Guilford Town Center Historic District
The Guilford Town Center Historic District was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1976. Portions of the content on this web page were adapted from a copy of the original nomination document. [†] Adaptation copyright © 2011, The Gombach Group.
The Guilford Historic Town Center is an area of approximately four square miles in Guilford, Connecticut. The Historic Town Centre is bounded on the west by the West River; on the North by the Connecticut Turnpike (1-95); on the East by the East Creek, and on the South by Long Island Sound.
The Guilford Historic Town Center contains over 700 structures of various age, design and function. The majority of the structures are residential, although commercial uses are found along several principal thoroughfares. The topography in the historic district is relatively uniform with no major elevational changes. Over 250 acres of undisturbed tidal wetlands are within the area along the West River, East Creek, and along the shoreline proper. The residential population of the area at the time of the 1970 decennial census was approximately 2,700.
Circulation within the Guilford Historic Town Center is dominated by three principal arteries. East-West traffic is primarily on the Boston Post Road (U.S. Route 1) and secondarily on Boston Street. The Boston Post Road is also the locus of an assortment of commercial uses mostly oriented to retail trade. North-south traffic is focused on Church Street (State Route 77) which connects the Turnpike and Route 1 to the Guilford Green (also a locus of public and commercial uses) and then south via Whitfield Street to the shore, beaches and the Town Marina.
The boundaries of the Guilford Historic Town Center, with the exception of the Turnpike on the north, are coterminous with the boundaries of "Guilford Borough," a political subdivision which was in existence from 1815 to 1939. It is an area of many contrasts and remarkable beauty and charm. It is very much a modern, thriving community with residential, commercial, governmental and recreational uses harmoniously integrated to create a complex web of activity. The uniqueness of this community center is produced by the rich mixture of historic structures in the context of a beautiful natural environment which functions as a place to live, work and play.
Both the physical and the human environment are, to a great degree, centered around the Guilford Green, a 7.7 acre square of open space, originally inspired by the Green, part of the nine squares, at New Haven. This Green has historically served as the focal center of the Town, despite the pull of automobile oriented commercial uses along the Boston Post Road. The diverse mixture of land uses surrounding the Green include the Town Hall, the Public Library, churches, shops, a savings bank, professional offices, and both multi-family and single-family homes. From the Green, roads lead north, south, east, and west, and settlement has occurred in all four directions giving the Town a compact radial pattern of development rather than linear.
On the east and west, the Guilford Historic Town Center is bounded by areas of tidal marsh which provide a natural backdrop to the man-made environment. On the south this open character is reinforced by the vistas to Long Island Sound.
Along this shorefront are a concentration of recreational used including town beaches, nature preserves and two marinas. Other commercial uses, particularly professional offices are found scattered along Church Street, State Street, and facing the Green, With the exception of the automobile oriented retail uses along the Post Road, these newer activities utilize older structures and are harmoniously integrated into the fabric of the historic streetscape.
The historic environment of this area was, of course, originally created by the early settlers resulting in many historic structures distributed throughout the Centre. Colonial and Federal period houses make up the majority of these structures. Colonial houses are located primarily on Broad Street, Fair Street, State Street and Boston Street. Federal style houses dominate the man-made environment around the Green and are also found on Broad Street. Colonial houses with Greek Revival modifications, notably a doorway in one case and a porch in another, are found on Fair Street and State Street. More opulent homes began to be built in the mid 19th century, including representative of the Italianate and Italian Villa style and the Second Empire or "Mansard" style. Two notable examples of the "Mansard" style are located at the north end of the Green. The architecture of the historic district is as noted, dominated by the Federal and Colonial styles, although 19th century and 20th century buildings add diversity to the man-made environment. These historic buildings are used today for both commercial and residential purposes, primarily the latter. Virtually all are occupied and maintained in good physical condition.
