Harbor commerce and agriculture go hand and hand in Guilford’s past. As urban populations grew on the East Coast, so did the need for food grown by others. On the northern shore of the Long Island Sound, Guilford was well placed to take advantage of coasting commerce. The community shipped agricultural produce, logs, and granite in the Sound. However, the shallow harbor prevented the community’s development as a major port.
Shipbuilding and other maritime industries helped shape the town’s economy from the Age of Sail to the Age of Steam, the mid-18th to the mid-19th century. At one time, Guilford had seven boatyards located on the East and West rivers. Shellfisheries were also common from the colonial era to the 20th century, as Guilford’s waters support conch, soft shell clams, bay scallops, quahogs, and oysters, which were especially prized.
Menhaden, known locally as “whitefish” or “bunker, “ were another important product of the Sound. These fish in the herring family were always important as fertilizer for Indigenous people and colonial crops. In the 1850s, trap nets increased the whitefish harvest. Whitefish were rendered and used for oil before whale oil and later petroleum made this use unprofitable. Up until the 1970s, a few trap nets were still used to harvest whitefish for bait and other uses.
Three and a half miles offshore in Long Island Sound, Faulkner’s Island Lighthouse stands proudly as it has since 1802, the heart of the maritime boom. One of the state’s oldest surviving lighthouses, it is an active aid to navigation owned and maintained by the U.S. Coast Guard with support by the Faulkner’s Light Brigade. The island is a beautiful wildlife refuge owned by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
By the mid-19th century, urban dwellers were seeking solace on the coast. Hotels and boarding houses served the earliest generations of tourists. Later, summer cottages along the waterfront served urban visitors from the late 1800s to the present. In the middle of the 20th century, summer visitors began to give way to year ’round residents, and today the shore boasts a comfortable mix of both. Generations of shore dwellers would likely agree that whether shellfishing, swimming, or sailing, there is no finer place to spend a summer day.