by Tom Gray Town Historian
A number of rare photos of businesses that existed in the hamlet of Guilford will be on display at Guilford’s Fun-Fest Day Aug. 21st from 9 AM to 3 PM by the Guilford Historical Society in the large tent on the lawn on Main St. For over five years committee members have been researching the growth of the hamlet and the other hamlets of the town collecting photos shared by residents and others to add to the town’s archives.
The first business to open on Main St. was Dibble’s Tavern in 1808. This was expanded to be the Guilford House, a tavern and hotel in the 1850’s. A glass negative from the Civil War period that has been digitally converted captures this time period. Other interesting old photos on display reflect the present buildings that remain on Main St. such as the Bunnell estate, the Episcopal and Methodist Churches, Dr. Clark’s residence, the old Town Hall, the Merchant and Cable properties to name a few. Other photos include the Sherwood, Totman, Scolfield, Drachler and Burlison general stores.
It was Niram Merchant and Andrew Bradbury who formed a partnership in 1845 and opened the first foundry on Furnace Hill Road. The growth of the “Iron Works” and its inventions and resulting US Patents issued propelled the growth of new enterprises that never existed before “iron came to Guilford.” Metal waterwheel gearings, plows, stoves etc. made in machine shops and sold in stores on Main St. were now available. New farm machinery resulted as well as new wagons; sleighs and cages were just a few of these new products that produced area economic development.
With the arrival of the railroad in 1870 other businesses grew. Clothing and drug stores lined the busy Main St. and two hotels welcomed guests that now arrived by train. The milk and dairy industry grew as well as the feed and coal businesses, as the O & W trains arrived to transport Guilford’s products throughout New York and other states. These changes can be seen in the photo collections that will be on display. Also included in the society’s displays will be rare photos of old farms that were the backbone of Guilford’s growth throughout the centuries.
Stop by our tent on Aug. 21st and share with us our fascinating history. If you have any old photos, bring them along. We will have a scanner available so you can keep your treasures but, know you added to our town’s history. One mystery that has not been solved concerns the Guilford Iron Works. Only a sketch in an old newspaper shows the building that contained a two story machine shop and adjacent to it the “Furnace” structure where the crude iron was processed. The first photographer of Guilford was Purley Merchant, brother of Andrew Merchant who owned the Iron Works after his father died. Purley made the glass negatives of Main St in the 1860’s but where is the photo of his family’s business? The Iron Works endured until 1919 but no photos of it have surfaced. If you have a photo of the foundry, bring it with you to share with us and you will be the first one who solved the mystery and bring home a free gift from our society.