Future’s looking brighter
Andy Cripe

Volunteers spend Saturday giving the Willamette Grange Hall a new paint coat

GREENBERRY - The Willamette Grange hall was erected in 1923, and parts of the building look like it hasn't been painted since.

On Saturday, Jim Gray smiled as he watched volunteers apply a new coat of white paint to the structure, at Highway 99W and Greenberry Road.

"Oh, that's looking good. That is looking good," Gray said. He might as well have been talking about the building's future, which seems bright for the first time in years.

Locals hope to get the Willamette Grange hall listed on the National Register of Historic Places, which could bring grant funding for much-needed repairs and save the building. The application is due in November.

This summer, the building was put on the Benton County Register of Historic Resources, and the county has provided $8,000 to help with the national nomination and a structural assessment.

"This is a symbol of the agricultural roots of the county," said Chris Bentley, Benton County senior planner. "There are some amazing, beautiful features to the building. The upstairs is quite wonderful. Naturally lighted, natural wood wainscot all the way around it."

Part of the greatness of the grange hall, however, has been what's happened inside its walls.

"My 50th wedding anniversary was here," said Cleda Jones, a grange member since about 1940 who turned out to watch.

"My 50th birthday party was here. My son got married here," added member Peggy Giles.

The building hasn't been used for more than two years, however, because of safety concerns. Its cracked walls are leaning out near the roof, but they've been cabled together for support. During a meeting three years ago, some residents suggested tearing the building down. Most wanted to save it, though.

The grange also is in the midst of transferring 50 percent ownership of the building to the Inavale Community Partners, the parent organization of the Muddy Creek Charter School.

For the grange, the partnership brings new blood to help fix things up. Grange membership statewide - and at the Willamette Grange as well - has sharply declined in the last few decades.

"We have some experience with grants, too," said Tanya Freeman, the vice president of Inavale Community Partners, as she dabbed some paint on the side of the grange hall.

The charter school could hold events at the grange hall, and preserving it could help maintain a sense of community just south of Corvallis, Freeman said.

The idea for Saturday's painting party came from Corvallis painter and handyman Reed Behrens, who saw the building while driving south to the Oregon Country Fair and figured it needed sprucing up. Local businesses donated the paint.

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