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A Short History of Guilford

The following is from the State of Connecticut publication, “Historic and Architectural Resources Inventory for the Town of Guilford, Connecticut Phase II Supplemental Survey,” by Kristen Nietering, Jordan Sorensen, and Mary Dunne, published 2015

Historic Overview 

Founding of Guilford 

Seeking religious freedom from England, a group of Puritans, led by Henry Whitfield, founded Guilford in 1639. Guilford is the seventh oldest settlement in the State of Connecticut and is the largest in landmass in New Haven County. As a town that was planned before landing on the shores of New England, Guilford differs from other towns in the state. Many towns throughout Connecticut formed as people left areas that were already colonized such as Massachusetts Bay or New Haven Colony. “It was a well-designed utopia for religious and civil freedom made by a direct immigration of English Puritans” (Helander 2008, 8). 

Henry Whitfield was born in 1592 to Thomas Whitfield, Esq. and Mildred Manning, daughter of a Knight Marshall to the King’s Court. Henry Whitfield was the second son of Thomas and Mildred, and attended Oxford University, preparing himself to follow in his father’s footsteps and practice law. However, in 1618 he was ordained a minister of the Church of England. For the next twenty years, he served as vicar of St. Margaret’s Church in Ockley, located in Surrey, England (Cunningham 1997, 11). During this time he married Dorothy Sheaffe with whom he had nine children. 

After refusing to abide by the King’s wishes and read the “Declaration of Sunday Sports” among other things, he was summoned to the King’s court (Helander 2008, 6). Instead he made plans to flee to New England and begin a new colony. Many of his friends and associates backed him up on this desire, and offered to travel with him. In May of 1639, Whitfield and approximately 70 people set sail for New England. While still at sea, they created a compact which was signed by the head of each family. There were 25 names in all on the compact, and these all became the founders of the Town of Guilford. The names that appear on the document are: Robert Kitchell, John Bishop, Francis Bushnell, William Chittenden, William Leete, Thomas Jones, John Jordan, William Stone, John Hoadley, John Stone, William Plane, Richard Guttridge, John Housegoe, William Dudley, John Parmelee, John Mepham, Thomas Norton, Abraham Chittenden, Francis Chatfield, William Halle, Thomas Naish, Henry Kingnoth, Henry Doude, Thomas Cooke, and Henry Whitfield. Many of these men were young farmers who were just starting out and unmarried. 

They arrived on the shores of Qunnipiack Plantation (New Haven) in July of 1639. As soon as possible, they set out in search of land to start a plantation. Along the shores of Long Island, to the east of Qunnipiack Plantation, the settlers found a vast amount of unsettled land. This was owned by a tribe of Native Americans known as Menunkatuck. Squaw Shaumpishuh, Sachem of the tribe, sold the land to Whitfield and his group in September of 1639 in exchange for various articles of English merchandise. The land that was sold to them was between Stony Creek and East River. In the deed, Whitfield made sure the Menunkatuck were to remove themselves from the land instead of offering the use of the land to the settlers, as was often the  practice. The Native Americans obeyed this, and left the land. Whitfield and the founders called this area Menunkatuck Plantation. 

The land they first settled in was a central location that extended between West River and East Creek, reaching from Long Island Sound to the approximate area where I-95 passes through today, and was referred to as the Great Plain (Helander 2008, 10). Of the men in the group that traveled from England to this new settlement, many of them were farmers who were to produce food for the group. There were also surveyors and lawyers to help survey the land and draw up deeds to distribute parcels to families. The entire endeavor was a thought out process they had established before setting sail from England. One of the first houses that were built was the stone house for Henry Whitfield. This served as more than a dwelling for his family, it was also a church meeting place and as a communal fort. As noted by Bernard Christian Steiner in History of Guilford and Madison, Connecticut, “The house built in 1639, was erected both for the accommodation of his family, as a place for religious meeting, and as a fortification for the protection of the inhabitants against Indians, is one of the oldest dwelling houses in the United States” (Steiner 1897, 50). It was built of stone with walls three feet thick and “Tradition states that the Native Americans provided brute strength labor to haul blocks of stone in hand barrows from Griswold’s ledges to the site of construction” (Helander 2008, 12-13). Other stone dwellings were built around this time as well, however, none of them have survived to this day (in 2015). 

