Column – What’s in a name? Two connotations for Grange

Published 5:43 pm Tuesday, May 30, 2023

Selection of the name Grange for the community’s latest proposed housing project is intriguing. It’s the latest in a long line of Isle of Wight housing projects with names that are sometimes straightforward and at other times rather obscure. 

Back before there were housing developments, local folk generally named roads and the communities they served for some local connection, sometimes a country store owner, sometimes some event or characteristic. Thus, you’ll find Wrenn’s Mill Road, Berryman’s Crossroads, Waterworks Road and Rattlesnake Road. (It crosses Rattlesnake Swamp.) 

The projects that have driven our population boom, however, have names that are clearly aimed at marketing housing lots, a very natural goal for the developers. The result has been a decidedly English touch. Sometimes, they have also given a nod to local history.

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The first major housing project was Carisbrooke, and its name was clearly an effort to be historical, reaching across the Atlantic to our namesake, the Isle of Wight, on the southern coast of England. Carisbrooke is an ancient castle on that island, one in which islanders take great pride. The streets of Carisbrooke also took on names from the English isle, thus solidly tying it to our roots.

Moonefield was named in honor of Captain Moon, its earliest colonial owner. (Sometime in the course of history, an “e” had been added to Moon.) That development preserved a historic reference to early colonial times.

Gatling Pointe carries the name of the Gatling family, who were the last pre-development owners of the tract. History ended and marketing began when street names were added, lending a nautical flare to the community. While the main road into the project is Gatling Pointe Parkway, history gives way to cute on the side streets, named to have a marketable nautical flavor. There is Regatta Lane, Clipper Creek Lane, Spinnaker Run and Mariners Pointe Lane, to name a few.

Waterford Oaks’ origin is a bit more obscure. There’s a town named Waterford in Ireland, but who knows? The streets in Waterford Oaks clearly pick up an English theme, with a touch of Robin Hood thrown in. There’s a Sherwood Lane and Nottingham Place, as well as Canteberry (most often spelled Canterberry or Canterbury), Buckingham and Winchester.

Wellington Estates has an interesting array of English names. Though the Duke of Wellington had no Virginia connections that I’m aware of, it’s nice that we now honor Bonaparte’s chief nemesis. The English tone continues inside that project with Liverpool Street, Westminster Reach and Edinburgh Court.

Now, if it is ultimately approved, we will have what may be one of the more obscure and ironic project names yet to be given the county — The Grange. 

The Luter project is being built on one of the community’s most historic farms, Pierceville, but the name Pierceville has been omitted from the project. Instead, the farm is to henceforth be The Grange. 

The name, I am confident, was selected to reflect the rather cute and altogether archaic name for an English rural farmstead. It’s that definition that I’m sure we are supposed to connect with the project.

Try as we may, however, we’re more American than English, and what the developers seem to have overlooked is that in American history, the term grange refers to an early effort by Midwest farmers to organize in opposition to giant agri-business monopolies, which, back then, were the railroads and large feed and grain companies. Those companies controlled the freight charges farmers had to pay to move their commodities to market, and the fees were increasingly considered onerous.

A man by the name of Oliver Kelley organized the Grange initially as a type of lodge aimed to educate farmers in modern agricultural practices. However, the lodges, known universally as granges, quickly began to focus on economic needs, primarily the monopolies that they felt were overcharging them. Their members soon realized that they collectively had power to take on big business.

The movement succeeded in having state legislatures enact limits on business monopolies. The monopolies were aghast, but the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the legislative actions in a landmark decision. 

The Grange movement faded after a few decades, but not before farmers and others came to see that collective bargaining could lead to government action beneficial to the general public. The movement was a significant early step toward regulating overreach by large businesses back when the country thought that was a good idea.

The Grange movement was understandably considered radical by the businesses that opposed it, and therein lies the irony of Smithfield’s Grange, which is being built, according to the developers, to fit the needs of one of the nation’s largest agri-business companies, Smithfield Foods.

However, as a reminder that, once in a while, the voices of people can be heard and even heeded by government, maybe it’s a pretty good name after all.


John Edwards is publisher emeritus of The Smithfield Times. His email address is