The Connecticut Trust, represented by Jane Montanaro, and the State Historic Preservation Office, represented by Liz Shapiro, presented the 2019 Harlan H. Griswold Award to the Guilford Preservation Alliance (GPA) for its effective leadership and tireless efforts to advance the cause of preserving historic and natural resources within the town of Guilford. Guilford First Selectperson Matt Hoey, pictured below, attended the Awards Celebration and spoke to honor the occasion.
The GPA was formed in 1980 by a group that included architectural historian Betty Brown and former First Selectwoman Marjorie Schmidt, along with other passionate and committed residents. They recognized that development pressures and lack of awareness could and would erode the character of a unique town that dates back to 1639 and comprised farmland, village center, and coastal habitat. Today, volunteer board members – including Shirley Girioni and Dennis Culliton, pictured below – still carry out this mission in partnership with fellow citizens, related organizations, and local and state officials.
The GPA’s protection of the built environment began in 1981 with a survey of significant buildings. This initial survey, encompassing 450 sites, was expanded in 2010 with a survey of barns, and again in 2014, with a professional survey of more than 200 additional sites. As a resource for officials and citizens, all 680-plus survey entries are posted on the GPA’s website. Based on these surveys, the GPA provided research and funding to list National Register districts at Meeting House Hill and Dudleytown and promoted the establishment of Guilford’s two local historic districts, Guilford Center and Whitfield Street.
Support for the built environment extends beyond surveys and designations to hands-on preservation. In 1988 the GPA rescued the 1694 Comfort Starr house from demolition by buying the house and re-selling it with preservation restrictions. With the proceeds, the GPA established the Hugh McKay Jones fund, which makes loans or grants for projects such as restoration of the Chittenden bowling alley, Regicides’ Cellar, and Women and Family Life Center, among others, as well as the launch of the Dudley Farm Museum.
One of GPA’s most recent partnerships has been sponsorship of the Witness Stones project in cooperation with town schools. Inspired by the Stolpersteine, or ‘Stumbling Stones’ used in Europe to mark the homes of Holocaust victims, the Witness Stones project trains students to research the lives of enslaved persons in Guilford’s past and install small brass markers where they lived. One site is the Hyland house museum which incorporates information collected through the Witness Stones project to tell the story of Candace, a spinner and baker who lived in the house from 1773 to until she was freed in 1793. The project has now spread to West Hartford, where the Noah Webster house museum is using the GPA’s curriculum.
The GPA also has a new website to promote tourism within Guilford (maintained by the GPA); hosts heritage walking tours, some led by local high school students; erects markers for significant sites; and operates a Visitor’s Center kiosk. Looking to long-term sustainability, the GPA is represented in Sustainable Guilford, a townwide commission that promotes greater sustainability in environmental matters, as well as cultural life, and historic structures.
The depth and breadth of the GPA’s accomplishments would never have been possible without the time, talent and energy of generations of committed volunteers — a testament to leadership, stewardship, partnership, and effort.
Harlan H. Griswold was a founder of the Connecticut Trust and longtime chair of the Connecticut Historical Commission — predecessor to today’s State Historic Preservation Office. After his death, those two organizations established the Harlan H. Griswold Award in memory of his outstanding contributions to historic preservation over a lifetime of service. The award recognizes individuals, corporations, or organizations whose activities exemplify Mr. Griswold’s leadership, vision, and dedication to preserving Connecticut’s heritage and who by deed or example have made our state a better place to live.