Leah Sandifer said she cried when she heard the news that the Grange Hall in Clayton, Wash., was on fire.
That’s where her wedding reception was scheduled for Saturday. “Boy, have plans changed,” said Sandifer, an IV therapy nurse at Deaconess Medical Center.
The brick façade is all that remains of the 79-year-old building gutted by a suspicious fire on May 29. No one was injured in the blaze.
To make matters worse, Sandifer’s fiancé Jim Calicoat’s log house is only 30 feet from the Grange. “It’s a miracle the house survived,” said Sandifer.
The house had water damage in the basement and some external heat damage. The silk wedding flowers Sandifer had spent her vacation making were rescued just in time as the basement filled with water from the fire hoses.
Stevens County Fire Chief Keith Reilly said the fire, battled by firefighters with nine firetrucks from three fire districts, remains under investigation.
“It’s a huge loss. The whole community gathers there. Clayton’s a pretty tight community; everybody helps each other out,” said Sandifer.
Clayton, just north of Deer Park, has a population of 150, and about 500 people live in the surrounding community.
In addition to Grange meetings, the hall was used for Boy Scout presentations, Bible school classes, fund-raisers, Christmas parties. It’s where the community votes, where homemade pies were baked for the community’s annual Brick Yard Days held in August.
“With all that terra cotta stuff on the inside, it was the most beautiful building you’ve ever laid your eyeballs on,” said Jack Lewis, the 71-year-old former Grange master.
The building was built in 1926 for the Moose Lodge but a year later went back to the Washington Brick and Lime Co.
“I roller-skated many miles in that building, with the old clamp-on steel skates and then the school bought the building. I graduated from the eighth grade in that gym. Then the school gave it up and the Grange bought it,” said Lewis.
“We charged $40 down, $40 up to use the Clayton Grange. If you didn’t have the money we’d say, ‘hey go ahead and use it.’ That’s what we wanted,” said Lewis.
Lewis said the building was insured but not for the estimated $200,000 needed to rebuild it.
At a Grange meeting Saturday, the group decided they wanted to save and restore the building if possible.
Lewis said they are getting demolition estimates in case rebuilding isn’t possible.
Grange member Howard Richards remains optimistic. “We’re going to save the building. We had a structural engineer come out and he said it looks like it can be saved. Our intent is to shore up the walls, use them for a façade and build from the interior.
“The walls look structurally sound – those are firebricks, and the mortar looks pretty good. What we don’t know about is the terra cotta on both the inside and outside. When terra cotta gets hot it crumbles,” said Richards.
Richards, 61, has lived in the community for 30 years. He hopes that through donations and the help of other Granges they can come up with enough money.
Dan Hammock, communications director for the Washington State Grange Association said that when the Swauk-Teanaway Grange in Kittitas County, Wash., was destroyed by fire a year ago, the community came together to help out. “They raised about 60 percent of the funds they needed to rebuild through various fund-raising activities, and so they’ve recently begun construction on their new hall,” said Hammock.
The state Grange organization will publicize the news of the Clayton fire and request donations from other Granges across the state.
“The Grange has always been about community and families, and everybody feels horrible when somebody loses a hall – that one was a beautiful historic building,” said Hammock.
Many Granges struggle financially, but in the last eight years, the Clayton Grange has managed to pay its bills and help the community with proceeds from their monthly pancake feeds.
“Our first pancake feed we had nine people there and four of us were workers. We now have six to 10 regular workers and we feed 80 to 100 people every month. That has been our lifeline to pay for things and make improvements,” said Mary Lentz, wife of the current Grange master, Del Lentz.
“It’s so sad you can look in the windows and see the tables and the folding chairs lined up amongst the ashes waiting for someone to come and sit at the pancake feed. It’s like looking at a ghost house,” said Lentz.
The Clayton Fire Station has offered the use of their building so the Grange can continue with their pancake breakfasts until other arrangements can be made.
The Calicoat-Sandifer wedding reception won’t be held in the historic Clayton Grange Hall as planned, but luckily the neighboring Williams Valley Grange was available.
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