Little Genesee Settlement, Guilford

December, 2008 by Ray Bendici
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Photo by Ray Bendici

The Damned Story: There's an old Connecticut saying: "With meat you get bones, with land you get stones."

One of the lesser-known and curious sites in Connecticut is the Little Genesee Settlement, located on the border of Madison and Guilford. Fairly deep into property owned by the Regional Water Authority (RWA), Genesee is a dual curiosity -- an abandoned Colonial-era settlement and potentially an astronomical calendar or spiritual complex of sorts.

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Photo by Ray Bendici

According to the RWA, the story goes that the families who settled this area during the late 1700s were originally headed to the Genesee Valley in New York, but a wagon wheel broke and rather than fix it, decided to stay and farm the land. It doesn't say whether the settlers were particularly bright or not, but after spending a few hours hiking around the area, we have to vote for "or not" -- there are tons of stones here (not counting the ones already used for walls, foundations and other structures) and it'd definitely would've been much easier to just fix the danged wagon wheel and go to the more fertile (and less rocky) Genesee Valley. For what it's worth, the settlement isn't mentioned in The History of Guilford, a thorough accounting of the town from its founding in 1639. Odd.

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Photo by Ray Bendici

Not surprisingly, a farming community didn't exactly blossom in the rugged terrain. By the 1850s, the Genesee settlers were gone -- one assumes it was because of their inability to successfully farm the land, but no one knows for sure. After a century and a half, a few stone foundations are all that remain of the settlement.

Our Damned Experience: On a cold and rainy day in November 2008, guided by our trusty Sherpa Bob, we hiked out to the Genesee area. Although the main trails are clear and well marked, Genesee is not really marked in any way, so you have to be looking for it to find it -- keep an eye out for the very spooky-looking small house that's about 40 yards from the trail . . .

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Photo by Ray Bendici

By the way, what the heck this dilapidated hovel is doing out here is anybody's guess. Home of the Blair Witch, anyone? Currently, it appears to be a hangout for teenagers -- lots of stacked beer empties, random graffiti, etc. (And yes, I know the photo is black & white, for extra creepy goodness!)

Anyway, when you see the green house, the foundations of Genessee are close by -- as a matter of fact, one of the foundations is about 40 feet from it. As mentioned on the RWA site, you will also notice lots of stone walls zigzagging across the area. In the summer it might be more difficult to spot the foundations, but in the autumn with the leaves off the trees, it wasn't too hard to find them. And with less vegetation, it was even easier to get to them.

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Photo by Ray Bendici

In a short amount of time, we found three different foundations. We even got brave and climbed down into one of them (of course, making Blair Witch jokes the entire time) and snapped a few photos, like the one to the right here. We tried digging down a little through the leaves to see if we could unearth anything like a pottery, glass or lost treasure, but not being trained archaeologists and without the proper tools, didn't fare so well.

We also noticed there were lots of crumbling walls all through the area, which at first we figured was to divide fields, contain livestock and other "farmly" things. But as we looked closer, we found there was more going on here -- which turns out, is part of the aforementioned "astronomical calendar/spiritual complex."

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Photo by Ray Bendici

As we were wandering around, we saw a number of stone piles -- not random formations, but deliberate piles of varying sizes. At first we thought they might be graves, but the number of them, their positions (sometimes very close to each other, some on top of stone ledges) and their sizes don't make that seem likely. The rocks used seemed to be of the same age as those in the foundations in the sense that they appear to have not been disturbed in over a century and half. After we got back home (and dried out), we did a little searching -- it appears many of these piles (as well as other formations seen in the area) could be Native American ritual stones.

The New England Antiquities Research Association has also done a lot of research on what they call "The Hammonasset Line," which includes part of the Genesee area. The stone formations here may or may not have been erected in conjunction with the summer solstice and other celestial events (Stonehenge for the New World -- without an actual henge). It appears that Native Americans may have been responsible for the structures, but until a thorough investigation can be done by a properly trained and equipped team, there are more questions than answers.

Obviously, there's a lot more to Little Genesee Settlement than a single afternoon can uncover. Hopefully, a return trip on a warmer -- and drier! -- day will provide an opportunity to learn more.

If You Go: Following the trail map provided by RWA, it's about a 45- to 60-minute hike in, if you don't accidentally take a wrong turn or two -- and if you hear gunshots, you're headed toward the Guilford Sportsman Association and going the wrong way! The main trails are primarily logging roads which are well-cleared (you know, aside from the hundreds of rocks).

