Redding saves the historic Barn and hopes to create a community gathering place

REDDING – The old lady sits by the side of the road as the cars speed by. She’s been there on Newtown Turnpike since 1914. Her bones are still strong and strong, but she looks worn out from decades of harsh winters in Connecticut. Its paint is chipping and chipping, and its sign is a bit worse for wear.

But the 150-year-old Redding Grange Hall, which Elizabeth Jensen lovingly calls “the old lady,” is about to take on a new lease of life thanks to dedicated residents.

Jensen didn’t know why she fell in love with the small wooden plank building, but she did. And when she found out he was on sale this summer, something inside her told her she should try to save him.

The barn buildings have been around since the late 1860s and have served as an agricultural center for local farmers. In the years that followed, organizations changed over time to serve more of a community service role.

After former Redding members in Grange lost the chapter’s charter to the state organization last winter due to financial difficulties, national regulations required a group of 13 new members to apply reorganization. And so Jensen, along with dozens of residents of Redding, did just that.

New members include First Selectman Julia Pemberton.

“We did something! Redding Grange showing up for work, ”reads the the group’s Facebook post from November 7, the day after the charter returns.

Without the revitalized group, the state, which automatically obtained ownership of the property after the confiscation, would likely have sold the land. Jensen doesn’t think the building would have survived the sale.

This is the second reorganization of the chapter since obtaining its charter in 1906.

Jensen chokes when she talks about how quickly and enthusiastically the community has rallied to save the building.

After organizing online events and hanging posters around town about Saving the Grange, Jensen was surprised at the number of people interested.

“I had 33 in five minutes,” she said. “I think it’s going to be great. We have all the limbs we need.

A local seamstress offered to make and donate new theater curtains. A carpenter offered to make a new sign to replace the old one.

On November 6, the group got their charter back – a real framed piece of paper.

Jensen looked at the audience and realized that she didn’t know any of those Redding residents before her job to save the Barn. La Grange was already doing its job: bringing people together.

“It’s a time in our community right now where we could really use getting together,” Jensen said. “And that’s exactly what these buildings were designed for.

Inside the Redding Grange building there is a main room with hardwood floors and a stage with curtains. There is also a bathroom and a cloakroom at the entrance. Although the place is in need of updating, Jensen said it has a solid structure.

Historical perspectives

La Grange, the country’s oldest agricultural advocacy group, had been a progressive place since its inception.

Women could vote in meetings long before they were allowed to vote in America, Jensen said. Members of National Grange included greats like President Franklin D. Roosevelt, Nirvana bassist Krist Novoselic and artist Norman Rockwell.

Originally, the Barns were secret societies, frequently compared to Freemasons, which lobbied against powerful railroad barons and their monopoly practices. That secrecy has been eroded over the years, in part to keep the organization from shutting down.

“This secret part of the organization has sort of been on the back burner for over 50 years. But more specifically, the last 25, the doors have really been wide open, ”said Amanda Brozana-Rios, head of staffing at the National Barn.

According to National Grange website, the Grange community is made up of approximately 150,000 members in 1,700 locals across the country. Brozana-Rios estimates that the number of chapters is probably closer to 1,500. In Connecticut, there are about 39 local barns. Over the years, the state has hosted four National Grange Conventions, according to the Connecticut State Grange History page.

The establishment of Connecticut’s first State Barn was discussed at a meeting at the Old Taylor Opera House in Danbury in April 1875. Redding No. 15 was among the first 20 Barns established from this initial point. .

One of Brozana-Rios favorite stories about the Connecticut Grange is when the state organization sold so many War Bonds during World War II that a bomber was named after him – ‘Connecticut Granger.’

Big plans to bring people together

Jensen sent out a survey to get a better idea of ​​how people wanted to use the space.

When polling people to understand their level of interest, Jensen noticed three guidelines: a dedication to preservation, a desire for community space, and a love of Redding’s story.

Redding’s Grange was previously home to many community service projects, from hosting fall harvest fairs to a project to buy school dictionaries to work with Connecticut Foster Care and the American School for the Deaf, according to the Facebook page. of the group.

One popular idea is to use the space to facilitate a virtual agricultural cooperative, where locals who grow and harvest different products could bring their wares one day a week to organize a sort of “farmers market” in the space.

Residents could select their items online from a plethora of local options, then show up at the Grange building for pickup.

Most of all, people wanted a community gathering place, maybe a place to come and have a cup of coffee with a friend. Several also suggested a rental room where Boy Scout troops, music teachers and the garden club could meet.

Brozana-Rios said Granges lent herself to this creation of family and community bonds. At a time when the population is more mobile, living far from blood relatives, coming together to reunite with family with friends and neighbors has been a strength of Grange organizations.

“What a primal and beautiful thing, especially now,” Jensen said. “What they want is a place to be together.”

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