Wolcott Historical Society News - February 2017
By Florence Goodman
As I think back on the list of organizations to which my mother belonged, the Grange was close to the top of that list. She was a lifetime member joining in the early 1950s and maintaining her membership throughout her 103+ years of her life. She served as treasurer until she was in her 90s. I remember her stories about their rummage sales, mystery rides to visit other Granges, square dances, card parties and so much more. The Grange was definitely a prominent organization in our community.
The Wolcott Grange was established in 1909 and was originally located on the Town Green. The Town Hall and Wolcott Grange Hall stood side-by-side facing the Congregational Church about where Farmingbury Road is today. Both old buildings were dismantled and the wood from them was used in the building of other structures in town. Some of the timbers from the Grange were used in the building of a new Grange Hall located at 313 Bound Line Road just southwest of the Wolcott Green. This one and one-half story wood-frame structure was built on a raised fieldstone foundation; it was erected in 1929. This building is architecturally significant as an excellent example of a rural grange hall dating back to the post-World War I era. Its historical significance is that it shows the continuing importance agriculture played in Wolcott's economy in the 20th century. The Grange Hall is one of the many structures surrounding or on the peripheral of the Green that are included in Wolcott's Historic District.
For the many non-Grange members who have often questioned, "What exactly is the Grange?" let me explain. The Grange was established as a community, agricultural fraternity that was based on rituals that represented lessons in life and agriculture. One must not forget that most rural towns throughout New England relied on agriculture to survive the hardships of living in the wilderness. Even our Wolcott Fair began as an "Agricultural Fair" and played a very important role in the development of the community. Our town whether it was named Farmingbury or Wolcott was a farm community and depended on agriculture to sustain life here.
By the middle of the 20th century, the farm concept was replaced by housing developments; farmland was sold off and hundreds of houses began popping up around Wolcott. As time marched on the need for this type of organization waned, but the Grangers were tough and would not give up, although many Granges in Connecticut could not maintain membership and closed, but not our Wolcott Grange. They changed with the times and stressed the "community" aspect of their organization. The Wolcott Grange is considered a "Subordinate Grange" that works on the local level to serve the immediate needs of the community. Today, each Grange has a community service chairman who is responsible for evaluating the needs and the resources of the local area for the purpose of implementing community projects and services. Applicants must be at least14 years of age and have a desire to help in the advancements in the interest of agriculture and improving community life and the well being of all citizens.
In April 2009 the Wolcott Grange celebrated 100 years in our town, but the old Grangers were dying off and new members were not replacing them. Plus continuing an agricultural organization in a town with few farms left was a tough "row to hoe." In February 2012 the Wolcott Grange had its charter suspended and was at risk of closing due to lack of membership. Henry Ouimet, a long time member of the Grange was determined not to let that happen so with the help of the State Grange he assembled a group whose goal was to revive this local chapter. Henry took over as Master and along with his nephew and numerous other residents the Grange began to thrive once more. In 2013, Joe Ouimet took over as Master of this community-service minded organization and they continued to organize projects to help those in need of our town. One significant project was raising funds for animal rescue. By 2014 their membership continued to grow and much needed repairs were made to their building inside and out. A new Master, Tony D'Amato took over in 2015 and they were able to open their newly renovated hall for rental, which added to their income in maintaining the structure as well as continuing their community service projects. This proved to be helpful, but membership was still dropping even with these new ideas and activities. By the end of 2016, the Grange was once again in need of some financial help to keep it going.
Throughout this long struggle one person has been a driving force behind the scenes, Karen Mowad. Karen is a creative, energetic, hard-working woman who in her words, "I have decided that after all the work our members have put in, to not let the Grange close in 2017." I hope that this statement will come to fruition; I wish you well. As the town historian and local history lover, I too feel the importance of seeing the Wolcott Grange survive in the 21st century. My hope is that residents might want to support this organization with small donations to help it through these tough times so they can continue to support our Food Pantry and other residents in need in our town. The Grange mailing address is 313 Bound Line Road. I hope they will have your support.
(Information for this article was taken from Samuel Orcutt's The History of the Town of Wolcott, Connecticut From 1731 to 1874, The 1986 Historic Resources Inventory by J.P.Loether and Wolcott, Connecticut 175th Anniversary 1796-1971 by John Washburne, Waterbury Republican-American articles, 2/11/12, 3/24/13 and 6/12/13 and FaceBook page of the Wolcott Grange)
The original Town Hall and the Grange located on the corner of where Farmingbury Road and Kenea Avenue are today. The house in the background on the right is the Tuttle House. The Grange Hall is in the middle.
The new Town Hall built in 1923; the Grange Hall is still next to it and then the Tuttle House.
December 7, 1948 newspaper article showing members and guests of the Wolcott Grange participating in a "Mortgage Burning Ceremony" which shows that the $2000 borrowed in 1923 was paid up in November 1947. Grange Master, Robert C. Wakelee is in the center holding the candle. State Grange Master is holding the document.
A picture of the Grange Hall located at 313 Bound Line Road in 1989.
The Wolcott Grange in 2016 decorated for fall.
Some Grange members at a meeting in the late 1950s. From left to right: Joan Dupont, Eugene Rogers, unknown, Mrs. Rogers, Carol Marino, Theresa Wylie, Polly Marty, unknown, unknown, Florence Marino, unknown, unknown, and Dorothy Genovese.
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