As Rockford’s history museum, it is important to Midway Village Museum that we document the lives and experiences of the many Rockford residents who made their living by farming. Farming was long a critical part of Rockford’s economic health. Consequently, the museum has collected cultivators, corn planters, and scythes. We continue to seek photos and documents related to local farms and in the past several years two barns have been added to the Village.
Among the recent exciting additions to the Museum’s archives is a series of minute books from the Guilford Hope Grange. The Grange movement got its start in 1867 in the aftermath of the Civil War. Founded under the name the Patrons of Husbandry, the National Grange sought to unite farmers around the country politically and socially, much like other trade unions.
Rockford’s Guilford Hope Grange was founded in July 1871 at Center Schoolhouse (at Mulford and Guilford Rds.) with approximately 10 members in attendance. However, the group did not appeal to the State Grange for a charter until 1873. Regular weekly meetings began in November 1873.
The earliest record book in the collection is from 1873-1874. The first meetings focused largely on building membership and socializing. Both men and women were admitted to the association. Later meetings included the planning of picnics and parties, as well as educational programs and presentations.
In January 1874 these early meetings took on a political bent. In reaction to decisions made at the Illinois Plow Manufacturers convention the previous October the Grange resolved the following:
“Whereas, Certain plow manufacturers did resolve and contract among themselves . . . that they would not sell to the patrons of husbandry [Grange] for any less than their usual retail price; and Whereas, it is evidently as much for their interest to sell to us, at their wholesale price for cash, as to sell to their agent for notes or credit. Therefore: Resolved, That we consider such an act as the declaration of open warfare against our noble order. . .”
The membership vowed to boycott any manufacturers or dealers unwilling to offer the Grange a discounted rate. They published their resolution in the Rockford Weekly Gazette on February 5, 1874. Unfortunately the minutes as well as the local newspapers fail to mention whether their boycott resulted in any political gains.
Over the years the Guilford Hope Grange regularly participated in the county and State Grange and read news from the National Grange with interest. In the 1930s political interests took a more prominent role in meetings than in many of the earlier years. Committees were appointed to address issues of legislation and taxation. Among their chief concerns was adequate rural mail service.
Educational programs were a constant part of the meetings. Topics ranged from those of an agricultural nature, to topics of a more general interest. In the 1870s they discussed the cost of raising a bushel of corn, the effectiveness of different fertilizers, and how to cure cholera in chickens. In the early 20th century topics included the proper cultivation of blueberries and the history of the American Red Cross.
Constant through the years was the social purpose of the group. The Grange held parties, picnics and dances. Meetings included news of members and sing alongs. In the 1930s the Guilford Hope Grange formed a baseball team and played teams from the other area granges.
The collection of Guilford Hope Grange record books tracks the association’s activities over a span of nearly 120 years. Through them we can begin to understand the concerns and interests important to Rockford’s farm community over the years.