Composed by Thomas Gray, Town Historian
The town of Guilford which includes the hamlets of Mt.Upton, Guilford, Rockdale, East Guilford, Guilford Center and Rockwells Mills has seen many changes throughout the 20th century, but each hamlet has held on to its friendly rural character.
At the turn of the 20th century, the hamlets were industrial in nature with mills, the railroad and various businesses. The first two decades saw the age of the telephone and electricity. Purley Merchant and L.H. Anthony started a telephone exchange and provided local service in Guilford. Electricity replaced water power for industry and many of the mills that ran on water power went out of business. The dairy industry however was still the most profitable . With the coming of the automobile the hamlets started to become a vacation and a residential community. The O&W Railroad at this time, beside being a major factor in industry, also enabled the hamlets to have vacation visitors from the cities. For example, the Lake Inn and the Squirrel Lodge on Guilford Lake welcomed visitors who came on the train and stayed for their vacations.
During the depression years, each hamlet was more or less self-sufficient. The hamlets had stores, theaters for plays, meeting places, opera houses, schools and modern fire departments. In 1928, the hamlet of Guilford organized its first modern fire department and in 1934, the hamlet of Mt Upton followed with the Borden Hose Co. These volunteer fire departments are to be commended for their service to the community. In 1935, the Mt.Upton School was built and in 1938 Guilford followed with the Guilford Consolidated School. This saw the end of the one room school house and the start of a modern educational system in the community.
While many businesses fell during the depression, the hamlets of Guilford continued as a prosperous community until the O&W Railroad went bankrupt in 1957. Passenger service stopped in 1954 and the last milk train ran through Guilford in 1958. Tanker trucks now replaced the railroad with the hauling of milk and because they could stop at individual farms they eventually caused creameries to go out of business.
Around 1964, the new Route 8 was built through the hamlets of Rockdale, Mt.Upton, and Rockwells Mills and in 1972 the new route 35 linked route 8 to the hamlet of Guilford. Both routes made travel more accessible for travelers to the hamlets. As population increased more visitors came to the hamlets for vacation and many to stay year round. The Guilford School consolidated with Bainbridge in 1961 and recently Mt. Upon consolidated with Gilbertsville. Such schools still attract new families to the area. The local churches in the hamlets offer services in various religious beliefs. During the middle of the century to the present, these churches saw many renovations but held on to the character they had as far back as 1920 and still provide parishioners with the religious beliefs of their choice.
As the end of the century approaches, the decline in farming has been a major issue in each of the hamlets. We give credit to those farms that still hold on. As farm land has been sold, an increase in population has made each of the hamlets a more residential and tourist community. Various small businesses such as Quickways in both the hamlets of Guilford and Mt.Upton supply the daily needs of the community. Rockwells Mills offers fine food at one of oldest buildings in the area, the Old Mill Restaurant. In Mt.Upton fine food is also served at the Mint Restaurant. The Rockdale Hotel, now a bar and restaurant, was once the site of the railroad depot in Rockdale. The Pillars bar and restaurant in Guilford Center was once a stagecoach depot. The hamlet of Guilford has two B&B, the Hadley House and the Tea & Sympathy both on route 35. Also in Guilford is the Back of Sundown golf course and Praiseworthy Antiques. Guilford Lake still attracts tourists as well as residents for its rural beauty and the Unadilla River which borders the other three hamlets finds canoeists from many parts of the country. Such businesses and the natural beauty of the area attracts visitors. In the last census in 1990 the population of Guilford was 2875 and it is still growing as people find the tranquility of this rural township an excellent place to live.
NOTE: The above information was found by oral interviews, various local histories, the Hamlet of Guilford's Bicentennial Booklet, and the Unadilla Valley Pictorial Glimpses of the Past 1976 under the auspices of the Unadilla Valley Historical Society.