In 1650, after the execution of King Charles I in 1649, many Puritan leaders were asked to return to England. Whitfield followed suit, and in 1650 he set sail for England. He would remain there for the rest of his life. He died in 1657. Other Guilford leaders would follow Whitfield’s example and also return to England, including Samuel Desborough, John Hoadley, and Thomas Jordan. William Leete, Esq. was magistrate since the founding of Guilford, and remained in town after other leaders had left. Leete would go on to become Deputy Governor of New Haven Colony, Governor of New Haven Colony, and then Governor of the State of Connecticut. 

Acquisition of Land 

Most of the founding families of Guilford lived on or near the Great Plain, but gradually the boundaries expanded as more people settled in outer areas. Guilford experienced seven different divisions of land as land purchases from the Native Americans continued throughout the seventeenth century and into the eighteenth century. Eventually the boundaries included land toward the Hammonasset River. By 1645, the boundaries had spread as far as the eastern side of the East River (Steiner 1897, 166). In 1686 land was purchased north of the original settlement, what would eventually become known as North Guilford. New church societies formed throughout the 18th century, including East Guilford, North Guilford, and North Bristol. 

The surveyors laid out the highways and public grounds first. The green, which according to tradition was based off the New Haven Green, was surveyed as early as 1643. “Among their [the planners] first transactions in this direction, they laid out their large and beautifully located public green, a perpetual monument to their foresight and sagacity, as a common center, with its highways, mostly at right angles, running by its corners to the harbor, the river crossings and the surrounding villages” (Steiner 1897, 49). Streets extended from the Guilford Green, allowing many ways to access this common area. Originally the green was much larger, measuring in approximately 15 or 16 acres. By the 1830s, the green had been reduced in size to encompassing approximately 12 acres. Today, in 2015, the green measures approximately 7.75 acres in size. “Accordingly, all the buildings now located at numbers 1-25 Boston Street and numbers 1-67 Park Street stand on ground that was originally upon the Green” (Helander 2008, 20). 

Throughout the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, public buildings were erected on the Green. Because of this, the Green became an unsightly place before it was transformed into a park-like area that it is today. To do this, the removal of public buildings upon the green was necessary and was a process that continued into the nineteenth century. This process began due to the travel publications that were produced during the early nineteenth century. Many written descriptions of the Green were not favorable, and did not elicit tourists to stop and spend their money in the area. Prior to these publications, Guilford had become a popular stop along the Boston Post Road for travelers going between New York City and Boston. Its popularity increased when the road was established as the United States Mail route from Georgia to Maine in 1794. By the late nineteenth century, the Green had become a park, all public buildings had been removed. 

North Guilford 

In 1686, land to the north of the Green had been purchased from Nausup who was the son of Squaw Shaumpishuh, the Sachem who sold the original land to the founders of Guilford. This area had once been the home of many Native Americans of the Menunketuck tribe. The largest lake in town, Quonnipaug, was named after the Qunnipiac word for “long pond” (The Dudley Foundation 2012, 12). 

Although the land was purchased in 1686, it was not laid out until 1705. At that time, the area was known as “Cohabit.” After the plots of land were divided and parceled out, farmers would travel to the area on Monday to clear their land and would return to their families on Saturdays in time for the Sabbath which fell on Sunday. While in the North Guilford area, they resided together in a crudely made log cabin. This joint cohabitation earned the area its name, Cohabit. Some of the earliest settlers in this area were the Dudleys, Chittendens, Bartletts, and the Rossiters. 

In 1719, the families living in this area petitioned to the town of Guilford for the erection of a new religious society (which would eventually become known as the North Guilford Society  before the church would change its name to the North Guilford Congregational Church which it is known as today). By 1720, the new society was formed and they were given permission to build a new church which was completed in 1723. This first church building was erected in the middle of what is now the current North Guilford cemetery. The first pastor of this church was Reverened Samuel Russell, Jr. 

