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uilford was settled in 1639 by a group of 25 English Puritans under the guiding spirit of their minister, the Reverend Henry Whitfield. The coastal town, which benefited from two good harbors and two good tidal rivers, was laid out on a tract purchased from the Menunketuck Indians. The history of its common, one of the oldest in Connecticut, reflects the evolution of many greens from unkempt public utilitarian spaces to landscaped parks used for leisure and recreation.

  Guilford's town square, surrounded by eighteenth- and nineteenth-century buildings in Colonial and Victorian styles, interspersed with unobtrusive storefronts, is a true greensward. Tree-lined walks converge at a centrally placed Civil War memorial, and on any given day children and dogs represent a large proportion of the local residents who enjoy this well-used public park. However, the bucolic scene belies the earlier history of the Guilford Green. After passing through Guilford in 1800, Yale College President Timothy Dwight (1752-1817) noted with interest the appearance of the large open square dominating the "great plain" in the center of Guilford, upon which stood two churches and four schoolhouses -- "in which are kept four very good schools," Dwight observed. But Dwight also commented that the large town common was "deformed" by an unenclosed burying ground, where, to his dismay, "the graves are trampled upon and the monuments injured by both men and cattle."

  During this period, two ponds dominated the western side of the Guilford Green, gravel and stones were quarried throughout, and trees were cut down for timber and fuel. By 1775 the green was known as the "marketplace" and was the site of a town house for public business and meetings. In step with a statewide trend that occurred in the wake of the American Revolution, steps were undertaken in the 1830s to clear the Guilford Green of buildings, including the Congregational meetinghouse, the town house, and one of the schools. Elm trees were planted around the same time. Recreational activities began with the first town agricultural fair, sponsored by the Farmers' and Mechanics' Association in 1859.


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Detail of Bird's-eye View of Guilford, lithograph by O. H. Bailey, 1881. Courtesy of the Guilford Free Library, Guilford, Connecticut.

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A Scene from the Fair, Guilford, 1885, black-and-white photograph. Reprinted from The Shoreline Magazine, February 1950. Courtesy of the Guilford Free Library, Guilford, Connecticut.

 

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