Henry Whitfield State Museum, Guilford

Overview

Explore the complex history of nearly four centuries through the evolution of the Henry Whitfield House. The museum is in the process of changing its interpretation – confronting the facts about the site’s history to acknowledge past injustice, recognizing how that injustice manifests in society today, and working toward an equitable future for all people. See the ‘Historical Significance’ section below for more information.

November-April:
- Gift Shop & Visitor Center open 10-4 most weekdays
- Whitfield House open weekdays by appointment

We will be closed:
December 26, 29, 30
January 2, 10, 16
February 7, 13, 20
March 9
April 4, 7

Call 203-453-2457 to check hours and make an appointment.

Fully vaccinated? Masks are encouraged inside buildings.
Not fully vaccinated? Masks are required inside buildings.

Current Exhibit:
"Weld-Built: The Guilford Architecture of William E. Weld"
On loan from the Guilford Keeping Society
Available through December 2022 in the Visitor Center galleries
Free admission

Chronicling the life’s work of a person who played a large role in how Guilford looks today, the exhibit “Weld-Built: The Guilford Architecture of William E. Weld” is inspired by Weld’s architectural drawings, ledgers, and day books now in the collection of the Guilford Keeping Society. Their research reveals that Weld’s career spanned 35 years, from 1837 to 1872. He was Guilford’s foremost builder in the decades leading up to the Civil War through to the early years of Reconstruction, introducing the latest architectural styles to the area, including Italianate, Greek Revival, and Gothic Revival. In addition to building over 50 houses in Guilford, Madison, and Branford, he also built schools, stores, a hotel, a social hall, and church additions. He even renovated the Whitfield House in 1868 when it was still a private home. According to Guilford Keeping Society Curator and Museum Director Pat Lovelace: “The exhibit reflects the wide range of Weld’s achievements and features tools of his trade, reproductions of his original architectural drawings, historical images, and present-day photos of his constructions.” Originally on view at the Thomas Griswold House last year, the exhibit has been expanded to include more about Weld’s 1868 renovation of the Whitfield House. The house was nearly 230 years old (and it was about 30 years before the site would become a museum) when owner Mary Griffing Chittenden hired Weld to renovate the building and expand its footprint with an addition off the back. Weld’s architectural drawings from the Society’s collection document how the house looked before the renovation and detail Weld’s proposed work, while photographs from the Henry Whitfield State Museum’s collection show before and after views. Another addition to the exhibit is an activity table where visitors of all ages can color and construct a paper model of the Whitfield House.

The museum features:

  • Whitfield House (admission charge) — Take a self-guided tour through three floors filled with furnishings and artifacts, tour the introductory exhibit The Old Stone House detailing the house’s history, and test your observational skills with a scavenger hunt.
  • Visitor Center — Museum gift shop, exhibit galleries, research library (available by appointment), travel information, and restrooms.
  • Education Building — Tour history displays and try hands-on activities in the site’s repurposed 1870s barn.
  • Grounds — Stroll the landscaped site that features extensive stone walls, a bronze statue representing Henry Whitfeld, a ship’s cannon from the War of 1812, and a spur of the New England Trail that runs from Long Island Sound in Guilford through New Hampshire.

Outdoor Experiences:

  • Explore the site’s history through interpretive signs with photos and links to online material
  • Bring your own pen or pencil, pick up an outdoor scavenger hunt at the parking lot kiosk, puzzle out the clues, and submit your answers for a chance to win a prize
  • Pick up the “I Spy” Bingo game at the parking lot kiosk and search the museum grounds for 5 in a row
  • Picnic, play catch, read, paint, and more – there are over 8 acres of sunny and shady spots to enjoy!

Online Experiences:

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Museum Receives $500K Grant from National Park Service

“The Henry Whitfield House is one of the oldest landmarks in New England, and its legacy serves as an historic reminder of the settlement of Connecticut as a colony and the story of how our nation was built,” Governor Ned Lamont said. “For more than a century, the state has been operating the house as a museum and working to preserve it so that the story of its legacy can be told for future generations. This grant will have a critical role in aiding in that preservation process. On behalf of the State of Connecticut, I thank the National Park Service for recognizing the importance of this landmark here in our state and its role in United States history.”

The Henry Whitfield House Rehabilitation Project is being supported in part by a Semiquincentennial grant from the Historic Preservation Fund administered by the NPS, Department of the Interior. The NPS awarded a total of $7 million in the inaugural round of funding for the Semiquincentennial Grant Program commemorating the 250th anniversary of the founding of the United States. Created by Congress in 2020, this round of grants will support 17 cultural resource preservation projects across 12 states. The museum’s application to the Semiquincentennial Grant Program included letters of support from Guilford First Selectman Matthew Hoey, State Representative Sean Scanlon, State Senator Christine Cohen, U.S. Congresswoman Rosa DeLauro, U.S. Senator Christopher Murphy, and U.S. Senator Richard Blumenthal.

 

Work will include repointing the exterior and interior of the stone walls, improving drainage, and replacing the antiquated and failing electrical and heating systems. The project will also update the building’s existing National Register of Historic Places nomination with a more inclusive narrative to better understand and document the relationship between the Guilford settlement and its Indigenous neighbors as well as how the Henry Whitfield House illustrates the history of other underrepresented groups. This project will not only preserve the integrity, significance, and safety of this 383-year-old historic resource into its fifth century, but ensure that visitors may continue to expand their understanding of the site, its complex role in our nation’s history, how it impacts our nation’s society today, and how it impacts their lives personally.

See the full Press Release


Historical Significance

 

Construction of the Henry Whitfield House began in 1639 when a group of English Puritans, including Reverend Henry Whitfield and his family, entered into an agreement with the Menunkatuck band of the Quinnipiac tribe and renamed the area Guilford. Built of local granite, the house was one of the colonial settlement’s four stone houses that functioned as defensive buildings and private homes. It is now considered to be Connecticut’s oldest house and New England’s oldest stone house. Since 1900, it has been owned and operated by the State of Connecticut as a public museum, and the site is a State Archaeological Preserve.

The house underwent many structural changes over the course of its nearly 400 years. Restored by noted architects Norman Isham and J. Frederick Kelly in the early 1900s, it is an important example of Colonial Revival restoration work and was named a National Historic Landmark based on these historic preservation projects.

The Henry Whitfield House is a physical reminder of the European settler colonialism of the 1600s, as well as the Colonial Revival era of the 1800s-1900s that celebrated and glorified European ethnocentricity and superiority. The museum is striving to confront the facts about the site’s history in order to acknowledge past injustice, recognize how that injustice manifests in society today, and work towards an equitable future for all people.

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