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A Grave History of the Guilford Green

The Guilford Green as we know it has not always been the charmingly communal epicenter that it is today. A little-known fact about the town Green is that it once acted as the town’s earliest burial yard for the dead, with a quote derived from the early 19th century describing the location as, “the very token of death and desolation.” Not one, but TWO graveyards are recorded to having been located on the Green; one belonging to the Congregational, and another to the Episcopal. However, unlike the cemeteries and burial grounds of the modern age, which are viewed and treated with respect and in a ceremonial manner, the original Green still provided other uses to the community, such as being the location of a school house, a whipping post, as well as being used as a drill ground for the local militia. 

Although there is no definitive evidence of any paranormal activity occurring within the confines of the Green, there is a written account by Henry P. Robinson of a spirit that was believed to have been seen by a group of maiden. As the story goes, one night, just as the church bell struck nine o’clock, a group of young women witnessed, what they believed, to be a spirit hovering amongst the gravestones. Terrified, the group told their families what they had seen, quickly causing a panicked frenzy to spread throughout the community. A village watch was then put into place with the sheer intent to catch the ghost. After countless nights, witnesses watched as a resident at the time, Parson Baldwin, was seen exiting the Christ Episcopal Church following an evening service. Heading home, Baldwin took a shortcut across the Green, still wearing his white vestments as they fluttered in the breeze. As he did this, he would also pay respects to those graves he passed. There was no ghost after all (that we know of).

By Nick Chasse

So how, you ask, did the Guilford Green transform from a desecrated plot of land to the radiant location it is today? The process was not quick, taking nearly a century to complete with the last recorded burial taking place in 1818. Having originally been a rectangle of about 15 acres, including the streets on all four sides, the Green has been reduced by nearly 4 acres over the years; once in 1670, and again in 1676. It is believed that this was done to accommodate the home lots for blacksmiths, as the act of partitioning a strip of land from the Green is mentioned in town meeting minutes from 1670. However, the real catalyst that caused the drastic change in the landscape is believed to have been caused by a publication in 1800 by Timothy Dwight, president of Yale College. In his writing, Dwight refers to the presentation of the town’s deceased as “gross,” and that it was “destructive of all moral influence.” This caused a divide in the village, as some citizens began to reconsider the best use for the communal space.

On March 1, 1824, a resolution finally came to pass and it was voted that the graves on the Green would be removed, that the ground would be leveled, and that the lot would be transformed into a park. Although there is no clear record of the following, it is reported that this decision caused two factions to form; one group that was pro-park, and one that was against the idea. Allegedly, late one night the more radical group came together and vandalized the gravestones and began to smash and deface them. Families united 

in an attempt to remove what family monuments they could, resulting in gravestones scattering to various locations. 
By 1833, an account by Henry Hill recounts that, upon returning to town, he had noticed the land had been leveled and that the graves had been removed. And thus the Guilford Green, as we know it, began to take the first steps into becoming the flourishing town centre that it is today.


An aerial view of the Guilford Green , taken from 'A Treasury
of Guilford Places.' Credit to Joel Helander, 1981.

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