Friday, June 20, 2014

A New Beginning: East River to Long Island Sound - Part 1

My daughter took some of the photos
There's a new section of trail in Guilford heading south from East River to the shore of Long Island Sound, where the "Gateway" to the New England Trail was just recently dedicated. Of necessity, the trail abandons the woods and follows paved road for about four miles. I drove this section because that's the normal mode of travel for a paved road. Or at least that's what I tell myself.  If you are a thru-hiker or have a goal of walking the entire trail, it's not a bad stretch to walk considering how developed Connecticut is near the shore.

Driving the trail.
This section of trail runs through Guilford's historic district, and there were so many interesting things to see that I've had to break it into two sections for the blog. Guilford was one of the first towns settled in Connecticut by the Puritans back in 1639, and there are several old buildings that have been preserved as museums. Doing this section by car allowed me to spend much more time at the various attractions. We started with lunch at the Shoreline Diner where the trail crosses busy Route 1, also known as the Boston Post Road because it was the road used to carry the "post" (mail) from New York to Boston. I'm guessing it was probably an Indian road before that.
The familiar blue oval trail sign marks the Route 1 crossing
It was my daughter's last day of school and I had to pick her up from school at 10:00 am (I really don't understand High School schedules these days), so the timing worked out just right for a celebratory lunch at the Shoreline Diner (buttered lobster roll and sweet potato fries, if you must know). We could see the blue oval trail sign on Route 1 from our table out on the patio. There were a couple of hotels across the street, something a thru-hiker might make use of.

Shoreline Diner, Route 1
After crossing busy Route 1, the trail went down a much quieter road, where we passed a sign that said we were entering Guilford's historic district, and soon we came to Alderbrook Cemetery. I was initially disappointed because it seems like a modern cemetery, but upon exiting there was a seemingly random display of dozens of very old tombstones from the Puritans leaning up against a big stone wall. A few were actually cemented into the wall itself.

The blue blazes are just on the other side of the wall.
This would be very easy for a hiker to miss. Although the old tombstones are only a few feet from the trail, the wall blocks the view from the trail/road, so you need to go in the main cemetery entrance to see them. 
Would you want this picture on your tombstone? 
Many of the old tombstones had a variation of a face and wings. Some were creepy (like the one above), and others a bit less so. According to a site on the History of Puritan Gravestone Art in Connecticut, (yes! there is actually a website for this!), what started out as a seriously morbid skull and wings in the 1600s evolved into a cherub and angel wings by the 1700's, and I think we saw that evolution in these tombstones.

"Here lyeth ye Body of Mary ye wife of John Goodrich,
who dyed Decembr ye 25th: 1722 in ye 61st Year of her age.
You know a tombstone is old when the word "the" is represented as the letter "y" with a tiny "e" above it.

Some of the tombstones were cemented into the wall.
We were left with the mystery of why these tombstones were laying here. And where are the bodies?  I posed this question to our tour guide at the next stop, the Griswald House (more on that later), and she suggested these might be the tombstones that were removed from the Guilford Town Green back when the town decided to make the Green more attractive. She showed us some artwork showing the Green in the 1800's, and there was a little cemetery there with cattle grazing nearby. Later in the day, when we drove past the Green looking to buy something cold to drink, my daughter commented, "So those kids over there are playing over dead bodies?"  

Guilford Town Green c. 1820, with cemetery and cattle
Shortly after the cemetery, the trail passes in front of the Thomas Griswald House, a typical saltbox house from the time of the American Revolution.  I almost passed it up, because it doesn't look like much (and is often closed, so check the hours), but I was so glad we stopped. The house is almost entirely in it's original state, and we had a wonderful tour guide. 
Our delightful tour guide explaining how the kitchen fireplace was used for cooking.
What made this house tour interesting is the focus on how ordinary people once lived, especially women and children.  We learned, for example, how women prepared baked goods within the built-in oven in the back of the fireplace (build a fire in the little oven, let it go for awhile until the surrounding bricks are hot, then pull out the fire remains into the main fireplace.  Now the oven is heated and ready to bake something. And I complain about my oven's digital controls).

A sink carved out of brownstone.
Our tour was maybe an hour long and we picked up all sorts of tips about the good old days. I enjoy learning about how ordinary people used to live, but I wouldn't want to go back to those times. Life was tedious. For the women, every day was all about cooking, sewing, weaving and, of course, child care.

Spinning wheel  for the spinster.
And if you didn't get married, you might be expected to do a lot of the spinning, and they'd call you a spinster. 

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