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 organized in 1908 with the Borden’s 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 Korner Stone Restaurant. The Rockdale Hotel, now a bar was once called Locke’s Inn and is the oldest hotel remaining in the river hamlets. The hamlet of Guilford has a number of historic homes dating back to the 1800’s 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.
The land that became Guilford was purchased from the Oneida tribe in 1785. The town of Guilford was first settled in 1789 by Joshua and John Mersereau who settled in East Guilford and built the first mill.The hamlet of Guilford was established in 1795, by pioneers, John and Loretta Dibble. There was nothing there but an abandoned cabin, but that was their start. John built “Dibble’s Tavern” and the town grew around them. It’s hard to imagine so much wilderness, hardship, and wildlife. Homesteaders were particularly afraid of wolves, panthers and bears. In fact, the Guilford settlement was known by the name “Bear Wallow” because so many bears lived there. Today, it is a rare sighting to see a bear, but not unheard of.The town of Guilford (originally “Eastern” formed from Oxford) is comprised of six hamlets. They are East Guilford, Guilford (formerly Fayette), Guilford Center (formerly Parker), Mt. Upton, Rockdale, and Rockwells Mills. Each town has its own special character, but they’re all steeped with history and dotted with little “gems” of interest. Rockwells Mills has the unique distinction of being the first historic district, in the Town of Guilford, on the State and National Register of Historic Places. This designation was established by the Guilford Historical Society in 2010.
The jewel of Guilford is its seventy-acre natural kettle lake (with a dam). In the summer time it sparkles in the sun light like a beacon to all water recreation lovers such as boaters, swimmers, and especially fisherman. In the winter time, ice skaters and especially ice fisherman take advantage of what the frozen lake offers.Guilford Lake, formerly known as Cable Pond and Guilford Pond, was once the source of power for water wheels to run a grist mill and an iron foundry. Today, it is stocked annually with rainbow trout and brown trout. Those two, along with largemouth bass, and chain pickerel, are the main four game fish found in the lake. Additionally, however, black crappie, pumpkinseed sunfish, yellow perch, rock bass and brown bullhead have also been caught in the lake.In addition to all the above water activities, the Unadilla River, which borders the three hamlets of Rockwells Mills, Mt. Upton, and Rockdale, finds canoeists from many parts of the country.People who enjoy the outdoors love Guilford. Aside from fishing, there’s walking for health, weight loss, or just strolling for leisure; camping, hiking to explore nature, great wildlife photography opportunities, biking, snowmobiling, sledding, cross-country skiing, hunting, and more.
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.