After the death of Reverend Russell in 1746, the society split and those that broke away went on to form the St. John’s Conformist Episcopal Church in 1747. The first St. John’s church was built in 1754. Deacon George Bartlett was the first deacon of the church. Much like the Congregational church services, the Episcopal services of St. John’s often were long on Sundays. After Sunday services, long school services were offered (The Dudley Foundation 2012, 34). 

By 1769, the North Guilford Congregational Church had gone on to found two schools in the area and also a library. A Sabbath house sat next to the church and served as a place for families to warm and feed themselves during the breaks in the all-day religious services that were held on Sundays. During the eighteenth century, two well-known figures in American history, Abraham Baldwin and Lyman Beecher, grew up in North Guilford. 

Baldwin was ordained in 1777 and moved to Georgia after the Revolutionary War. He became a representative and later a senator of the State of Georgia. He also went on to found the University of Georgia and became the first president of the school. 

Beecher was ordained in 1799 and became a nationally known abolitionist. He was the father of Henry Ward Beecher, an abolitionist in his own right and a supporter of the suffragist movement, and Harriet Beecher Stowe, an abolitionist who wrote Uncle Tom’s Cabin. 

Revolutionary War 

During the Revolutionary War, Guilford participated in the fight against the British. In May of 1777, Colonel Return J. Meigs of Guilford and 170 men sailed from Sachem’s Head to Sag Harbor, Long Island to destroy a British supply depot (Brown/Darling 1981, 17). Upon their return a day later, they brought with them 96 prisoners of war and suffered no losses on their side. On a foggy night in June of 1777, three British ships landed on Sachem’s Head, and burned Solomon Leete’s house, two barns, and a cow house (Helander 2008, 115). Leete lost all his personal property but eventually was given compensation for his losses. Years later, in 1781, British troops again landed on Sachem’s Head and burned buildings owned by Daniel Leete. After this attack, a fight broke out between the townsmen and British. In the skirmish, Simeon Leete and Ebenezer Hart were fatally wounded and died (Smith 1877, 49). 

Some pivotal figures from Guilford during the Revolutionary War include Solomon Leete, Captain Samuel Lee, and Andrew Ward V. Solomon Leete served on the committee to evacuate people from Long Island which was then occupied by the British. He made many trips back and forth from Sachem’s Head to Long Island aboard the sloop, Polly (Helander 2008, 82). Captain Samuel Lee was put in charge of fighting the British sympathizers (Torries) in Guilford.  For this reason, an alarm cannon was located near his house. It was to be sounded in the case of an attack. When the British attacked Leete’s Island in 1781, Captain Lee and his militiamen set off to fight in such a hurry, they forgot to set off the cannon. His wife raised the alarm after he and his men forgot. Andrew Ward V served in the Revolutionary War and rose through the ranks from captain to brigadier general. He was commissioned by Governor Jonathan Trumbull in 1777. Ward served in the Battle of White Plains, the Battle of Trenton, and the Battle of Princeton. He was also involved in the Danbury Raid in 1777 and the invasion of New Haven in 1779. 

Guilford in the Nineteenth Century 

The town of Guilford greatly advanced in the nineteenth century in not only industry and transportation but also education, technology and leisure. With successful industrial ventures, longstanding businesses and the birth of a summer colony population, Guilford’s economy boomed in the latter half of the nineteenth century. Among the first municipalities in Connecticut to get town wide electric and telephone service, create an institute for higher education, and gain access to all kinds of new transportation, Guilford was in a prime spot to attract many visitors and long term residents. 

The Borough of Guilford, a legal entity from 1815 to 1941, requested telephone and electric services to the town early on. In 1896, the Christ Episcopal Church on Park Street became the first subscriber for electricity. Soon after, E. H. Butler on Boston Street got electricity in his store along with several homeowners on Broad, Fair and Park Streets (Helander 2008, 52-53). Town hall was wired as well in 1900, although at this point it was only for certain times during the day. When the Branford electric plant provided twenty-four hour service, Guilford also received this in 1909. Southern New England Telephone Company extended service from Branford in 1882 but until 1894 there were only three phones in town. By 1909, there were three hundred and fifty phones in Madison and Guilford with the switchboard located at 30 Driveway (Helander 2008, 55).

