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12/28/2022 08:47 AM

Clapboard Hill School House Donated to Guilford Keeping Society

The owner of the beloved Clapboard Hill School House has donated the structure to the Guilford Keeping Society (GKS). Stephen B. Dudley and David C. Griswold, the current co-owners, said it was simply time for the historic building to have a permanent home and fixed destiny. According to Dudley, who is also on the Board of the GKS, though his family has owned the property for more than 90 years, he felt it was the right time to determine a permanent future for the structure and to ensure its protection.

“For a number of years, there has been discussion in the family about the future of the Clapboard Hill Schoolhouse. As the last remaining family member in Guilford, it was clear that the preservation of the historical structure was critical. With the Guilford Keeping Society being owners of the Thomas Griswold house, David Griswold being the fifth great-grandson, and I being the sixth great-grandson of Thomas Griswold, donation to the Guilford Keeping Society was the obvious choice,” said Dudley. “None of the family except for me remains in Guilford to take care of it, and nobody is nearby…we are direct descendants of Thomas Griswold, which the Keeping Society owns the Thomas Griswold House, and we thought that it made sense that the Society would be the proper entity to preserve it.”

According to the family history, John Leete Griswold acquired the Clapboard Hill Schoolhouse in 1935, when the Town ceased use of the building around 1929. Dudley said that due to its proximity to his residence, the 1807 Griswold homestead at the top of Clapboard Hill, it was a logical way to transfer the acquisition. The 1807 homestead was built by John Griswold, grandson of Thomas Griswold, who built the house on Boston Street that now belongs to the Guilford Keeping Society. The 1807 Clapboard Hill homestead remained occupied by the Griswold family until John’s death in 1988, according to Dudley.

“As we believe that this is the only one-room schoolhouse in Guilford that has remained untouched, the need for wise stewardship was important to the family,” Dudley said. “The family is pleased that the GKS voted to accept the donation, and, now in GKS ownership, we all look forward to a bright future for this important piece of Guilford history.”

According to Dudley, when in use, the school was heated by a wood stove and had no other facilities than a cloakroom/wood storage and four-hole outhouse – a side for boys and one for girls. Water was either brought by the students or obtained from nearby residences. For most of the ownership by the Griswold family, the schoolhouse has primarily been used for storage, except for a short period in the 1950s when it was used as a workshop by John L. Griswold’s father-in-law, Alexander Ludington, Dudley said.

GKS President Robert Hartman said the donation is an incredible act of generosity that will ensure the organization can continue to protect and preserve Guilford’s unique history.

“The way I look at it is, that when you look at the nature of Guilford, it’s the fifth oldest town in Connecticut established in 1639 and you look at its growth, you really need to look at critical and crucial developments, and this school house really is one of those. For us to be able to preserve that as a reminder of who built our town and who we are and built the foundation on which we all stand-this acquisition really is outstanding,” said Hartman. “We have to underscore the value and importance of the foresight of the Dudley and Griswold families. Not only to give the structure but to donate the land on which it sits. The school has a beautiful curved ceiling, not sure why they built it that way, but it is a slice of life of Guilford and we’re excited to be able to be part of this and to keep our mission intact. These families are doing an enormous service to everyone in town with this donation.”

An interesting side note regarding the school’s history was discovered when Dudley and the GKS organized the donation. The structure was long thought to have been built in 1835 and originally sited across the street from its present location on Clapboard Hill. However, records found by Guilford Free Library staff during their research now appear to show the building was never moved and more than likely has always sat on the original site. It was also revealed that the construction date was likely 1836 or 1837 and not in 1835, as most historians have long thought.

There are no current plans to move the structure according to the GKS, but there is hope that the school can become another piece of Guilford’s historical mosaic.

“There’s been all sorts of discussion with what will happen to it. But that largely depends on who can get the grants or funding to do whatever the Board decides,” said Dudley. “We are hopeful that sometime next year there will be some discussions on what the future of the building will be, but at least now it is with an entity that can help preserve it. It's bittersweet for the family in some respects. My grandfather bought it long before I was born, but we truly feel this makes sense for this to happen now. It’s time to do it. The Keeping Society is happy to get it and we’re glad that it’s going to an entity that will take care of it.”

The much beloved Clapboard Hill School house built in 1836 has been donated by the owners to the Guilford Keeping Society. Photo courtesy of Stephen Dudley