On April 3, the Planning and Zoning Commission held public hearings on the electronic LED billboard issue (to which we alerted you earlier) and the Town Center South zoning overlay district. The Commission approved the Town Center South proposal, which the GPA endorsed. However, following the public hearing on the billboards, the commissioners decided not to take a final vote until their next meeting on April 17 because some of the commissioners present hadn’t had time to read all of the materials presented by the applicant and the public. [Read more...]
Read about the new book Saving the Farm by James T. Powers–check it out on our Guilford Bookshelf.
Significant changes have been proposed for Guilford’s signage regulations to allow large billboards that would change message, colors and brightness every 8 seconds. The Planning and Zoning Commission is considering this change at its next meeting. [Read more...]
The first edition of Sarah Brown McCulloch’s Guilford: A Walking Guide, The Green & Neighboring Streets was published in 1989 with principal funding provided by the Guilford Preservation Alliance. In 2012 we presented for the first time an online version of the text with updates from the 2012 revision. Now, in February 2013, we have begun adding photos to this text. For links to this new illustrated version of Sarah Brown McCulloch’s Guilford: A Walking Guide click here. We also have a new illustrated version of our survey of Significant Structures Fifty Years Old or More.
When we New Englanders write and teach about slavery in the period from the Civil War to the present, we often forget that slavery didn’t exist only in the South. President Lincoln in his Second Inaugural Address urged Americans to “judge not, that we be not judged,” urging forgiveness of our Southern brethren. But Northern slavery, and Northern complicity with Southern slavery, were not rare occurrences. In Guilford, our cultural ancestors benefited from the labor of slaves, and we are lucky to have sources available to open our eyes to the existence of slavery in New England and in early Guilford.
Some of the best recent research into slavery in New England was done by writers from the Hartford Courant a decade ago. “Complicity; How Connecticut Chained Itself to Slavery” (Sept 29, 2002) describes in detail who owned slaves in Connecticut and how both individuals and corporations benefited and profited by the ownership and support of slavery. Robert H. Romer, in his book Slavery in the Connecticut Valley of Massachusetts (2009), while focusing on Deerfield, Massachusetts in the 18th century, shows us who was more likely to own slaves in a New England town or village, and also gives us hints on where to look for proof of slavery in the remaining historical artifacts and documents.
We have been given hints about slavery in Guilford. In North Guilford at the Meeting House Hill Cemetery, we can find the gravestone of the slave Shem. On the Green, we can see the names of African American soldiers who fought and died to preserve the Union and free the slaves in the South. In the Edith B. Nettleton Local History Room at the Guilford Free Library, we can find emancipation documents for Guilford slaves. I am just starting to analyze the census data from the 1790s and early 1800s to help me understand more about these slaves and the community they were a part of.
The question that has stuck in my mind since I first realized that there was, here in Guilford, a measurable slave and free Black population is, “What has happened to that population of slaves and free Blacks and did they find success in their transition from servitude to physical and economic freedom?” As I continue to conduct research, and to hopefully share the information in a more formal way, I wanted to share some of the raw data.
In the 1790 Federal Census, there were about 40 slaves listed in Guilford and about twenty free Blacks. All of the slaves and most of the free Blacks were unnamed. In 1790, the only names listed were the heads of households and the majority of free Blacks and all of the slaves were included within the households of white citizens.
Historically, Connecticut began to prepare to free its slaves by a process of gradual emancipation. They first enacted a law specifiying that a person born to a slave after 1792 was to remain a slave only until his or her 25th birthday. This law was later amended so that the individual would be free after their 21st birthday. Because this law affected only the children of slaves, it allowed slavery to continue into the 1840s.
Interestingly enough, the idea that slavery should be abolished seemed to be enough to change the attitudes of many in Guilford. By the 1800 Federal Census, the number of slaves was cut in half to 20, while the number of free Blacks doubled, leaving the overall number of Blacks in Guilford about the same as a decade earlier.
Another interesting thread to follow is that of Pvt. Henry Wright, who is listed on the Guilford Civil War Monument as fighting and dying while serving with the 54th Massachusetts Regiment, the famed Black regiment. Through census data, I have been able to connect Pvt. Wright to a free Black named Prince, who is one of the few free Blacks listed as “head of household” in the census. If I could find Prince’s background and if he had been a slave, there might be an interesting generational story to tell.
I hope that in journals, letters, family papers, probate records, account ledgers, and colonial records, information will be found to develop a clear picture of slavery in Guilford. I plan to share with my readers via this column the results of my research of this period in our local history.
What a great party we had for the “Hope Springs” premier! Thanks to our hosts at the Guilford Food Center and Breakwater Books and to all of the merchants who sponsored the very successful fundraiser. The event on August 8th brought together excited moviegoers, local and state politicians, and even a few local businessmen in tuxes. Guilford Preservation Alliance board member Ellie Green’s husband Barry took great photos capturing the spirit and excitement of the evening. [Read more...]
The next time you visit Guilford’s modern Shore Line East commuter rail station at the bottom of Old Whitfield Street, take a few moments to study the tall, octagonal brick water tower that stands sentinel on the north side of the tracks, a few hundred feet east of the passenger platform.