The Guilford Historic Town Center contains several commercial and institutional buildings which are of historic importance and contribute significantly to the environment of the community. Notable among these are three churches on the Green. At the north end of the Green, the First Congregational Church was constructed in 1829. The church and steeple form a strong visual focus, as well as contribute significantly to the New England village atmosphere. A few years later on the east side of the Green, the Episcopal Church was constructed in the Gothic Revival style. In 1844 the Greek Revival style was embodied in another Church of Christ the Scientist. An interesting example of early industrial architecture is the Spencer Foundry, constructed after the Civil War, which is on Fair Street surrounded by Colonial and Federal period homes.
The Guilford Historic Town Centre is not dominated by any particular architectural style, nor by any single outstanding topographical or landscape feature. The Town, while undoubtedly late Colonial and Federal in character, is more diverse than that. Furthermore, the architecture and streetscape are enriched and strengthened by the natural settling, particularly the tidal marshes, street trees, and the Green. Finally, the Town Centre is a living community, not a museum, and, while maintaining the historic tradition, continues to grow and change.
The Guilford Historic Town Center is significant as a modern thriving community in which a substantial portion of its architectural heritage has been preserved. The community exists in a relatively undisturbed natural coastal environment, but is subject to pressure for change. This change could be positive or negative depending on responses of the community, both from its officials and its private citizens.
Guilford was first settled in 1639 by a group of English Puritans. Settlement occurred in the area bounded by the West River and East Creek along the shore. The Reverend Henry Whitfield, leader of the group, constructed his stone house on what is now Old Whitfield Street and the house today, maintained as a museum [Henry Whitfield House], is thought to be one of the oldest in America. The large central Green was established at this time, inspired by New Haven's Green and has been maintained, with only minor encroachments ever since. Although hopes to establish Guilford as a major mercantile port were unsuccessful, the town began its modest growth with an economy based on shell fishing and agriculture. Despite a minor boom between 1750 and 1812 in the shipbuilding industry and related maritime industries, Guilford grew very little until the mid 20th century and is no doubt the principal reason for the preservation of its atmosphere of an earlier time.
Guilford's development in the late 19th and early 20th century was basically that of a small agricultural town. Several foundries built after the Civil War served to diversify the economy to a modest extent. Commercial development in the town was devoted to serving the needs of the farming people. This need resulted in the construction of stores and banks, a notable example being the Guilford Trust Company building constructed in 1912 in the Beaux Arts style at the south end of the Green.
While the large number of structures of historic interest contribute to the value of this area as an historic place, its real significance is in the way these buildings relate harmoniously to each other and to the natural landscape to create an environment illustrative of 300 years of history. The value of this environment is further enhanced by the fact that it is today a thriving community in a very human sense.
Garvan, A.N.B., Architecture and Town Planning in colonial Connecticut, 1951.
Guilford Historic District Study Committee, Guilford, Connecticut: Its Green and Its Historic Buildings, Guilford, 1974.
Guilford Planning and Zoning Commission, Comprehensive Plan of Development, Guilford, Connecticut, October, 1965.
Guilford Tercentenary Celebration Committee, Proceedings at the Celebration of the 300th Anniversary of the Settlement of Guilford, Connecticut 1639-1939, 1939.
Helander, Joel E., Guilford Long Ago (2 Volumes), Guilford, 1969.
Hubbard, Charles, Old Guilford, Guilford, 1939.
Kelly, J. Frederick, Early Domestic Architecture of Connecticut, New York, 1963.
Smith, R.D., The History of Guilford, Connecticut From its Settlement in 1639, 1877.
State of Connecticut, Dept. of Finance & Control, Office of State Planning, Proposed, A Plan of Conservation & Development for Connecticut, Hartford, January, 1973.
† Stephen J. Raiche, Connecticut Historical Commission, Guilford Historic Town Center, Guilford, CT, nomination document, 1975, National Park Service, National Register of Historic Places, Washington, D.C.