The Greenfield Hill section of town was still largely agricultural in the mid 1950s when Jim Golias rode his bicycle from his family home in Southport to the annual Grange Fair in a hall at 1873 Hillside Road.
"It was a very large fair back then and very agricultural. I purchased Bantam chickens, ducks, pigeons and rabbits at the fair and carried them home on my bike," said Golias, who was about 12 years old then. Now he's an active member of the Greenfield Hill Grange.
No livestock will be sold at the grange's annual fair Saturday, but there will be a lecture on raising chickens, as more people are developing an interest in small-scale backyard agricultural pursuits.
Also scheduled are other lectures, an exhibit of antique farm tools, pony rides, a tag sale, live music, refreshments, a tea cup auction, and competitions in several categories, including flowers, fruits and vegetables, baking, home canning, photography and arts and crafts. Admission is free.
This year's fair marks the 120th anniversary of the once-thriving agrarian organization. The Greenfield Hill Grange No. 133 was established on Jan. 23, 1893, with 18 charter members, among them some prominent community residents, male and female, whose names are found on street signs, buildings, state parks, beaches and schools in Fairfield and Westport: Jennings, Morehouse, Wheeler, Wakeman, Banks, Sherwood and Burr.
The Greenfield Hill Grange Hall, a Queen Anne-style building erected in 1897 with additions built in the 1930s, is considered architecturally and artistically significant. It was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 2008.
According to the Connecticut Trust for Historic Preservation website, the hall "is a well-preserved example of a vanishing rural building type. ... Wooden wainscoting, pressed-metal sheathing on the walls and ceiling, and decorative egg-and-dart ovolo molding are among many of the original vernacular details of this building."
"It's been continuously used as a grange hall uninterrupted since the building was built in 1897," said Steve Golias of Bridgeport, Jim's brother and the chairman of this year's Greenfield Hill Grange Fair. "We may have missed a meeting or two because of weather or gas rationing during World War II, but the grange never vacated the building."
Before the Grange Hall was built, the local grange organization rented space from nearby Dwight Academy, Steve Golias said.
The building has seen better days, just as the group has, but the small group of dedicated current members is working to renovate the structure and revitalize the organization, one of five remaining granges in Fairfield County.
At its height, the Greenfield Hill Grange Hall would attract about 125 people for regional meetings. Today, there are only 15 active local members from Fairfield and surrounding communities. About four years ago, it almost closed for lack of membership.
Although little of Fairfield's agricultural past is visible, or even remembered by most residents, current members say the grange takes people back to their roots, connects them to the land, and builds community.
Geno Piacentini, of Bridgeport, treasurer of the Greenfield Hill Grange, said granges are poised for a comeback because of the growing interest in sustainability and support of local farms.
"I think with the farmers' markets and the movement of people wanting to grow their own food the Greenfield grange is going to do well in the future," he said. "Even some restaurants are using locally grown produce."
The grange was the original "farmers' club," said Beth Bradley, vice president of the Greenfield Hill Grange, who envisions the grange of the future as a resource and collective for agricultural knowledge and education.
"We are seeing a change in our community in regards to local and sustainable," she said. "People want to have locally grown food and they want to seek out sustainable sources. What I'm hoping is that this space will serve our modern farmer. The idea is to use this space for our little section of the world."
During the winter months, Bradley said the local grange will provide workshops and lectures on soap-making, medicinal herbs, saving seeds, composting, how to trim fruit trees and other useful and agriculturally related topics.
The grange hall will also be available for rent by other organizations, she said. One group has already booked the hall for contra dancing.
"The demographics are different. Unless you're in the middle of Iowa, very rural, there's not a lot of farmers here," said Dennis Rich, the outgoing president or master. "What do still exist within the grange are the American values and hometown roots."
Meetings include saluting the flag and there may be a short opening and closing prayer, but Rich said the grange is not a religious organization.
"We don't want anyone thinking we're proselytizing," he said.
The aim is to promote the traditional values of family and community service and to promote and support sustainable living initiatives and green practices.
"We are looking for like-minded people," Bradley said.
The group already has its eyes on the future. Next year's fair will be moved up a month to Aug. 25 and the hours will be extended.
Those interested in joining the grange are invited to attend the meetings, which take place the third Monday of every month at the grange hall, 1873 Hillside Road.
The 120th Greenfield Hill Grange fair will take place Saturday, from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., at 1873 Hillside Road. Details of the fair and a premium list for competition entries are also available on the website or by calling 203-953-4022. Fair entries will be accepted at the grange hall from 7 to 9 p.m. Friday and 8 to 9 a.m. Saturday.