GUILFORD—Many towns in Windham County received their charters in 1753 and 1754 from Benning Wentworth, the governor of New Hampshire.
Guilford was among those towns, getting its charter in 1754. But in 1961, the town instead celebrated the bicentennial of the arrival of the first European settler in the town, Micah Rice, who set up his homestead in 1761 with his wife, Silence, and his infant daughter, Sarah, on what is now Weatherhead Hollow Road.
“We haven’t been able to find out definitively why the town chose 1761 for the 200th anniversary,” said Don McLean, one of the organizers of Guilford’s 250th anniversary celebration.
But the precedent set by the town in 1961 had a two-fold purpose, said McLean.
He said that many historians believe the settlement date of a town is more valid than the charter date, since many charters issued by Wentworth never were used.
The other benefit, he said, was that Guilford is able to celebrate its 250th anniversary without the crush of competing anniversary events in neighboring towns.
It’s not just the date that separates Guilford’s celebration from that of other towns. McLean said that organizers made a conscious effort to make this a year-long event.
“We wanted to more than just the traditional three-day weekend celebration,” he said.
So, the town has had monthly dances at the Broad Brook Grange, a series of walks through different historic villages in Guilford, sledding parties, road races, film festivals, concerts and more over the past seven months, with more events planned through the end of this year.
But for those expecting a three-day weekend with a parade, barbecue and fireworks, the Guilford 250 committee has taken care of that, too.
The big day
This Saturday, Guilford will put on its biggest parade ever, followed by a re-creation of its biggest barbecue ever, the legendary 1957 Franklin Farm beef barbecue.
What event organizers are calling “The Big Weekend,” begins on Friday night at 6:30 p.m., with a contra dance with Amy Cann and friends at the Broad Brook Grange on Guilford Center Road.
The Guilford Fairgrounds will be the headquarters for Saturday’s activities, and will open at 11 a.m., with food vendors will welcome early arrivals. At 11:30 a.m., there will be youth baseball on adjacent Whittemore Field, and from noon to 1 p.m., a horse drill team from Bernardston, Mass., will be the main attraction.
The anniversary parade begins at 2 p.m., starting from Evans Field, the original site of the Guilford Fair. One may watch the parade anywhere from the corner of Guilford Center Road to the Fairgrounds, along Weatherhead Hollow Road, or may stay at the Fairgrounds and watch the parade enter, announced by Tim Johnson of WTSA.
McLean said that the parade will have more than 50 units, and that the organizers tried to make it more than just “bands and dignitaries.”
There will be many floats, representing history, neighborhoods, and town organizations. A number of family farms will be represented, including one dating back to the founding years, along with such important places as the Mineral Springs Farm and the town’s slate quarries.
At the heart of the parade, said McLean, will be units celebrating the importance of farming and rural life over the past 250 years in Guilford. Various farm animals, horses with wagons and buggies, riding horses, and a calf will be featured, along with farm tractors, including antiques, and trucks used in agriculture, construction, tree work and all sorts of commercial work.
As for the bands and dignitaries, the grand marshall is former state Sen. Stuart Hunt. Five music groups, including marching bands, fifes and drums, and pipes and drums, will be featured, along with a half-dozen area fire departments, law enforcement agencies, Smokey the Bear, and a church choir and band.
After the parade arrives at the Fairgrounds, each band will perform several pieces, and other performances will take place.
There will also be an informal exhibit of residents’ photos and Guilford memorabilia in Fitch Hall. Residents wishing to contribute to the exhibit should drop off their items on Friday from 2-6 p.m.
For the kids, there will be games, with prizes, from 4-8 p.m. There will also be free surprises for kids both at the gate and later on. Inflatables with obstacle courses for both kids and adults will be available, and there will be clowns, face painting, and other activities.
At 5 p.m., members of the Franklin family will be serving up barbecue with historically accurate side dishes prepared and served by community volunteers to commemorate the Aug. 11, 1957 barbecue that attracted worldwide attention. A 2,140-pound steer named Samson was the main course for more than 1,400 people, as the Franklin family celebrated the return of their two sons from military service with what remains the biggest event ever held in Guilford.
The Franklins’ plan on serving only 300 people this year, and if there are any extra unsold tickets, they will be available at the the gate for $15 each. If you can’t get a ticket for the barbecue, McLean said plenty of food vendors will be on hand at the Fairgrounds.
The day ends with a fireworks display at 9 p.m.
Sunday will be a more sedate day, with all five of Guilford’s churches open to the public. The day begins and ends with special services for the 250th at two of the churches: 10 a.m. at Guilford Community Church, followed by a potluck luncheon there, and a Choral Evensong at 5 p.m. at Christ Church.
From 1:15 to 4:30 p.m., those two churches, as well as churches in West Guilford, Green River, and Guilford Center, will be open to the public.
McLean said that the 250th anniversary committee started its planning in 2007.
“We had lots of time to refine the schedule and come up with ideas,” he said. “There are so many people with so many talents in Guilford, we kept coming up with more and more things that we could celebrate.”
The goal throughout the year, McLean said, was to make the events accessible to everyone, and to make them enjoyable.
“I love seeing how we are able to blend content with fun,” he said. “The neighborhood walks we did are a good example of that. People were able to explore places they never knew existed.”
Still to come is a chamber music concert with local musicians at the Guilford Center Meetinghouse on Aug. 20, a potluck dinner feature all Guilford-grown food on Sept. 18, an art show featuring Guilford artists in October, a production of poet Verandah Porche’s Broad Brook Anthology on Nov. 26, and a Guilford Christmas Ceremony on Dec. 9 and 10.
More information on the remaining events for Guilford’s 250th anniversary can be found on its website.