Ensign Twp. saves piece of history

Deborah Prescott | Daily Press Ensign Township Hall as it looks today after a three-year remodeling project.

ENSIGN — Ensign Township is having an open house for its newly renovated hall on Sunday, May 19, from 1 to 3 p.m. It will be the grand reveal of over three years of hard work. Instead of building a new structure on the property, the township decided to keep the building once known as the Alton Grange #1384.

“This building has been a part of our community for over 100 years,” said Ensign Township Clerk Mary Wilson.

According to Wilson, some residents wanted to construct a new building.

“Not everyone has an older building with character,” said Wilson. “A group got together and approached the board to say they had to do something other than erect a new building. There’s a lot of history from many generations in this building.”

During the three-year period, local resident Darryl Lindquist led approximately 25 volunteers through remodeling the hall. First, a new roof went on, followed by a porch addition and siding.

“Originally, I thought the hall had a different entrance on the front until an older gentleman sent me photos of what it looked like,” said Wilson. “I don’t remember a porch, but in the photos there was a porch. We created the porch after that.”

Flooring work was started in January and finished in April.

All of the wood was donated by Lindquist to the township, which paid for milling of the ash trees. The building’s electrical was redone. The original flooring was refurbished.

“The township only spent $135,000 to get the grange to what it was,” said Wilson. “Roof, porch, windows, siding … with 25 volunteers. Handicap toilets were donated and installed by volunteers.”

The hall was gutted and after taking out a suspended ceiling, workers found an exposed tray ceiling with no insulation. The ceiling was raised and retro lighting and ceiling fans have been added.

“We use to come in, turn the heat up and all the flies would come out and buzz. It was bad,” said Wilson.

When the building was originally built, cables were installed to hold walls together. In the late 1970s three more cables were installed.

“They wrapped the cables with … two by fours at the top and bottom … we wrapped the board with cedar siding,” said Wilson.

Wilson said the township already has parties booked for the summer at the hall.

She has had thoughts of attempting to get the building registered as a historical place.

The hall was built in 1909 as Alton Grange #1384, a farm fraternal organization. The National Grange was formed on Dec. 4, 1867, in Washington, D.C. under the name The Patrons of Husbandry. The organization was organized for the social, economic and educational improvement of rural families. A grange was a building where people in rural communities would gather to do good for the community. Odd for it’s time, the organization urged women and teenagers old enough to use a plow to participate in the organization. The first grange was constructed in 1868, in Fredonia, New York.

“Because this area was known as the Alton area at the time, the Grange was considered in Alton,” said Wilson.

Alton, Mich., was in Masonville Township. In 1921 a group of citizens from Masonville, Nahma and Bay de Noque townships gathered and proposed to the Board of Supervisors in Delta County a new township called Ensign should be created. According to an application presented to the board, residents in secluded areas of the three townships felt isolated from the townships they were living in. They felt isolated from centers of activity, rendering it impossible and extremely inconvenient for them to enjoy their political rights and privileges. Due to the size and multiple needs of the townships the development of public improvements, roads, bridges and schools for the people in the proposed new township is delayed to the detriment of the petitioners and residents. The residents became Ensign Township and in 1958 the grange was deeded over to the township and it became the Ensign Township Hall.

An addition was constructed in the 1970s after a volunteer fire department was added in the township.

For generations the walls have been the backdrop to dances, celebrations and fundraisers.

“It has hosted many a polka party, fire department fundraisers and square dances back in the day,” said Wilson. “Building memories for many, many generations.”

Ensign Township Hall is located at 9498 24th Road, east of Rapid River off of US 2.

“My dad remembered when people would come here with horses,” said Wilson. “It’s always been a staple in the community.”