I have been curious about the mapping of the world long before moving to this quiet part of New England. But I have never developed enough brain power to memorize the numbers our roads have been given. It might be easy as 1, 2, 3 for some drivers to string together Routes 7, 45, 341 on their way to Route 478. But for me, it simply points A to B, or West Cornwall Road to Lake Waramaug.
I am sure the system makes perfect sense for state employees who numbered them, who fix them and plow them. To have a numeral scheme for a maze of 3700 miles of a grid of asphalt is helpful. But I am easily lost in the idiosyncrasies that put Routes 124 and 127 in Fairfield County, and Routes 125 and 128 in Cornwall, and eradicated Route 129, once in New Milford, all together.
However, once in a while, a Eureka moment hits even me. Take the quiet 1.24 mile stretch of a road between Routes 4 and 128, a.k.a Route 125. I recently learned something unforgettable about it: Route 125 is the shortest state road in Connecticut. And probably one of the quietest too. The state estimates its traffic number to be about 500 cars a day.
You might shrug this off, perhaps saying to yourself: Some town has to have the shortest road. That’s true. And Route 125 is our small claim to fame, literally.
But wait, there’s more. Route 125, which is officially Grange Hall Road, received its designation in 1932, but at that time it was slightly longer. It included Pine Street up to the corner of Jewell Street. In 1962, the state reorganized its portfolio and lopped that part off, turning it over to the town. Grange Hall Road might sound itself shrouded in mystery, especially since there are no signposts.
The name goes back to a time when the undistinguished reddish building close to the northern end was a hub of social life in Cornwall, the meeting place for the local Grange, which was part of a fraternal organization dedicated to America’s farmers. Its state chapter was the force behind a 1930’s push to have the legislature in Hartford provide money to pave roads in rural Connecticut, including Grange Hall Road, aka Route 125.
The fate of the Cornwall Grange was sealed, when its membership fell below a crucial threshold in the early eighties. Grange Hall was sold and its proceeds used as seed money for the Agricultural Fair which has become a highlight of Cornwall’s annual events. And as it happens, quite a few of us take 125 to get there. So let’s drink to celebrate Connecticut’s shortest state road (of course, not while you are driving.)
One more fun fact about Cornwall’s roads, which you can look up at one of the geekiest websites in the history of websites titled “Connecticut Roads” (https://www.kurumi.com/roads/ct/): No other municipality in Connecticut has as many state roads that don’t cross town lines. Besides our tiny Route 125, there is Route 43 connecting Routes 4 and 128 below Bunker Hill with Route 63 down at the end of Cornwall Hollow. And if Route 128 was not stretched by a few feet across the river to link with Route 7, the list would be even longer. Another reason Cornwall might give all of Connecticut state road envy. Enjoy your next drive.
How Grange Hall Road got its name
Juergen Kalwa interviews Brent Prindle
The official title of the organization is a mouthful: The National Grange of the Order of Patrons of Husbandry. And it includes an old word for the care, cultivation, and breeding of crops and animals, that hardly anyone uses anymore What might sound quaint and prolix was actually a forward-looking movement started after the Civil War in order to promote the economic and political well-being of agricultural communities nationwide.
Just like the local Cornwall chapter which joined in two decades later. We need to praise them for participating in efforts to get our roads paved, including Route 125, which went right past the front steps of their own meeting place, Grange Hall. Sadly the Cornwall branch of the organization no longer exists. Thankfully, Brent Prindle, steeped in the history of the Grange and as a former co-proprietor of the Cornwall Electric Company a student of the fabric of our town, was there to answer questions, when Juergen Kalwa visited him in his home on Route 4 in Sharon.
I have always wondered where the word Grange comes from. What does it mean?
The word Grange is from Britain. That’s what they call their farms there.
But here it became the name of an organization.
Yes, like a farmer’s union.
Was it one of the most successful organizations in the farming community? Or were there others that we just have forgotten about?
Probably one of the most successful ones. It still exists. It was a way for all of the community farmers to communicate with each other and get things passed through legislation. Things like paving the roads. Rural free mail delivery. Farmers could not get to the post office to get their mail during the day. Right now. We are working on broadband to help rural communities.
The role that agriculture played in Cornwall and still does is well documented. But what about the Grange in Cornwall?
It was one of the very first Granges in Connecticut. It was number 32, which is a very low number. It started in 1885. Our Grange up here in Sharon is number 100.
Do we know which farming families were instrumental in creating the group in Cornwall?
The Gold family and Theodore Sedgwick Gold in particular (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Theodore_Sedgwick_Gold). First they had their meetings at his house. And it was actually called the North Cornwall Grange at that time. They dropped the North part in 1915.
Originally the small building on Route 125 they moved into was used by a creamery. At some point the building changed hands and became the Grange Hall. Which was the reason why Route 125 was named Grange Hall Road. The term “hall” sounds a little grandiose when you look at the building, which still exists.
That was a typical Grange Hall size. Cornwall is a small town so it was a fairly small one for the number of farmers that were there.
We have heard of parties which non-members attended as well.
They had square dances. But no alcohol was served. We are not allowed to have open bottles in a Grange Hall. Which is one of the state Grange’s rules that has been passed down.
There is hardly any space for parking at the building.
Everybody just parked on the road.
Talking about the road. These small town roads were not in good shape when cars were invented. And that was the reality for quite a long time.
Before the 30s all these roads out here, including in Cornwall, were all just dirt roads. The Grange in the state started a campaign called “Get Connecticut Out of the Mud.” They had little bumper stickers, little metal plaques, that all the farmers would have on their cars with that slogan.
We no longer have a Grange in Cornwall. Why is that?
The membership of Granges everywhere has declined. But there is a required minimum number in order to have a meeting. You have to have seven for a meeting or a quorum for a Grange. So the Cornwall Grange disbanded. But before that, they started the Cornwall Agricultural Committee and created a fund from the sale of the building. That was in May 1986.