A request for proposals for an adaptive re-use of the historic Grange Hall, located on Sound Avenue, has been issued by the First Parish Church, UCC, the building's owner.
"As the building nears the end of its second century in use, its owners, First Parish Church, UCC, invite proposals for a new chapter in the life of this historic treasure," the RFP reads.
Built in 1831, the building known as the Sound Avenue Grange Hall "has been in almost constant use as a vibrant center of civic and social life. For most of its life, the Grange Hall has been the de facto community center for the three-centuries’-old farm community along Sound Avenue. As the community’s needs for a social gathering place have gradually altered, First Parish Church seeks to repurpose the building for relevant community use," the RFP states.
The church hopes to preserve, restore and protect the historically important building but also wishes to see "creative use" of the site in keeping with its past, leasing it to a party that would strive to keep the structure socially relevant as it moves into future in the rural community.
The Grange Hall might be well suited for a social enterprise, nonprofit, or philanthropic venture, according to the RPF.
"Special consideration will be given to proposals from individuals or nonprofit groups with a vision to enhance community life in the areas of charitable activity, education, spiritual enrichment or the arts, especially as these relate to North Fork agriculture, natural resources, social and economic development, or history," the RFP states.
The landmark building is currently closed while funding is sought to replace its heating system and much-needed repairs to windows, doors and the foyer floor.
Plans should be suitable for use in a protected historic building as the Grange is a Riverhead Town landmark and a petition has been issued to have the building placed on the National Register of Historic Places.
The Grange was constructed as the original church building for FPC in 1831 and moved in 1834 to its current site at 5268 Sound Avenue.
The 3,300 square foot building has two floors, a large meeting room and kitchen on the ground floor, and a small theater on the upper floor.
Responses to the RFP are due by March 30 at 5 p.m.
Since it was built in 1831, the Northville Grange has served as a community meeting place, offering generations the opportunity to gather under its humble roof. And now, the farming community is giving back, working to refurbish the Grange for future generations.
“This building has such community soul,” Pastor Dianne Rodriguez of the First Parish Church, the parish that owns the Grange, said, in 2011. “And if it has stories to tell, I wish I could hear them.”
During its rich and storied history, the Grange - originally constructed as a church - has served as a meeting hall for farmers, religious organizations, a school, a community hall for quilters, theater groups, Alcoholics Anonymous meetings, and as a haven for the homeless.
The National Grange of the Order of Patrons of Husbandry, according to its website, is the nation's oldest agricultural organization, formed following the Civil War. Today the organization boasts 200,000 members, though no active Grange organizations remain in Suffolk County.
While the Northville Chapter no longer exists, the building remains, and it is in dire need of repair. Members of the local farming community have stepped up to plant the seeds of faith and hope necessary to get the initiative rolling.
According to Rodriguez, the fundraising quest began after the need for a fire marshal inspection.
Before his death in 2012, Jeff Frank, who headed up the Nature Lyceum, a group dedicated to organic farming, suggested a free series of lectures on Wednesdays and Friday nights, with all donations given to the Save the Grange fund.
“The building is happy the farmers are back,” Frank said at the time. “We’re bringing it back to its roots.”
In addition to a sagging second floor - on which are pews, an organ, and a stage - also planned for renovations are the Grange’s antiquated kitchen, the addition of an upstairs bathroom, roof insulation, and a new entrance in back.
A commercial stove was donated for use in the Grange by a congregation in Orient, but in order to install the new appliance, approximately $20,000 is needed for a fire suppression system.
“This is what we’re up against,” Rodriguez said, adding that the total for all repairs could range anywhere from $60,000 to over $100,000.
With funds desperately needed, a fundraising campaign has commenced, with the community rallying to Save the Grange.
Lisa Barrow, a Speonk resident who attended a lecture in 2011, “Elementals in the Garden,” said Saving the Grange is critical.
“Since it was built in 1831, this has been a community building, and it still serves multiple good community uses,” she said. "And it’s come full circle. We’re using it for agricultural and organic reasons.”
Throughout its history, the building hosted meetings of the Grange farmers’ organization, a literary society, holiday dinners, a theater group, and was a school. In recent years, a Blessing of the Artists event is held at the site, as are luncheons, quilting sessions and other meetings.