Guilford resident Sarah Griffing established Guilford Institute in 1855 to provide a “higher order” of schooling (Helander 2008, 80). Uniquely, the school was coed and the only high school between New Haven and New London at the time, attracting students from surrounding states as well (Helander 2008, 81). In 1886 the taxpayers began funding the school to make it a free public high school until 1936 when Guilford High School was built (now E.C. Adams Middle School). At this time, the Institute was abandoned until Sam B. Warner purchased it as the headquarters for the Shoreline Times for twenty years (Helander 2008, 82). 

The Town Green also changed dramatically in the nineteenth century. The first significant change began with the removal of the burial ground section of the Green in 1824 and the bodies moved to the newly-made cemeteries in other parts of the town. Townspeople planted  elm trees in 1827 to provide shade, part of the new philosophy that the Green would become more of a park (Steiner 1897, 259). A “simple white railing” was added in 1837 (Steiner 2008, 260). By 1853, all animals that once could graze on the Green were banned, the last being horses. With no more animals to keep the grass groomed, a special committee formed with the responsibility of maintaining the fence, sidewalks, and vegetation (Helander 2008, 30). In 1915, all sides of the Green had granite curbing to make a clean edge all around. The Hurricane of 1938 uprooted or damaged most of the elm trees which inspired people in town to begin planting trees to replace what was lost (Helander 2008, 33). The double star pattern sidewalks made walking easier after they were completed in 1928 and benches added in 1931 (Helander 2008, 48-49). In 2005, the town installed replicas of the 1874 light fixtures, even after much controversy over their style (Helander 2008, 51). 

A range of activities occurred on the green from militia training to fairs and parades. It was also a place of commemoration too. In 1877 the town erected a granite monument, the pedestal made from the local Beattie quarry, with the names of sixty-four men who sacrificed their lives during the Civil War. The Soldier’s Monument is a statue of a Union soldier, made from Rhode Island granite and was laid on the Beattie Quarry granite pedestal and dedicated in 1887 (Helander 2008, 47). It lists the names of sixty-two men who died during the Civil War. There are other monuments commemorating several other wars and a bench dedicated to three Guilford firefighters. Since its creation over three and a half centuries ago, the Town Green changed dramatically in appearance and purpose but always remained very important to the people of Guilford. 

Maritime Trade and Industries 

The nineteenth century began a booming time of expanded trade and industry for Guilford, as it was for much of the country. Business owners began foundries, factories, and quarries in town that were traded domestically and internationally. The increased trade supply required more ships and places for ships to drop off and pick up goods along the shoreline. On land, railroads spread across the country and allowed the transportation of goods faster than ever before. While farming was still significant in Guilford, more industry diversified the work force and grew the town’s economy and population into the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. 

In the beginning of the nineteenth century, schooners carried cargo in and out Guilford. The goods made in Guilford along with crops, wood, and shellfish were taken out while supplies for stores and homes came in. Trade required a wharf for easy access to carry goods on and off the schooners. Farmers’ Wharf Company built a landing on one end of the East River, now where the Guilford Marina is located at the end of Whitfield Street. Captain James Frisbie later purchased land on both sides of the East Creek to widen and deepen the channel for offloading coal coming in. Tide gates were installed in 1837 at the bridge across East Creek to control the  flow into the salt meadows, which affected the salt hay harvest (Helander 2008, 74). Another location for ships to come in and out was at the Jones Bridge on Water Street. Ship construction and launches happened here as well as participation in the West Indies trade before and after the American Revolution. Jones Bridge shipyards constructed twenty ships between 1788 and 1799. The building continued after 1900 with the construction of lobster boats, mahogany runabouts, racing sloops and skiffs. The same area is now home to Guilford Boat Yards. 