A crew of GPA volunteers recently cleared away the overgrowth and debris that have obscured this wonderful historic structure for years, allowing us all to appreciate the soaring pilasters, elegant corbelling, gracefully arched windows, and other details that make it one of Guilford’s architectural gems.
The GPA has long been in the forefront of efforts to bring the water tower and the adjacent rectangular engine house back to life. Both buildings date from around 1875, when Guilford’s 1850s-vintage wood-framed passenger depot–tragically demolished by Amtrak in 2000–was served by no fewer than a dozen steam-powered trains a day.
Today, twice that many Shore Line East trains stop in Guilford, bringing thousands of visitors and commuters to our doorstep every month of the year. It doesn’t take much imagination to envision the refurbished water tower as an iconic portal–say, a welcome and information center for tourists eager to explore our town’s wealth of historic, cultural, and recreational resources.
The 19th-century station buildings are an irreplaceable part of Guilford’s heritage. But preserving them is not about turning back the clock. It’s about planning for the future and capitalizing on one of our most distinctive and valuable assets. In short, it’s about making heritage and cultural tourism an integral part of Guilford’s 21st-century economy.
Elsewhere on this website you can read about some of the GPA’s related initiatives, including walking tours of the historic town center led by specially trained Guilford High School students, a presentation on sustainable development by one of the leading “green” developers in the country, and a new website, www.historicguilford.org, dedicated to promoting our town as a tourist destination.
The train station project is a key part of that larger effort. It’s also an urgent priority, as the continuing deterioration of the water tower indicates. Thanks to the generosity of dozens of Guilford citizens, the GPA has a substantial fund earmarked for stabilizing the station buildings, and we are currently assessing the possibility of raising additional funds to install a new roof on the water tower.
Pending resolution of legal issues relating to ownership and potential liability for toxic cleanup on the site, the GPA board last year decided to move ahead incrementally, starting by commissioning field-measured architectural plans of the two station buildings. Over the past several months, local architects William Mack and Randy Siress have donned hard hats, braved the elements, and volunteered hundreds of hours of time to create the beautiful drawings of the water tower that you can view here.
Since the original plans for the structure no longer survive, this painstakingly researched documentation enables us for the first time to accurately envision the water tower in all its pristine splendor. From a practical standpoint, the drawings will serve as a blueprint for the building’s restoration and make reconstruction possible in the event that it collapses in a hurricane or other natural disaster.
On a separate but parallel track, the GPA is collaborating with Amtrak, Connecticut State Archaeologist Nick Bellantoni and his colleagues at the State Historic Preservation Office, town officials, and other interested parties to develop a long-range plan for preserving the water tower and engine house as part of an ecologically and economically sustainable effort to revitalize the neighborhood around the train station.
Many pieces will need to fall into place before this complex project becomes a reality. In the meantime, the GPA is working with the state Department of Transportation to install a permanent historical display about the old passenger and freight depot in the foyer of the Shore Line East commuter rail station, a project made possible through the generosity of Boynton Schmitt, a long-time friend of preservation in Guilford.
Both the exhibit and the eventual adaptive reuse of the old station buildings demonstrate, in a very tangible way, what we mean when we speak about connecting Guilford’s past and future.
The latest project I have been working on is developing the Historic Walking Tours program here in Guilford. [Read here Susan Misur's article published in the New Haven Register July 1, 2012]. We have assembled a group of enthusiastic high school student researchers and guides who will lead visitors on two newly-developed tours, both encompassing the Guilford Historic Town Center (which is listed on the National Register of Historic Places). One tour will focus on the history of Guilford and include an introduction to three of Guilford’s house museums. The second tour will focus on architecture and include Guilford’s historic districts and scenic Broad and Fair Streets.
Highlights of our walking tours will include our well-known eight-acre green, the home site of the most popular poet of the 19th century, six homes on the National Register of Historic Places, two historic districts, stories of Indian Wars and regicides, stories of America’s most popular novelist of the 19th century and Guilford’s most famous summer guest, details of New England slavery, histories of separatists from the Church of England, revolts within the Congregational Church, and the expulsion of Abolitionists. All in a community with the oldest stone house in New England, the third most pre-Revolutionary War homes in the Northeast, and almost 375 years of history.
These same student guides are developing a Historic Architecture Walking Tour of our most beautiful residential streets filled with 18th and 19th century homes. These homes built for sea captains, preachers, merchants, traders, and congressmen are representative of Colonial, Federal, Greek Revival, Italianate, Gothic Revival, Queen Anne, Second Empire, and the rare Octagonal architectural styles. Students are also discovering the stories of the women and men who lived in these homes. These tours are scheduled on Saturdays and Sundays from the June 23 through mid-September. The Historic Walking Tours will begin at 11 a.m., and the Architecture Tours will begin at 2 p.m.
Please consult our new Historic Guilford website for information about purchasing tickets, and for learning more about our wonderful town of Guilford, “where New England begins.”
Anthony Sblendorio, a pioneer in the field of sustainable and regenerative architectural and landscape design, will present a talk entitled “Principles of Sustainable Development” at 7 p.m. Tuesday, June 5, in the meeting room of the Guilford Free Public Library, 67 Park Street. Cosponsored by the GPA and the library, the event is free and open to the public.