A few years back I was able to experience dinner at a local Grange hall because of my participation in a summer program sponsored by Maine Agriculture in the Classroom. The program’s culminating meeting included a meal prepared by elderly Grange members. From the moment I walked into that building I fell in love with it and its role in the lives of those it served. Grange halls began to show up around the turn of the 20th century and were a central part of many rural agricultural communities in Maine for over 100 years. To witness their decline has been sad for many. So when I saw the Arlington Grange building in North Whitefield and then learned that it was being transformed into a year-round library and community center I was beyond excited.
Many of us may remember the story of Quinn Conroy, the Whitefield Elementary School child who asked the Whitefield Board of Selectmen for a library. The town listened and for the past two years dedicated volunteers have been working to make it happen. Last week I had the honor of meeting several extraordinary volunteers that make up the labor crew. Erik Ekholm, Dan Joslyn, Mike McMorrow, and Cheryle Joslyn are part of the crew working on this massive undertaking. It is estimated that volunteers have tallied approximately 1,800 hours of labor renovating this library. A generous gift to the town of Whitefield.
What began in May 2019 with the purchase of the Arlington Grange continues today with the work to make this a functioning, safe, year-round library with access to libraries across the state. Construction began with the dismantling of a huge oil furnace in November 2019 and continues today with the renovations of the exterior of the building. Just a week ago this volunteer crew celebrated the return of water running through the building’s pipes for the first time since the furnace was taken out. Heating is just one component needed for this to become a year-round, state-certified library. Together with the cataloguing help of Martha Tait and Anne Weiss of the book committee, the library is about to become a reality.
But before the doors officially open to the public, shingling and clapboards need to be replaced (they will keep the historic yellow and green), an emergency exit and staircase for the second floor needs to be installed, and new entry steps and doors on the front need to be put in place. All this while becoming familiar with the new cataloguing system.
The Arlington Grange hall (named after Fred Arlington Naray, a Whitefield Civil War soldier) began as a memorial hall and high school and was built in 1885 by Civil War veterans. It was designed to hold a library as well as the high school but that part didn’t happen at that time, making the completion of this work even more meaningful.
In 1914 the first meeting of the Arlington Grange was held and over 100 years later, the Whitefield Library and Community Center will not only serve the town of Whitefield, but the towns of Jefferson, Windsor, Pittston, Somerville, and Alna.
As of this writing, the library, which takes up the first floor, is almost complete and it is beautiful. The love and care in creating this space is obvious when you walk in. While the second floor community center is in the very early stages of redesign, it is clearly a space that will be just as beautiful as the library and will function as a true community center. To be honest, I’m just as excited for that to become a reality too.
As we can imagine, financial support is still needed. If you can chip in a little, or a lot, your support will be greatly appreciated. Please send donations to Whitefield Library, P.O. Box 5, Whitefield, ME 04353 or donate online at whitefieldlibrary.org/donate-now.
Seeing the work in progress and meeting the wonderful volunteers I was reminded of what the library committee tells us: “Upon completion, this lovely building will once again find value as a center of connection, creativity, learning, and opportunity.” And I’m sure I am not the only one who can hardly wait.