Grange Overseer John Ott.

Although the Grange was established as an agricultural, horticultural and fraternal organization, today’s younger farmers don’t seem interested in joining, Alexander said.

“I think they have an image of it as being old guys like me who are sitting around swapping stories, which is true to an extent,” Alexander said.

Still, the organization has about 15 dedicated members who attend regularly, and many “golden sheath” members who’ve been with the grange for at least 50 years.

And it remains an active community center — one of the few Granges in operation among the 588 in Maine, according to Lili Ott. It hosts a monthly pancake breakfast from 8-10:30 a.m. Saturday, Jan. 4, and the Harpswell Aging at Home Lunch with Friends — which recently drew 80 people — from noon to 1 p.m. Thursday, Jan. 9. The Grange also holds bi-monthly meetings, the next scheduled for 7 p.m. Thursday, Jan. 16; new members are always welcome.

The Grange was nominated for inclusion in the National Register “for its current and past role in the social and entertainment history in Harpswell,” according to the Maine Historic Preservation Commission. Being included makes the Grange an especial source of pride for the town, since “it’s not just a building sitting here now; it has some significance,” John Ott said.

Granges are “a place where people feel comfortable coming to,” he said. “It’s often around food, social gatherings, or commemorating people’s lives and the work in a community.”

Alexander joined the Grange in 1956 at age 13, but it was in his blood long before. His grandfather, also named Sam, was a founding member of the Grange, Alexander’s son, Sam “Chuck” Alexander, is the Grange’s master.

“Being a stubborn, diehard old Mainer, I want to see it survive,” Alexander said.

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