By John Toole
---- — The shuttered Sanborn Seminary in Kingston made the New Hampshire Preservation Alliance’s “Seven to Save” list.
So did the state’s Granges, including the imperiled Granite State Grange No. 149 in Newton.
The list, issued annually by the alliance, highlights endangered historic landmarks.
Sanborn Seminary, the former high school owned by the school district, is vacant. Voters in 2012 rejected a $2.19 million warrant article to renovate the seminary.
“That is a very nice thing to happen,” Kingston Heritage Commissioner Robert Bean said of the seminary’s selection. “It needs as much publicity as it can get in order to be saved. This is all to the good.”
It was welcome news in town.
“That’s great,” Commissioner Ernie Landry said. “It was built in 1883 and is one of the few remaining schools in the state built in the victorian, gothic style. It’s iconic.”
Many people who grew up in town went to Sanborn Seminary, Bean said.
“It’s a noteworthy building for its architecture, style and impact in the center of town,” he said.
The alliance said dozens of Granges statewide are struggling to maintain aging buildings, preserve cultural traditions and attract new sources of support.
The alliance said it is a “daunting challenge” that cooperative action may solve.
State Grange president Jim Tetreault said the designation represents a great opportunity for the state Grange and local Granges that own their own halls.
“It will bring expert assistance in grant writing, as well as a partnership with a group that cares about historical buildings which many of our Grange halls throughout the state are,” Tetreault said.
The announcement came as a local Grange’s future is in doubt.
Jim Doggett, master of the Grange in Newton, said it will bring a proposal before state leaders, asking them for approval to sell the building and put the proceeds into scholarships.
Doggett said Grange membership has declined from as many as 75 people in the 1950s to just 16, most of them in their 80s and 90s.
“I like it, but I’m not certain what this will do to save us,” Doggett said of the “Seven to Save” designation for the state’s Granges.
People look at Newton Grange members and say they shouldn’t sell out, but preserve their Grange, he said.
“We look at people and say, ‘With what?’’’ Doggett said. “We don’t have the resources or the physical manpower.”
Besides Newton, there is an active Grange in Londonderry.
State Grange historian Dick Patten said at one time there were many Granges, including two each in Salem and Derry.
Celebrating 140 years in New Hampshire in December, the Grange recently relaunched a chapter in Manchester and will host a meeting of the national Grange in the Queen City for the first time in a century next month.
“The Grange is experiencing a renaissance,” Tetreault said.
Patten said many Grange members are advanced in years, but there was a time when the organization served as a cultural center with suppers, meetings and dances.
“Everybody seemed to join the Grange,” he said.
Unlike some fraternal organizations, the Grange, rooted in America’s agrarian heritage, welcomed women and children as well as men.
“The Grange was a true family organization,” Patten said.
Many Saturday nights, the Grange was the gathering place.
“You didn’t have movie theaters, TV with the Internet, computers,” he said. “It was their night out.”
Wood stoves heated wooden buildings where members often had to go outside to use the privy.
While acknowledging the struggles of chapters like the one in Newton, Patten pointed to the re-establishment of the Grange in Manchester and the state’s selection to host the national meeting.
“Now, we’re starting to come back again,” Patten said.
The selection to the alliance’s list pleased Patten.
“That sounds like a wonderful tool for us to use and recognize the efforts of the Grange,” he said.
Rounding out “Seven to Save” are the Kimball Jenkins Estate and the gas holder in Concord; the Durham Pool at the University of New Hampshire; Kimball Castle in Gilford; and the old public library in Boscawen.