Preserving Guilford—A Legacy of Historic Preservation
Guilford’s citizens have been preserving their heritage almost since the community’s founding. Guilford has houses, churches, and commercial buildings that reflect architectural styles from the 17th through the 21st centuries. More than 675 dwellings in the community predate 1911, one of the largest collections in New England. Guilford’s architecture spans our nation’s history, giving the community an uncommon charm and a very real sense of place.
The community’s five historic house museums offer special insight into Guilford’s past. The Henry Whitfield House (1639), a National Historic Landmark, dates to the community’s founding. It is the oldest house in Connecticut and the oldest stone house in New England. The Early Colonial Hyland House (1713) and the Revolutionary Period Thomas Griswold House (circa 1774) have architecture and artifacts that reflect life in the 17th and 18th centuries. The Griswold House and the Medad Stone Tavern (1803) share stories from an era known as the New Nation. Finally, the Dudley Farm Museum (1844) and its agricultural heritage represent the era of Western Expansion and Reform.
Many of Guilford’s historic properties lie within the four historic districts listed in the National Register of Historic Places. The Historic Town Center District is anchored by the Guilford Green and includes more than 250 commercial and residential buildings on surrounding streets. While late Colonial and Federal architectural styles are common in this district, there are properties from across all time periods. The fact that it includes nearly four hundred years of history and is still thriving today adds to the Town Center’s significance.
Six miles from the town center, along Ledge Hill Road, is Meeting House Hill Historic District in North Guilford. An 18th century graveyard and two 19th century churches crown the hill overlooking a rural landscape that evokes memories of its agricultural past.
Leetes Island Road, also known as the Route 146 Historic District, runs along the coastal highway between Branford and Guilford. A drive through the beautiful, rural landscape showcases more than 50 historic sites, from 18th century Colonial buildings to Victorian properties from the late 19th/early 20th centuries.
The Dudleytown Historic District sits northeast of the town center on Clapboard Hill Road along the East River. The district, which includes farmhouses built by members of the Dudley family in the 18th and 19th centuries, shows how families historically settled and expanded their holdings. Many Dudley descendants still live within the district.
Guilford residents are good stewards that have always valued the community’s past. In recent decades, Guilford’s Historic District Commission and numerous municipal ordinances support continued preservation of the community’s special historic resources. Furthermore, the Guilford Preservation Alliance and many other community organizations are active partners in preserving the town’s character and special places. In A Treasury of Guilford Places (2008), author and Guilford Town Historian Joel Helander notes that only 35 houses were razed in the 20th century. He contrasted this with the daunting fact that more than 20 properties were demolished in the opening decade of the 21st century. While many organizations and individuals in Guilford have championed preservation through time, there is always more to be done to ensure the survival of this very special place.
Donley Lukens, photographer, “Old Stone House with Barn, (Henry Whitfield House), Whitfield Street, circa 1930-1945,” Guilford Free Library Archives