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The rebirth of Grange Hall

WHALLONSBURG - Couples twirled, moving with impressive symmetry as Gary Finney made illustrious calls for allemandes and promenades.

This scene of an old-time square dance was one quite common to the Whallonsburg Grange Hall decades ago, and thanks to a community-wide effort to renovate the facility, its one of many activities that have brought people back there.

Finney and his band, the Upstate Boys, began playing at the the grange hall three years ago, shortly after Whallonsburg Grange #954 donated the historic building to the Town of Essex with the stipulation it be used to entertain and educate the community.

Today, square dances at the Whallonsburg Grange Hall often draw upwards of 80 people.

"It's been a wonderful pillar for the reintroduction of the grange to the community," said Ted Cornell, who serves as project manager for the Whallonsburg Civic Association, the organization charged with overseeing the building.

But square dancing is just one of many activities happening at the grange hall, and as renovation efforts continue, this sleepy little hamlet on the banks of the Boquet River is fast becoming one of the most popular local venues for community events.

The grange hall has regularly hosted a wide gamut of art and cultural activities in the past year, including regular showings by the Champlain Valley Film Society, rehearsals and performances by the Boquet River Theatre Festival, and a collection of historical lectures called the Lyceum Series. It has also been the site of many fundraiser events.

"I think it means so much that its traditions are being brought back to life," said Cornell, noting how many local residents still remember the days when the grange hall regularly hosted dances, bingo, and various meetings. "That sense of renewed purpose, renewed possibility, renewed enjoyment, is the greatest satisfaction."

Those familiar with the grange can also see the extensive work that's been done to give the building new life.

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