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.
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.
[By Penny Colby] In 2005 the Guilford Board of Selectmen adopted a Delay of Demolition Ordinance at the instigation and with the assistance of the Guilford Preservation Alliance. If a demolition permit is requested this ordinance gives [Read more...]
A column by Howard Brown, widely acclaimed environmental and management consultant and GPA board member.
Preservation and Change.
I often hear people say that nothing ever changes around here. When I moved to Guilford in 1970, there was one traffic light. Route 1 was a rural road through open fields and woods. Most of the houses along the shoreline were uninsulated summer cottages. The population was about 8,000 and an acre of land was about $8000. Many of the houses in the center of town were in need of repair.
We often forget how many of the things we take for granted in our daily lives are actually new. The Connecticut Turnpike (now I-95) was only completed in 1958. Before that auto access to this town was all via Route 1, which more resembled Rt. 146 than its present incarnation with shoulders and modern lanes. Even into the 1950′s, many houses in town still didn’t have decent plumbing. For the residents of what is now the Griswold House, electricity was a single light bulb hanging from the ceiling.
Perhaps, most significantly, when I moved to the town in 1970, there was still very little public interest in municipal government and very little citizen involvement in town affairs. From an economic point of view, in 1970, Guilford was largely rural, just on the verge of a growth spurt that would change its character.
For all of the change and new prosperity, Guilford has managed to avoid many of the negative affects that befell towns along the I-95 corridor. Active citizenry helped channel development in relatively constructive ways, and that helped preserve and protect many of the community’s assets. Now, as the national economy has begun to slowly recover from a deep recession, and as development pressure spreads east from New York along I-95, the people of Guilford need to make new choices about what kind of town we want to live in, and how to channel the powerful economic forces of development in constructive ways to achieve our goals.
Local Economies and Responsible Development
Preservation and economic development are actually two sides of the same coin. In fact, historic and environmental preservalition are often key drivers of a healthy local economy. The term sustainable development, which has increasingly become a goal of communities across the country, is often defined as meeting the needs of the today’s citizens without compromising future generations’ capacity to meet their needs. This is an underlying principle of GPA’s work.
Effective economic development is about enhancing the the economic and social wellbeing of the people in a community by building an economy that is robust and can stay healthy even during booms and busts of larger economic cycles. Economists who study local economies look for many indicators of health and success. They tend to look beyond the common assumptions about commercial real estate development to understand what makes some communities thrive while others struggle with cycles of rising costs, rising taxes, declining municipal services and declining property values. One thing is clear, the towns that are the most attractive places to visit and live are neither hostile to development nor indifferent to their uniqueness. The communities that most people consider desirable are the ones with the wisdom to embrace yet channel development to enhance their uniqueness.
More than half of Guilford’s households have settled here since 1970. Most moved here from other places because the unique rural and historic village character of the town is still intact. GPA believes that the healthiest economic development should from policies and programs that build on the strengths that make Guilford a special and desirable place, rather than activities that make it more like every other place.
Guilford’s historic architecture and landscapes, its charming town center, its quintessential New England coastline, its farms and rolling hills in the north, and its extraordinary ecological diversity, are all features that contribute to its uniqueness. Though Guilford is geographically one of the largest towns in CT, nearly 18 of its 50 square miles are now protected open space with a growing network of nature trails and resources. It also has a blend of small retail shops, growing small businesses, and a burgeoning regional medical services and technology sector. We are the only town in Connecticut with two important highways (146 and 77) designated by the State as Scenic Roads. All of these assets represent important opportunities to encourage low impact tourism, and expand the health- and medical-related business environment.
Over the years, the GPA has helped preserve our architectural heritage—by securing national and regional recognition for it—and has worked to support open space preservation and protect small farms and local businesses. In the coming year, we will be using this site to share more information about our economic development initiatives, and we look forward to hearing your thoughts and ideas.
GPA Board member
On our website we intend to feature rotating columns by local preservation experts who will be addressing some of the more urgent, current issues involving development in our town–encouraging economic development that both supports the town’s existing businesses and is consistent with the long-term interests of the community. The GPA advocates development opportunities that provide the greatest economic benefits for Guilford with the least overall costs and impacts on the character of the community.