Living

Once a rural hub, Kuna Grange lives on

Granges such as Kuna’s once served as powerful advocates for America’s farmers.
Granges such as Kuna’s once served as powerful advocates for America’s farmers. Provided by the Ada County Preservation Council

When you’ve driven from Idaho 69 into downtown Kuna, perhaps to attend Kuna Days or visit Enrique’s Mexican restaurant (formerly El Gallo Giro), you may not even have noticed a small white building with an old-style false front on the curve coming into town.

But that building, the Kuna Grange, was once a hub of activity — and still plays a role in the community.

What is “The Grange”? If you watched “Little House on the Prairie,” you’ve probably heard about it, but there’s much more to it than that.

“The Order of the Patrons of Husbandry — also known as The Grange — has been around for nearly 150 years,” said Tricia Canaday, the State Historic Preservation Office’s outreach historian, in a presentation she once made about the Grange in Idaho. “Most of us know it these days as a social/community-service group, or by their local halls dotted around our rural landscape. In fact, The Grange has a long and fascinating history as a revolutionary fraternal organization that successfully championed many important issues for farmers with far-reaching effects.”

While The Grange itself was formed in the mid-19th century, the seed for the Kuna Grange was planted on April 21, 1910, when State Master D.C. Mullen met with some 15 or 20 farmers for the purpose of organizing a Grange at Kuna.

On May 2, 1910, the organization was completed. A charter was issued by the national organization on May 11 to “Kuna Grange No. 59,” which makes the Kuna Grange the second-oldest in the state.

But after almost 20 years of work for farmers in the region, the organization still had no permanent meeting space, Canaday wrote in her nomination of the Kuna Grange building for inclusion on the National Register of Historic Places. Instead, meetings were held in members’ homes or at spaces used by other fraternal and social organizations, including the International Order of the Odd Fellows building in Kuna (now the Kuna Community Hall) for $5 a month.

In 1928, the National Grange published “Grange Hall Suggestions,” which served as a guide for the design, plan and aesthetic uniformity of Grange halls across the country, Canaday wrote. This document encouraged subordinate Granges to construct or acquire their own meeting spaces to create the “feeling of ownership and stability which make possible the attainment of the best Grange ideas and practices.”

That may have served as an incentive to the Kuna Grange, Canaday wrote, because in the fall of 1931, Grange members decided it was time to purchase their own permanent meeting space. By January 1932, the Kuna Grange purchased its current building from Ed Fiss. The building, constructed around 1910, was originally part of Kuna’s first lumber yard and served as the Boise-Payette lumber yard store.

Kuna Grange members raised funds for the building through exhibits at the Nampa Harvest Festival and Boise State Fair, entertainments, and personal donations by members. They did so well that they paid off the mortgage three years ahead of schedule, in April 1933.

But the construction wasn’t done. In 1939, the Grange added a stage to one end of the building, using lumber from an unused building on the back of the lot. Then in 1948, the Grange added an entire other building. A decommissioned barracks building from Gowen Air Field was attached, perpendicular to the main hall, Canaday wrote. This addition was used for the Juvenile Grange, and the kitchen — which women members of the Grange designed and built themselves — was moved from the anteroom to the new space. In the 1980s, the building was also re-sided.

The role of The Grange, and the Kuna Grange in particular, was acknowledged in 2005, when the Ada County Historic Preservation Council named the Kuna Grange as one of its “County Treasures” in 2005.

Then in 2011, the building took a hit — literally — when an SUV failed to negotiate the curve where Avalon meets Linder and struck the building directly at the point where the two buildings joined. Happily, the building was able to be repaired, and even strengthened when it was learned that the two sections of the building hadn’t even been connected to each other. Remnants of a brick chimney inside the walls were also removed at the same time.

While the role of The Grange diminished in communities as other organizations came about and agriculture played a smaller role, the Kuna Grange still fulfills an important function through community services such as candidate debates and the Words for Thirds program, which gives a dictionary to every Kuna third-grader.

“Today, the Kuna Grange is the longest continuously operating Grange in the state of Idaho, and though membership has been in decline, the function and purpose of the Kuna Grange continues to speak to the legacy the Grange has in rural, agricultural communities,” Canaday wrote.

Sharon Fisher is a member of the Ada County Historic Preservation Council.

Related stories from Idaho Statesman

  Comments