Several islands exist off the Guilford shoreline but one holds an important place in the town’s history as well as the history of Long Island Sound. Faulkner’s Island is four miles of the coast and less than three acres in size. After the federal government began commissioning lighthouses in places where maritime travel was dangerous, a beacon was built in 1802 on the island (Helander 2008, 238). After several dedicated lighthouse keepers kept the light going and even saved some distressed mariners, the last civilian keeper lived at the lighthouse in 1939. The Coast Guard manned the lighthouse until it was automated in 1978 (Helander 2008, 241). The island is now a wildlife refuge and the lighthouse continues to face threats from erosion as the island shrinks in size.

The main roads before the nineteenth century were the Boston Post Road, Moose Hill Road, and Water Street. A turnpike heading east from Fair Haven and ending in Killingworth was constructed in 1824, now Route 80. Another from Guilford to Durham was extended to deliver crops and goods to and from seafaring vessels, now Route 77 (Schaefer).

In 1848 the New Haven and New London Railway Company constructed a railroad from New Haven to New London, largely funded by stock purchased by Guilford residents Frederick R. Griffing and Ralph D. Smyth (Helander 2008, 72). By 1852, the first passenger train ran from New Haven. After expanding to Stonington, the railway company was reorganized as the Shore Line Railroad Company in 1855 (Smith 1877, 39). The railroad expanded rapidly and by 1891, the tracks were doubled to accommodate heavier traffic. The increased use of the railroad, while good for most business, meant less schooner production as the need for maritime trade up and down the coast dwindled (Helander 2008, 72). 

The shoreline industry included diverse businesses including salt hay harvesting, fishing, granite quarrying, and fish oil factory. In 1837, granite quarrying began in Guilford and became a booming industry for a century. The original quarry was on land formerly owned by Reverend Whitfield, located southeast of the Green (Smith 1877, 40). Two other large quarries were on Leete’s Island and Sachem’s Head (Steiner 1897, 256). The most well-known was John Beattie’s quarry on at Hoadley’s Neck in 1870 called Beattie Granite Quarries which became the largest industrial enterprise in the area (Helander 2008, 147). It consisted of three hundred acres and the granite was the second hardest in the country. Most famously, the Beattie Quarry got the contract in 1884 to supply the block for the pedestal of the Statue of Liberty. World War I ceased the  industry as costs grew too high and the quarry was abandoned (Helander 2008, 149-151). At Indian Cove, the fish oil (for paint) operation began in 1873 and was the second largest in the area. Overfishing and a similar factory opening in Milford contributed to its closing in 1882 along with the complaints of fish odors from the new summer colony neighbors (Helander 2008, 106-108). 

Several mills called Guilford home during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. The landscape provided two main rivers that branched off and were easily dammed to create the water power necessary to have a successful mill. For example, “The Town Mill,” as it was referred to by Guilford residents, was one of the oldest institutions in town. Located below the Mill Pond Dam, the grain mill made meal and flour (Helander 2008, 63). Saw mills were an important industry in North Guilford as the East River splits into two branches, making water power accessible. A bone mill, gristmill, and sorghum mill were all successful during the 1800s (Helander 2008, 179). Guilford also had several foundries including I.S. Spencer and Sons Foundry, started in 1857. They made gray iron, brass castings, and assorted hardware for school furniture, sewing machines, and scales. The foundry closed in 1981 and is now use as condominiums (Helander 2008, 80). 

The Guilford Enterprise Company made ivory buttons but later changed to making wagon hubs and wheels after it was purchased by Archibald Wheel Company of Lawrence, Massachusetts. The factory employed about fifty men during World War I. During the Second World War, New Departure Company owned the building for making war products as a division of General Motors. They employed women to assemble ball bearings for airplanes, tanks, jeeps, and military vehicles. Postwar, the Toy Pop candy manufacturer used the facility for make lollipops with a bendable stick (Helander 2008, 79). 

The Shoreline Electric Railway Company built trolley lines west from Guilford Center to Stony Creek and east through Madison, Clinton, and ending in Old Saybrook in 1910. One could travel to New Haven in thirty minutes. Buses began replacing trolleys in the 1920s, with the lines completely stopping when the Hurricane of 1938 destroyed or damaged most of the tracks (Schaefer). Remains of the old trolley stations can be seen in some areas of Guilford, most notably on the corner of Water Street and River Street. 

