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.
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.
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 were clear and well marked, Genesee itself was 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 . . .
By the way, what the heck this dilapidated hovel is doing out here is anybody’s guess. Home of the Blair Witch, anyone? At the time, it appeared to be a hangout for teenagers—lots of stacked beer empties, random graffiti, etc.
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. 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 spot. And with less vegetation, it was even easier to get to them.
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. 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.”
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. Note: 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.