A weath­ered plaque on the Mall honors the 1867 found­ing of a group de­voted to U.S. farm­ers.

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Can you tell me more about a plaque that is lo­cated on the Mall at Fourth Street and Madi­son Drive NW hon­or­ing the Na­tional Grange of the Pa­trons of Hus­bandry? I as­sume it marks part of the early com­mu­nity that was next to the old canal be­fore any de­vel­op­ment took place on the Mall? The plaque is get­ting pretty beat up. Be­fore it’s gone, can you tell read­ers more about its im­por­tance?

— An­drew Krieger, Wash­ing­ton

Plaques, of course, aren’t im­por­tant in and of them­selves, but for what they memo­ri­al­ize. And what that plaque memo­ri­al­izes isn’t a set­tle­ment but an or­ga­ni­za­tion founded 150 years ago to rep­re­sent the in­ter­ests of Amer­i­can farm­ers.

Why stick the plaque there? Be­cause nearby in 1867 was the of­fice of Wil­liam Saun­ders, su­per­in­ten­dent of the prop­a­gat­ing gar­dens of the De­part­ment of Agri­cul­ture. The prop­a­gat­ing gar­dens — roughly where the Na­tional Gallery of Art is now — com­prised a se­ries of green­houses where seeds and cut­tings were cul­ti­vated.

Saun­ders was a Scot­tish-born hor­ti­cul­tur­al­ist and land­scape ar­chi­tect and a tow­er­ing fig­ure in agri­cul­tural sci­ence. He sent the first navel or­ange trees to Cal­i­for­nia, help­ing jump-start the state’s cit­rus in­dus­try. He also de­signed ceme­ter­ies for those killed dur­ing the Civil War.

While it’s be­cause of Saun­ders and his of­fice that the plaque is where it is, it’s be­cause of a man named Oliver Kel­ley that the Na­tional Grange of the Or­der of Pa­trons of Hus­bandry ex­ists. Kel­ley was a Bos­ton na­tive who be­came a farmer in Min­nesota and later toured the post-Civil War South at the re­quest of the Agri­cul­ture De­part­ment.

Kel­ley saw the de­struc­tion caused by the war and noted that farm­ers were in es­pe­cially dire shape. (Many had lost their source of free la­bor: slaves.) Kel­ley de­cided that South­ern farm­ers needed help. On re­flec­tion, he de­cided that all farm­ers could use help, re­gard­less of where in the United States they tilled the soil.

And so Kel­ley, along with Saun­ders and five oth­ers, founded the Na­tional Grange. The or­ga­ni­za­tion’s Dec­la­ra­tion of Pur­poses stated that mem­bers of the “agri­cul­tural fra­ter­nity” would be de­voted to self-im­prove­ment. It stressed the im­por­tance of co­op­er­a­tion, ed­u­ca­tion, tech­nol­ogy, and vowed to avoid prej­u­dice and sec­tion­al­ism.

Sev­eral of the Grange’s founders were Ma­sons, and they in­cor­po­rated Ma­sonic el­e­ments in the or­ga­ni­za­tion’s prac­tices. There are seven de­grees that mem­bers may attain.

Un­like the Ma­sons, women have been wel­come in the Grange from the start. Sev­eral of the founders’ fe­male rel­a­tives held high po­si­tions, in­clud­ing Kel­ley’s niece Caro­line Hall, who told her un­cle: “Your or­ga­ni­za­tion will not succeed un­less you give an equal place to women.”

To­day the group has around 150,000 mem­bers in more 2,100 lo­cal chap­ters. Though it lob­bies on Capi­tol Hill, the Grange de­scribes it­self as non­par­ti­san. Its pri­mary is­sues are those that in­volve agri­cul­ture and ru­ral com­mu­ni­ties.

It sup­ported Pres­i­dent Trump’s prom­ise to re­peal the Waters of the U.S. — or WOTUS — rule, which broad­ened the EPA’s author­ity over wet­lands and trib­u­taries.

It’s against any mea­sure that would cur­tail ru­ral mail de­liv­ery and for in­creas­ing ac­cess to broad­band. It also sup­ports the FCC’s Life­line pro­gram that pro­vides dis­counted phone ser­vice to low-in­come Amer­i­cans.

The Grange’s head­quar­ters is in an 11-story build­ing at 1616 H St. NW, near the White House. In the 1980s, the build­ing en­gi­neer grew corn and toma­toes in the tree box out­side.

The plaque on Madi­son Drive was ded­i­cated in 1951, one of the few pri­vate memo­ri­als on the Mall. Amanda Leigh Brozana Rios, com­mu­ni­ca­tions and de­vel­op­ment di­rec­tor for the Na­tional Grange, said it was pol­ished a few years ago. It’s a bit scraped, Amanda said, but that seems kind of fit­ting.

“The Grange has weath­ered 150 years,” she said.

That’s the bomb

Mem­ory time: Terry Gans at­tended Murch El­e­men­tary School in the District in the 1950s. It was dur­ing the Cold War and duck-and-cover drills — “point­less,” in Terry’s opinion — were com­mon.

But was some­thing else? “I have a mem­ory of be­ing is­sued dog tags,” wrote Terry. “I know this was done in other cities, par­tic­u­larly New York. Have I cre­ated a false mem­ory or did this oc­cur in the D.C. pub­lic schools?”

Well, read­ers? Any of you re­mem­ber be­ing is­sued dog tags in school?

Help­ing Hand

Just a week left to ex­press in­ter­est in be­ing part of The Wash­ing­ton Post Help­ing Hand pro­gram. If you work at a Wash­ing­ton-area char­ity that helps needy fam­i­lies or in­di­vid­u­als, please con­sider ap­ply­ing to be one of the three part­ners we’ll work with for the next three years of fundrais­ing.

The dead­line to sub­mit a let­ter of in­quiry is July 17. For de­tails, and more about Help­ing Hand, visit pos­thelp­ing­hand.com.

COUR­TESY OF AN­DREW KRIEGER

This plaque com­mem­o­rat­ing the foun­da­tion of the Na­tional Grange of the Pa­trons of Hus­bandry is at Fourth Street and Madi­son Drive NW along the Mall.

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