The RWA welcomes visitors to their properties, but does require them to pay a small fee for a permit which also covers parking, trail maps and access to RWA events.

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Comments

Submitted by Margey (not verified) on
Thanks for the tips on the gun sounds!

Submitted by Steve (not verified) on
I've been out here before, though I've never seen the old foundations because I've never looked for them. Now that I know what to look for, I definitely will next time I go for a hike up there. That dilapidated little hut I think is just an old hunting cabin that someone abandoned. I should really have a look around up there. (And by the way, it's not marked correctly on that map. I don't know if there's a better trail head on a road, but when I hiked around here I parked at the way end of Race Hill Road, which is perfectly fine, and hiked in)

Submitted by Roach (not verified) on
Quite a while back there was some murders that occurred here. Back then it was called Rockland.

Submitted by madpixl (not verified) on
Couple things.... 1. Rockland is quite a few miles north west and there's a lot still there today. 2. The history of madison published in the 1970s states the settlers left CT for PA due to taxes... Future settlers took most of the structures to build in Madison proper (then East Guilford). I read this in Dr. Woodford's office where there was a copy of the history. 3. As for Native American Cairns, I have found a lot, and spoke with people who dug some, but I never wanted to ruin a grave... Here's where you can identify some documented stone structures that could be Native American or other... http://www.stonestructures.org/html/cairns.html

Submitted by Dom (not verified) on
This place looks like a lot of history took place. With every site like this I love to do some research both into the cities archives on the site, but also to catch urban myth, and compare it to stories from the time. Through some preliminary resources and information, the information regarding it being called Rockland is indeed true, the murder part though seems to be a bit of a stretch. The last recorded murder previous to the land being called what it is today is rooted back to the early 1900's and it is hardly considered a murder. I don't know exactly where that information you have gathered came from, but maybe it holds true. Nonetheless, the area does seem to very desolate and creepy. Despite the idea that it is so called "haunted" honestly this happened so many times during the founding and development of what is the modern structures of the world we live in now. It does not mean suddenly the land was struck with a disease, or a mass murder took place, rather it just means people were offered to move on, or over time they just simply became vacated. I think what you are seeing here is more the vacated land, because the land in the area is considered "valuable" because of the water resources, many times the land can be hard to even try and develop. Many times early on irrigation canals were made, and when this occured lands would usually begin the development phase and try and become townships. With that being said, there runs a good chance that the land you see here was in the beginning phases of development (ie: foundations set) when the "contractors" at the time just gave up on the project. Now there is a lot of question on the history of the place, but it definitely seems to have a weird touch. I personally in the coming weeks will be making a trip out there. I can't really affirm or deny what has taken place but will look into it. This is definitely no Blair Witch Project house, especially because the movie was proven to be a false representation (but good hype up lol) but I have not recieved word on whether it is completely vacant. I think what you are reading and seeing may be more figment of your imagination, but thats for the eye of the beholder.

Submitted by Danielle (not verified) on
I ride my horse up there all the time - just went today actually - and there are over 30 little foundations up there that we've found. Also, as a side note, my horse has never acted like there's something "spooky" going on there. Horse people can tell you, they know if something supernatural is going on. He's always perfectly calm around all the stonework and houses. So whatever did go on there, it either was a long time ago and gone now, or was completely benign. It's a beautiful area and I recommend going this time of year when the woods are in full bloom

What caught my interest in this article was the piles of stones left by Native Americans. I recently moved into a house located adjacent to the Wopowog Reservation in East Hampton and the same rock piles are all over my backyard! I asked the previous owners about them (after I had already dismantled one to build a stone wall) and they had informed me Native Americans would build those piles to signify they are peaceful or come in peace.. Perhaps the formations you found were built for the settlers by Native Americans?

Submitted by Steve (not verified) on
I do believe in the murders that took place in Rockland in the late 1800's, but I believe they occurred further north in Rockland Preserve, in the way north part of town. Genesee is located off of Race Hill Road, and you can certainly hike from there to Rockland if you want to kill a day. I haven't felt anything creepy either there or in Rockland. I know Rockland very well I do believe in the murder that occurred there. (It was something about a priest murdering a teenage girl or something) I don't think it's haunted out there at all. In Rockland, there's a replica charcoal pit that was set up to show the charcoal industry there of the time. (It wasn't much, but back in the 17-1800's, people lived there for sure) and Genesee is a couple miles south of there, and yes people lived there too. The trails are logging trails, and some roads are accessible from main roads (as I've seen many people gathering firewood in different locations of the area) The house looks creepy, but it's just an abandoned hunting cabin and has no association with the foundations. You can certainly hike and park from Race Hill Road and check out the foundations. As for an American "Stonehenge," I doubt it, but it sure would be cool to to know if there was something spiritual practically in my back yard.

