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In the year 1899, William McKinley was president of the United States. A peace treaty was signed, putting an end to the Spanish-American War, and Queens and Staten Island merged with New York City.
It was also the year when Cannon Grange #152 was founded in Wilton on May 4.
In honor of its 120th anniversary, Cannon Grange is holding an open house for the public, featuring a 120th anniversary baking contest, on Saturday, May 18, from 4 to 6 p.m. at the Grange Hall at 25 Cannon Road.
Organizers of the event — Michele Clark, Bil Mikulewicz, Dearta Fursaro, Donald Offinger and Doug Shepard — consider the grange’s 120th anniversary as a significant record of achievement of family, community service, and agriculture.
In addition to several churches and schools in Wilton, Cannon Grange is one of Wilton’s oldest organizations still in existence and one that still meets in its original building. Grange members have met continuously on the first and third Thursday evenings of every month since 1899.
Over its 120-year history, Cannon Grange membership swelled to more than 100 active members. Today’s membership has 54 active members of adults, college students, and children who hail mostly from Wilton and Ridgefield, with some members living out of state and outside Fairfield County. Membership is open to all persons age 14 and up.
Granges have a long history in America. In 1867, after the Civil War, and into the early decades of the 20th century, the grange — officially known as the National Grange of the Order of Patrons of Husbandry — was the heart of rural community life in America.
Grange meetings and social events offered relief from the monotony and isolation of farm work. On the national level, the grange represented farmers in Washington, D.C., advocating fair prices for farm products, rural electrification, and rural free mail delivery, among other things.
A unique feature of the grange is that its membership is open to all family members. It was also one of the earliest organizations to give women the right to hold an officer’s position and an equal vote in meetings and forming frange policy.
As other organizations rose to present agricultural interests exclusively, the grange saw an opportunity to devote more of its efforts to local community life through service work and social events.
A major source of pride for Cannon Grange is its annual Agricultural Fair. According to the organization’s records, the fair was first presented in 1933 as an event to showcase homemaking and agriculture.
The fair was held at the end of summer so area farmers could submit choice selections from their crops for competition. At the onset of World War II, the fair was discontinued because many residents were involved with the war effort.
The fair was restarted in 1976 as a celebration of the nation’s bicentennial and was renumbered as #1. A number of years ago, the grange’s Fair Committee decided to again renumber the fairs going back to the 1933 event. This summer, the organization will be presenting the 86th Cannon Grange Agricultural Fair.
Many of the same features and events that were staged at the 1933 fair will be seen again — exhibits of home-baked confections, home-grown vegetables and fruit, sewing and needlework, and the like.
The fair has grown over the years by showcasing local musical talent, serving food, and hosting a variety of concessionaires. It has also partnered in recent years with Wilton Library to highlight technological advances. The grange’s goal is to continue to provide a family-oriented fair recalling Wilton’s rural heritage where families can come to enjoy the Grange Hall exhibits, meet and visit with neighbors and enjoy the excitement of community service and agriculture.
One of the main objectives and financial obligations of Cannon Grange is upkeep of the historic Grange Hall in the heart of Cannondale Village.
Grange Hall has been a focal point of community events since its beginning. The original design of the hall incorporated a stage, which for a time was the only venue in Wilton with one.
It was the site for lectures, a variety of programs including singing societies, theatrical shows and church groups. Today’s programming includes its annual Silent Movie Night, when vintage films are shown to piano accompaniment.
Grange Hall has been used for a variety of community-based events: neighborhood discussion groups; as a command center used by Wilton police and fire departments during a river search and rescue/recovery; and for a wide variety of party rentals.
Over the years, Cannon Grange has sponsored groups such as Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts, 4-H Club, church groups, a Little League baseball team, school choirs, a holiday market, plant sales, public dinners, riverside cleanup, (the grange’s property is adjacent to the Norwalk River), and square dances.