THE GUILFORD PRESERVATION ALLIANCE, in cooperation with the Connecticut Department of Transportation, is pleased to announce that a permanent exhibit of historical photos, “Railroads in Guilford” will be mounted this Friday, February 28th in the south pavilion of the Guilford train station.
We’ve put a link on our website to the Connecticut Commission on Culture & Tourism’s new study on the economic benefits of historic preservation. The report explains how the rehabilitation of our existing building stock helps to create jobs and increase local tax revenue. Read the report right here:
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. 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.
Editor’s Note: Instead of the student-guided tours described above, a free walking tour on Saturdays at 11 am in the summer season begins at the Information Kiosk at 32 Church Street. Check the information on the visitguilfordct.com website at http://www.visitguilfordct.com/todo-category/tours/ The same site offers information about self-guided tours of the Alder Brook Cemetery and of the Fair Street Historic District.
On Tuesday, October 18, 2011, the Guilford Preservation Alliance sponsored a workshop on Heritage Tourism. The workshop was led by Carolyn Brackett, the Senior Program Associate for the Heritage Tourism Program of the National Trust for Historic Preservation. Susan Misur covered the event and her article appeared in the Friday, October 21, 2011 issue of the New Haven Register.