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.
If you ask me what the Guilford Preservation Alliance does, I may have to pause and think: our programs and activities run the gamut from traditional historic preservation to sustainable development and environmental issues. But ask me what the GPA stands for and I can give you a one-word answer: partnership. [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 Guilford Preservation Alliance is looking for photos of the railroad in Guilford (including the old station buildings, people associated with the buildings, locomotives, etc.) from after 1900, particularly the World War II era. The photos could be used as part of a permanent historical exhibit to be installed in the Shoreline East commuter rail station. Please contact Ellie Green at 203-458-2262 or firstname.lastname@example.org.