Guilford began in 1780 when the property was confiscated from British land-owners and given to Revolutionary War veteran Lieutenant-Colonel William McDonald. McDonald gave Guilford its name to commemorate the battle of Guilford Court House, North Carolina. His son William, better known as “Billy,” inherited the estate and in 1852 built the Guilford Mansion.
The Italianate design of the mansion was a collaboration of British architect Edmond Lind and American William T. Murdock. The 52-room wood house was built over walls of masonry and was imposing in size and rich finishes. A solid walnut staircase rose with a grand sweep in a spiral ascent to the square turret. The drawing-room, library, billiard and reception rooms and great dining room all opened on to a main hall and had exposure to wide verandas shadowed by magnolia trees and draped in wisteria. The main hall itself was as wide as the driveway, paved in marble and lighted with stained-glass windows.
The mansion once stood where Wendover Road now meets Greenway. The entrances of the 300 acre Guilford estate were marked by imposing gates that were guarded by stone lions, reported to be copies of the lions of the Louvre. Frescoes on either side of the drive entrance depicted knights ready for conflict. Gates stood at York Road near present-day Underwood Road, Charles Street at University Parkway and Charles Street just south of Cold Spring Lane. Billy McDonald was an enthusiastic horseman and at Guilford he stabled his renowned mare, “Flora Temple.” The mare was housed at the Guilford estate in stalls that were kept in magnificent style as a suite of four apartments. Above her head was a stained glass window with her portrait.
In 1872, Arunah S. Abell, founder of The Sun, purchased Guilford from McDonald’s heirs. A.S. Abell had a home in the City and several country estates but he spent much time at Guilford living there for 35 years. On August 12, 1887, the New York Times reported that A. S. Abell celebrated his 81st birthday. “Mr. Abell passed the day quietly and pleasantly at his country seat, Guilford, surrounded by his children and grandchildren, who had tastefully arranged in the rooms of the beautiful mansion, particularly Mr. Abell’s private room, many lovely flowers.” Eight months later Arunah S. Abell died.