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Guilford Green

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The Guilford Green was established during the earliest days of the settlement when the land was surveyed. Initially it was a 16 acre parallelogram. It was reduced in size in 1670 and again in 1676 when a portion of the south end and a narrow strip on the east side were deeded to Nicholas Huges and Abraham Baldwin respectively to induce them to settle in Guilford as the town blacksmith.

Then, as now, the green was the center of town activity but was used as a utilitarian public space rather than as open space. In 1643, four years after Guilford was founded, the meetinghouse was constructed on the green. The town academy, Town House and an Episcopal Church surrounded by a grove of poplar trees were eventually erected on it.

It was used as the military drilling grounds and as an open pasture for wandering cows, sheep, horses and pigs for almost two centuries. Also located on the green were the hay scales, saw pit and whipping post. By the beginning of the 18th century, it was being used as a burying ground. Stagecoaches ran across it from the northeast corner to the southeast side on their way between Boston and New York.

Some early attempts were made to beautify the green, but it remained in an unkept state with animals drinking from the pond holes and the public digging gravel from gravel pits despite a prohibition in 1735 and again in 1764 and 1775.

In the fall of 1815, the Town Borough of Guilford was formed and out of it came an extensive list of civic improvement projects. The green was officially named the "Publick Square" and people were ordered to restrain their horses, cattle and sheep. In 1817, two new cemeteries were opened but it was not until 1824 that the headstones were removed from the green and ground leveled. Three years later, elm trees were planted. Animals on the green were a problem until 1837 when a rail fence was constructed around the green, paid for through subscription.

The buildings were eventually removed from the Publick Square. The Academy and the Town House were relocated to Route 77 (Church Street) when it was opened in 1825 as the Guilford-Durham Turnpike. The meetinghouse on the green was razed and a new one constructed on the corner of Church and Broad Streets where the Congregational Church stands today. Christ Episcopal Church, the last structure on the green, was removed, along with the grove of poplars, in 1838.

The United Workers for Public Improvement was organized by Guilford women in 1874 to raise funds "to repair the walks, light the streets, improve the condition of the Village Green, and extend the work of beautifying and improving the village." Each spring, women dressed in bonnets carrying rakes decorated in red, white and blue would rake the green and plant trees while church bells rang, cannons went off, the Guilford band played and townspeople cheered. The U.W.P.I. Disbanded in 1931 leaving some funds in the bank in the Guilford Green Improvement Fund.

A bird's eye view drawing of Guilford dated 1881 shows the green landscaped very much as it is today. The circulation pattern differs only in that there is one more path crossing the green from east to west at the center. Mature trees are planted in even lines along the paths. Near the center at its present location is the Civil War Monument. To the east of it is what appears to be a bandstand.

In 1899 the fence was removed and replaced with granite curbing. The gravel paths were transformed to concrete sidewalks primarily in the early 20th century and were done as memorial walks. The hurricane of 1938 destroyed about 100 of the elm trees. They have been replaced gradually with other deciduous trees, primarily maples. As late as 1986. $9,000 was raised for the "Guilford Green Fund" to restore the green to its pre-hurricane condition. In 1976, the Green and the town center were both listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

The Guilford Green was laid out as part of the initial town plan and has evolved over time into a quintessential 19th-century town green. Visually, it is the focal point of the community and functionally it serves as the civic, religious and business center.

 

 
 

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