For decades the Aroostook Union Grange No. 143 has sat vacant along Route 1 next to Spragueville Road 2 miles south of downtown Presque Isle.
Once used by farmers and the community as a gathering place, the grange membership disbanded several decades ago and the building was most recently used by a family for storage, until Chad Graham purchased it in 2013.
Graham, a Presque Isle native who now runs a statewide rental property business and lives in Portland, has been rehabilitating the grange and hopes to find a renter for it.
“I love the history of the building and I would like to see someone lease it for whatever the zoning would allow,” Graham said, mentioning possibilities such as music performances and art shows. A musician himself, Graham brought in a player piano from his family’s farm on Egypt Road.
“I would love to see the grange get to the point where it’s a rental product for the community, and the community could use it.”
While some raccoons had found their way in over the years and the foundation still needs to be replaced, “the building is actually pretty good architecturally,” Graham said.
Over the past three years, he’s been cleaning, painting and rehabilitating the grange, as well as trying to learn about its past — which is hard.
Older residents who stopped in to buy some of the former owner’s items told Graham that they remembered going to weddings and dances at the grange before it closed sometime in the 1970s. But otherwise, there isn’t much documented history of the building — when it was built, for instance — that Graham could find at the library, online or elsewhere. Richard Graves, a Presque Isle optometrist and local historian, estimated that the building is at least a century old.
Larry Park, a senior citizen and tree farmer who lives not far from the grange, near Echo Lake and Aroostook State Park, remembers going to dances with live music at the grange when he was young, although just to watch. “I didn’t dance,” he said.
“It got to where they decided that the floor was not strong enough for dances, because the floors went up and down,” Park said. (The foundation was later resupported, Graham said.)
Park ended up joining the Maysville Grange, Presque Isle’s other grange originating from the former town of Maysville, located about 3 miles north of downtown Presque Isle and annexed in 1883. That building also has been in the midst of rehabilitation and is set to open this fall as a museum for the Presque Isle Historical Society, showcasing a range of stories from local history.
Graham said he has received a number of inquiries about the Aroostook Union Grange, including proposals for using the space as a store for antiques, Maine-made crafts or a flea market.
“I’m in negotiations with one lady right now,” he said.
The property does not have plumbing and its location is just feet off Route 1, where the speed limit is 50 miles per hour. But Graham has put in a new electrical system, and said installing a well and septic system could be a possibility.
He also thinks the highly visible Route 1 location would work well, since it’s also close to Aroostook State Park and a small park with a sledding hill where the first successful transatlantic hot air balloon launched.
“There’s not a lot of tourism here,” Graham said. “How great would this be as a pit stop for people coming through here?”