The building boom after World War II and the completion of Interstate 95 in 1951 made Guilford a “bedroom community,” meaning people lived there but worked in other towns. Several communities that are included in this inventory were developed at this time such as Edwards Street, Dohm Avenue, Wingate Road, and Old Quarry Road (on the Point). A common design shift in American culture at the time is apparent in some of these rapidly developing Guilford communities from more traditional period houses to modern styles. From 1950 to 1960, the population increased sixty-three percent. From 1960 to 1970, it increased sixty-five percent  and then rose again seventy percent in the next decade. In 2005, Shore Line East railroad was completed, making commuting along the shoreline even more convenient. With commuting made so easy by rail or car, people did not necessarily need to live in the same town they worked in anymore (Schaefer, 2014). All these enhancements in travel made it easy for people to leave home and go vacation for the first time. 

Vacation Destination 

By the end of the nineteenth century, vacationers began frequenting Guilford’s beautiful shoreline. Mulberry Point, Tuttle’s Point, Sachem’s Head, Indian Cove, and Leete’s Island were home to hotels, cottages, and private communities. With the increase of transportation options, having a second home or vacation residence was a viable option for many people, especially urban dwellers. The shores of Long Island Sound were an ideal destination for summer vacationers, and Guilford was especially desirable for the manufacturing workers of central Connecticut (Helander 2008, 130). 

The first main summer vacation destination was the Sachem’s Head Hotel, with panoramic views of the Long Island Sound and desirable accommodations. Built by Nathanial Griffing in 1832, the hotel was quickly expanded in 1835 as people needed a place to stay coming from steamboats in the harbor before their on land travel continued (Helander 2008, 124). By 1864, the hotel could accommodate six hundred people, many being distinguished guests. Fire ravaged the hotel in the following year, leaving an empty space until the Barker Hotel was built in 1878 (Helander 2008, 126-127). When Albert Sperry bought the building in 1895, he expanded by building cottages around the hotel to expand the business. Fire also irreversibly damaged the main hotel building in 1973 and it was razed in 1974, although some of the cottages remain (Helander 2008, 129). 

Shell Beach Road also became a summer colony. In the 1920s, the owners, the Leete brothers, charged picnickers by the car to visit for the day. As this became a profitable venture, they leased forty-five acres of land for cottage building (Helander 2008, 146). By 1968, the Leete Brothers Inc., administered land rentals on a yearly basis which created a cohesive summer community (Helander 2008, 148). Mulberry Point, once extensive farmland was transformed into a summer colony starting in 1885 when owner William Foote began selling small parcels for summer homes (Helander 2008, 95). By 1921, the area was extensively developed and eventually evolved into year round homes (Helander 2008, 99). Indian Cove became a popular summer colony after World War I (Helander 2008, 109). 

Summer colonies even existed beyond the immediate shoreline. In North Guilford, the Land and Lake Development Company created the Guilford Lakes in 1929. They made a chain of three lakes and built vacation homes around them called Guilford Lake Estates (Helander  2008, 181). Tourists could even find the experience they desired in Guilford, even if it did not mean staying near the ocean. 

Guilford Today 

The town of Guilford in 2015 is now the largest town in terms of square miles in New Haven County. It is located approximately fifteen miles east of New Haven and almost forty miles south of Hartford. The town is served by one major highway, Interstate 95, the main coastal road of Route 1, and two major rail lines of Shore Line East and Amtrak. It has an area of forty-seven square miles and a population of 22,353 in 2012. It is bounded by Madison on the east, Durham to the north, and Branford and North Branford to the west. As of 2014, Guilford’s major employers were Yale-New Haven Shoreline Medical Center, Branford/Guilford VNA, Sarah Tuxis Residential & Community Resources, Inc., and the Town of Guilford. As of 2012, there were 9,684 housing units in Guilford and 88.6% of them were single units. Also at this time, 20.5% of the housing stock was built before 1950 (CERC, 2014). 



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