Steve -- The murder you mention occurred in September 1878 -- the Rev. Herbert Hayden murdered young Mary Stannard, whom he believed was pregnant with his illegitimate child. The case was sensational at the time -- although the physical evidence was overwhelming against Hayden, the jury dismissed the charges because they were swayed by the reverend's charm and they literally thought his wife was too good a woman to suffer if her husband was put to death! Obviously, things have changed since then. (Shameless plug alert!) I am including the story in my book due out in September, "Speaking Ill of the Dead: Jerks in Connecticut History," but in the meantime, you can read an excellent account of the events in "Arsenic Under the Elms" by Virginia A. McConnell.

Submitted by Lewis Buckingham (not verified) on
I'm researching the "Little Genesee " area following my namesake, "Lewis Buckingham" . Some family stayed there in Connecticut,; some moved out to the Genesee area in NW New York; and then some moved out to what is now Genesee County Michigan (Flint, MI) in the 1830's. Do you know the ORIGINS OF THE WORD "Genesee" ? I'm assuming it's American Indian and used by local tribes in Connecticut when Anglos arrived - but I might not be correct. Thanks ; Lewis [email protected]

Submitted by Bill (not verified) on
I believe the google map shows the wrong location.Does anyone agree?

Submitted by Darren (not verified) on
I think the google map with the article may be incorrect. Genesee Lane is on the other side of 79, off of race hill road.

Submitted by Neil (not verified) on
Does anyone know if the RWA allows metal detectors to be used on their property? I also have never been there before so not even sure if it would be a valiant undertaking. Also, does anyone know if their permits run calendar year like a fishing license or a year from date of purchase? I am pretty sure calendar but just curious to ask as I was browsing through. Thanks in advance.

Submitted by wad (not verified) on
They may have had smallpox.

Submitted by Barb (not verified) on
I live near the top of Race Hill Road in Madison. The trail starts at the top of Race Hill Rd, and there are many foundations to find. When we first moved here, I did find what looked like wagon wheel ruts in the tall grass (prior to most of the houses that are here now). They came from nowhere and just disappeared. I have walked the land many times, and it is very pretty up there---no creepiness. There is an aquaduct underground carrying water in that property. Also, there was a dump up there where the water company dumped the parts that caught in the strainer for Lakes Gallard and Saltonstall. It was fish parts, plants, tree parts, and they mixed it with alum to make it stick together. It is supposed to be benign, but they have test wells for aluminum in certain areas. Nothing has ever shown up--we test our water frequently and it is excellent.

Submitted by Connecticut Lovejoy (not verified) on
Can we use metal detectors? Have any single coins or buried treasures found there?

Submitted by Karen (not verified) on
Just found this blog while researching some ancestry. I live in Rochester, NY, the heart of Genesee country. The Genesee River runs right through the city. I was really confused when I found that my relative was from Genesee, Connecticut (born in 1760 there) because the family eventually settled in Bloomfield and Bristol, New York, which is in the Genesee Valley, in the middle of the Finger Lakes. I thought it was an error! So I can report that some of the settlers of Genesee, Connecticut, did in fact eventually migrate to the fertile hills of the real Genessee!!

Submitted by Karen D (not verified) on
I live on County Rd and have one of those foundations right behind my house....It's probably the furthest one as it's close to the Rockland area....It's really cool walking around the RWA land. I always go alone so I only go in a 1/2 mile or so....I only visit one foundation because it's close to my house. I also know of a HUGE Native American cave on another piece of RWA Land which isn't an approved trail but I'd love to go if anyone is interested in checking some of this area! I have some cool artifacts I've found on a farm also....I've also found large wagon wheels and lots of glass. I had to stop collecting every bottle though because it was just constant and I had no where to put them lol. I don't know if you can use metal detectors but I have one and would lol...I love this stuff :) I have some pics of interesting things around this area if anyone wants to look - nothing too great but it's interesting. https://www.facebook.com/MadisonGuilfordCTShoreline?fref=photo