Connecticut Coast : Our Stories in Words and Pictures

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  • Format: Hardcover
  • Copyright: 2009-04-01
  • Publisher: Globe Pequot
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Connecticut Coast is a richly illustrated history of the Nutmeg State's storied shoreline, from New York State to Rhode Island. Researched and written by a longtime expert in Connecticut history, it comprises a brief narrative on each of the twenty-four shoreline communities, accompanied by the area's best historic photography. Sidebars sprinkled throughout present lighthouses, fishing and shellfishing, transportation, storms, and more - from the legendary Savin Rock Amusement Park to stylish Jackie Kennedy christening the USS Lafayette in Groton.

Author Biography

Diana Ross McCain has written about Connecticut’s past for more than twenty-five years and holds bachelor’s and master’s degrees in history. A frequent contributor to Early American Life and Connecticut magazines, and to the Hartford Courant, McCain wrote the award-winning publication To All on Equal Terms, the story of Connecticut’s official state heroine, Prudence Crandall. Her most recent book is It Happened in Connecticut (Globe Pequot). She lives in Durham, Connecticut.

Table of Contents

Greenwich Stamford
Darien Norwalk
Westport Fairfield
Bridgeport Stratford Milford
West Haven
New Haven
East Haven
Branford Guilford
Madison Clinton
Westbrook Old Saybrook Old Lyme
East Lyme Waterford
New London
Table of Contents provided by Publisher. All Rights Reserved.





With more than 450 historic buildings and thousands of acres of pastures, meadows, fields, and forests, Guilford evokes the romantic vision and traditional values of classic New England as few towns can. The town green, surrounded by dozens of structures of varying sizes and ages, is reminiscent of a table around which generations of families have come together. The stately white First Congregational meetinghouse at the head of the green—its steeple rising above all other buildings—is the venerablepaterfamiliaspresiding over the gathering.

            One of Connecticut’s oldest towns, Guilford was established in 1639 by a band of 350 English Puritans under the leadership of the Reverend Henry Whitfield. Its original boundaries included what is today the town of Madison.

            The Guilford coast’s lack of a harbor deep enough to accommodate large sailing vessels prevented it from developing into a major colonial shipping port like New Haven or New London. From the original seed of settlement near the coast subsequent generations pushed inland. Within a century parts of town farthest from the Sound had been settled.

            Dozens of Guilford men marched off to serve in the war for independence from Great Britain that erupted at Lexington and Concord in 1775. More than two dozen died. On two occasions the fighting came literally to Guilford’s doorsteps.

            In the summer of 1776, the enemy British gained control of Long Island—so close to Guilford that its shore is visible on a clear day. Redcoat raiders came ashore at Sachem’s Head on June 17, 1777, but succeeded only in burning down a house and barns before the townspeople forced them to retreat. On June 18, 1781, three British vessels deposited a force of 150 men on Leete’s Island. Residents repelled the invaders in a skirmish that left two Guilford men dead.

            Women on the homefront contributed to the war effort as well. Lyman Beecher, father of Harriet Beecher Stowe, was a boy in North Guilford during the Revolution. He recalled how the women of the household spun flax and wool into yarn from which “they made all sorts of linen work, tablecloths, shirting, sheets, and cloths. If it hadn’t been for this household manufactory we never should have succeeded in the Revolution.”     

            The half century following the American Revolution saw a massive exodus from small Connecticut towns of people seeking fresh land and opportunity on far-flung frontiers, including Vermont, New York, and Ohio. Guilford avoided the drastic decline in population experienced by so many communities, although it was reduced in size by nearly half when the eastern portion broke off to become the town of Madison in 1826.

            Guilford did feel the impact of other changes in the years preceding the Civil War. The controversial crusade to abolish slavery throughout the United States roiled and finally went to the membership of the First Congregational Church. In 1843, 123 members who supported abolition broke away to form a new congregation. The abolitionists built their own house of worship, the Third Congregational church, a short distance away on Park Street.

            Sixty-two sons of Guilford, some still in their teens, died in the Civil War precipitated in large part by the controversy over slavery that had split the First Congregational Church. They fell on the legendary battlefields of Gettysburg, Antietam, Petersburg, and Chancellorsville, among others.

            Guilford lacked the rapid streams that energetic entrepreneurs in other parts of the state used to power new mills and factories during the nineteenth century. The arrival of the railroad in 1852 did provide a small shot in the arm for local manufacturing. With an efficient method of shipping now available, several factories sprang up. The Knowles Lombard Company packed hundreds of thousands of cans of tomatoes each year. The most enduring was the I.S. Spencer Company foundry. But Guilford never became home to a major factory or industry that attracted floods of immigrants and transformed such cities as Bridgeport, Waterbury, and Hartford into urban behemoths.

            The quarry that spans the Guilford/Branford boundary became an important economic resource, attracting immigrant workers from Italy and Scandinavia to join the small number of Irish already settled in town. The Leete’s Island Quarry supplied the pink granite used to construct the eighty-nine-foot-tall pedestal of the Statue of Liberty between 1884 and 1886.

            Train travel also made Guilford a convenient destination for city dwellers seeking the tranquil beauty of the shore and the countryside for vacations. Several shoreline resorts were established to cater to tourists, including the Sachem’s Head Hotel. Private cottages were built as well. Lodges sprang up around Lake Quonnipaug in the northern end of town.       

            Guilford experienced relatively little change in the half century between 1880 and 1930. Its population was essentially static, hovering around 2,800. A stagnant population and economy provide little incentive or money for replacing old buildings with new homes, or factories, or businesses. That reality, along with the 1920s rerouting away from the town green of the Boston Post Road, today’s Route 1, which subsequently became the focus of most commercial development, had the happy effect of saving many historic structures from the wrecking ball.

            The baby boom, a thriving post-war economy, construction of the Connecticut Turnpike (Interstate 95) in 1957, and the movement of families out of cities into new suburban developments following World War II were major transforming events for Guilford. The town’s population skyrocketed, quadrupling from 5,092 in 1950 to 21,298 in 2000, as people who worked in New Haven and other communities moved to Guilford..

            Many different groups have worked hard—and continue to work—to maintain a balance between the recent juggernaut of residential and commercial growth and preservation of the historic buildings and rural landscape that embody Guilford’s centuries-old heritage. Guilford has four historic districts listed on the National Register of Historic Places, and boasts one of the largest number of eighteenth-century houses in the nation. In addition, more than half of all land in town is open space that provides the rural, often agricultural, environment essential to maintaining the town’s historic character.


Excerpted from Connecticut Coast: Our Story in Words and Pictures by Diana Ross McCain
All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.

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