Volunteers work to restore Antrim Grange Hall No. 98

  • Local mason and waller Andras Lazar, left, stands with Antrim Grange Secretary Beth Merrill. The Antrim Grange No. 98 is currently undergoing a rehabilitation on its north end. —STAFF PHOTO BY SCOTT MERRILL

  • Andras Lazar uses hand tools to shape most of the stones being used in the retaining wall around the Antrim Grange. —STAFF PHOTO BY SCOTT MERRILL

  • Andras Lazar points to some of the structural changes being made to the north end of the Antrim Grange. —STAFF PHOTO BY SCOTT MERRILL

Monadnock Ledger-Transcript
Published: 10/19/2022 11:01:14 AM

Thanks to the help of local volunteers and members of The Stone Trust in Vermont, the Antrim Grange Hall No. 98 rehabilitation project is underway.  

Antrim Grange Secretary Beth Merrill, who met her husband Arthur at the Grange, has been a member since the age of 9 when she joined the Junior Grange in Surry. Merrill is one of the organizers of the rehab project, and said she looks forward to getting back to the annual art show, community candidate nights, suppers and concerts the Grange has hosted in the past.

“We were slow to get going because none of us knew anything about grant-writing,” Merrill said. “From the beginning, we had a good relationship with the New Hampshire Preservation Alliance, which receives support for its grants program from New Hampshire’s Land and Community Heritage Investment Program, or LCHIP. They told us we needed to have some people come in to do an assessment report, and a small matching grant from the Alliance led to a report in 2020. That was a fabulous investment.”

The assessment, Merrill said, found that the north bay that was added to the building in the late 19th century was built directly on the ground and because of this, the sills and floor structure of this section of the building needed repair.

A town on a hill that moved south 

The story of the Grange building in Antrim begins in 1785, when Antrim constructed its first Meetinghouse on top of Meetinghouse Hill in Old Antrim Center, next to the Meetinghouse Cemetery. Over time, the population centers of Antrim shifted away from the hilltop, especially after the construction of Clinton Road/Route 31 in 1820 diverted traffic away from the steep hill. The village moved south to the base of the hill, and eventually a new church was constructed in the new “South Village”center in 1826.

After sitting vacant for several years, the meetinghouse was disassembled in 1832 and parts of the second floor and roof frame were moved down the hill and incorporated into the new Town Hall, which is now the Grange. In 1876, a single-bay addition was constructed at the north end of the building, and since 1894 the building has been home to Antrim Grange No. 98.

Local mason puts his skills to use 

Antrim resident Andras Lazar, a mason for 40 years and a professional waller, has been instrumental in organizing volunteers from The Stone Trust — an organization in Dummerston, Vt., that works to preserve and advance the art and craft of dry-stone walling. Lazar has been performing a lot of the rehabilitation work on the Grange and said it’s a special place. Lazar and his wife held their wedding reception at the Grange and were married in the Stone Church, formerly the Congregational Church — which he repointed recently — within eyeshot of the Grange on Clinton Road.

“We had over 150 people in there,” Lazar said, adding that the building has “Surprisingly stood its ground as far as not sinking in. But there is 20 feet of new sill there where the new section was added.” 

The retaining wall that Lazar is working on will help with drainage and prevent the structural sills from rotting. While an excavator was brought in, Lazar says most of the section around the rear of the building was hand-dug.

“It was quite a process,” Lazar said, adding that a lot of stones for the wall came from the property and around town and that he splits the stone in the old way, using a lot of hand work. It was some of these skills, he said, that he taught to the volunteer who arrived in September to help on the project. 

The Stone Trust trains people how to do proper dry-stone walling. It is a satellite of the Dry Stone Walling Association in Great Britain, which Lazar says is the the leading world authority on proper dry-stone walling. 

Rebecca Bainum, of Baltimore, who expressed her gratitude at being able to play a small role the history of Antrim, came to help in late September.

“It was a fabulous hands-on training on the most glorious fall weekend,” she said.

Heather McEachern of Opelika, Ala., said she enjoyed every minute of working with the stones. 

"Driving up here was like flying through layer upon layer of flaming sunsets, and a beautiful introduction to the time spent working on the Grange,” she said. “Pete Ryder and Andras are an absolute joy to work with, and incredibly experienced and generous instructors.” 

Money for the project has been raised through big donations of $25,000 from the Congregational Church and the Verney Foundation, according to Merrill.

To volunteer for the project, Merrill can be reached at abmrdf@mcttelecom.com.  Lazar can be reached at j.andras911@gmail.com. 


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