History of the Chambers Prairie Grange at Yelm and Henderson

olympia wa history


By Emmett O’Connell

boggsfinallogoFor years, grange halls were the social and political glue that held together the rural farming communities in the Pacific Northwest. Simple, useful community clubhouses sprouted up around Washington throughout our early history, acting as community centers to connected dispersed people.

olympia wa historyThe Chambers Prairie Grange building at the corner of Yelm and Henderson is probably the most urban example of a grange hall locally. It is currently surrounded by the Briggs Community branch of the South Sound YMCA and several growing neighborhoods. But, for many decades, the area around the grange hall was a thriving farming community.

Granges were local organizations that were founded in the South after the Civil War to help bring modern farming practices to that region. When they were established in the Pacific Northwest, the organizations advocated for local development and progressive politics.

But, like many local grange organizations whose farming communities were slowly taken over by suburban neighborhoods, the Chambers Prairie Grange slowly lost membership. In recent years, the membership dropped below 13 and the building and the organization itself was handed back to the Washington State Grange.

But, not before the Chambers Grange gained some notoriety as a venue for grunge bands. Keith Cameron describes the scene in his book on Mud Honey, a seminal Seattle grunge band:

The first was the Chambers Prairie Grange Hall, just outside of Olympia, where the band set up on a tiny stage with doors off of either side and with a large painting etched on the back wall. It looked like they were playing in someone’s livingroom, a illusion heightened whenever Bob Whittaker opened one of the doors to assess the scene…

olympia wa historyOver the years, even as the exterior of the hall has become run down, the interior is still strong. The building is in good shape, and shy of some cosmetic upgrades, could easily again be occupied.

Currently, since the building doesn’t house an operating grange group, the Washington State Grange is looking for buyers. In late 2012 the state grange sought a zoning change that would allow a retail operation in the hall or on the lot, for example. But, because of concerns of neighbors that any commercial use of the building would increase traffic, the Tumwater City Council denied the rezone.


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