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East Haven Green Historic District


The East Haven Green Historic District was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2002. Portions of the content on this web page were adapted from a copy of the original nomination document. [†] Adaptation copyright © 2011, The Gombach Group.

Description

The East Haven Green Historic District, which is located east of the town's business and institutional center, consists of a four-acre Green and its immediate environs. Altogether the East Haven Green Historic District contains 36 resources, of which 26 (72 percent) are contributing, principally historic sites and buildings. Main Street, which borders the Green on the north, was once part of the Boston Post Road. Although bypassed by the Saltonstall Parkway after World War II, it still is a busy four-lane highway, as is Hemingway Avenue (Route 142) on the west. There is some commercial intrusion around the intersection of these streets (office and apartment buildings) not part of the East Haven Green Historic District, but a row of five historic houses on Main Street and three houses on Hemingway Avenue still remain in place. The entire length of Park Place, a quieter two-lane street on the east, is lined with mature maples in front of eight historic houses and a 1964 church. There is no residential development in the East Haven Green Historic District on River Street, also just two lanes, which divides the Green from the cemeteries to the south. They include the Old Cemetery directly opposite the Green and the contiguous East Lawn Cemetery to the east. Together they comprise more than 13 acres and overlook the Farm River marshes to the southeast.

The Green, roughly rectangular in shape and bordered by a fluted bollards (once connected by chains) and concrete curbing, is divided by concrete pathways that cross at a diagonal and meet near the center. They are lighted at regular intervals by tall lamp posts, also fluted. A narrow asphalt path also runs along the Main Street inside the bollard fence. According to the survey of 1992, about 130 mature trees shade the Green. Mainly deciduous, they include maples, oaks, and sycamores, and a few conifers. Although today they appear to have been planted randomly, many older trees that date from the early 1900s were arranged in rows and along the walkways or edges of the Green.

Objects and structures are found throughout, including a large cast-iron nineteenth-century cannon mounted on a marble slab with a granite base near the center. It was installed in 1911 to honor East Haven war veterans. A hexagonal wooden bandstand to the southwest, a recent replacement for the original structure of 1886, features a trumpet-shaped conical roof. War memorials of more recent vintage are clustered at the northwest corner. The center monument, a granite pier surmounted by a globe, was erected in 1988 by the East Haven American Legion to honor veterans of all wars. Rose granite vertical slabs to either side commemorate soldiers who died in the world wars. Among the numerous small plaques set at grade or on upright boulders is one near the northeast corner commemorating the Marquis de Lafayette's encampment on the Green in 1778.

The Old Cemetery is set off River Street by an iron fence and four large sycamores. The entrance is defined by four rusticated rose granite pillars with dressed smooth margins. They support iron gates for a central carriage path with an ironwork sign above, and two pedestrian passageways on either side. The graveyard consists of two sections: the older part at the rear laid out in 1707 and an area next to the road, which was added in 1797. A tree-ringed depression about 40 feet across known as "Indian Bowl" lies between the sections on the eastern side. Once a spring-fed vernal pool, now partially filled in with soil, it no longer holds water, but is still at least 20 feet deep. A large group of eighteenth-century headstones to the south, generally carved from brownstone with the typical winged-angel motif of the period, are arranged in two closely set rows about three feet apart. Apparently these markers were moved to this location from the now open grassed slope to the south, but no further information is available. Although a few early nineteenth-century headstones and obelisks are also found in this area, most of the later graves are in the newer section. There individual stones are embellished with a willow tree or other period designs, and there are family plots marked by a central obelisk. A number of materials were utilized, including limestone, marble, and granite.

Two free-standing granite pillars flank the entrance to the East Lawn Cemetery. Laid out in a formal grid pattern defined by paved roadways, this cemetery, which is still in use, is more open and the gravestones are arranged in orderly rows. The cemetery office, a cottage in the English manner with a slate roof and ashlar stone walls, is located in a cul-de-sac on the eastern side, and there is a modern c.1970 garage at the rear.

Two five-bay center-chimney Colonials, the Gideon Potter House (274 Hemingway Avenue) and the Leverett Bradley House (47 Park Place), are located at opposite corners of the Green. The 1717 Potter House at the southwest corner, now converted to offices with a large rear addition, displays a pedimented Italianate doorhood with consoles and a segmental-arched transom, which, along with the drops at eave corners, probably dates from the 1860s. The first-floor sash are six-over-six; those at second floor, which are tucked up under the eaves, contain 12-over-12 sash. At the entrance to the 1791 Bradley House at the head of Park Place, a cantilevered flared hood shelters the double-leaf doorway. Six-over-six windows are found throughout. Since here the roof was replaced, the second-floor facade windows only appear to abut the roof plate. The space between the windows and the original shallower cornice is now taken up by the present cased extended overhang. The house is owned by the Christ of the Epiphany Church next door, which was built of brick in the Colonial Revival style in 1964.

The Chidsey-Linsley House, a Colonial Cape at 133 Main Street, has the small fixed-pane windows in the end elevations associated with this style. It displays flared overhangs on the facade and rear elevations, a regional characteristic attributed to Dutch influence. Other features include 12-over-12 window sash, a double-leaf front door, and a side door on the right elevation, which has a plain hood. Built on the foundation of an earlier house, it is traditionally dated to c.1750, but the high roof plate suggests that the building was constructed after the Revolution. Interior physical evidence, especially the use of cut nails in the original trim, tends to confirm the later date. Another Cape with a gambrel roof, the Amos Thompson House, was erected at 27 Park Place in 1771. Unlike the other colonial houses in the East Haven Green Historic District, which are sheathed with clapboard, this house is wood-shingled. The enclosed entryway and its later second level are recent additions.

The H. Smith House was erected at 263 Hemingway Avenue shortly before the Civil War just west of the Old Town Cemetery. A typical cross-gable Italianate farmhouse with segmental-arched window in the gable, it has been converted to a bank. The veranda posts with flared capitals are replacements, as is the balustrade, which is repeated along the access ramp on the south side. A drive-through area at the rear is sheltered by a hood with decorative braces.

Three nearly identical vernacular Queen Anne houses were constructed at 3, 7 and 11 Park Place about 1880 by the Chidsey family. Although somewhat altered, they have retained imbricated shingles in the gables and decorative bargeboards. They are similar in form to several vernacular houses at 125, 129 and 139 Main Street (the one at #139 built as Middle District School in 1867). A later Chidsey house at 15 Park Place was built as a duplex in the Queen Anne and Colonial Revival styles about 1910. The facade wall dormer, pronounced cornice returns, and tripartite windows in the gables are typical of this combination style. Its neighbor to the north at 23 Park Place is a 1930s Bungalow, the last historic house built in the East Haven Green Historic District.

Significance

The East Haven Green Historic District, a cultural historic landscape in process for over 200 years, embodies two distinct periods in the evolution of a Connecticut town. Today a quiet oasis amidst commercial development, in colonial times the East Haven Green Historic District encompassed the heart of the town common, which, together with a central burying ground, became the civic and institutional focus of the parish. In the more formal defined landscape created in the later half of the nineteenth century, the East Haven Green expressed esthetics and values of the period, a Victorian sensibility also reflected in improvements to the town cemetery. Both of these periods are mirrored in the style and age of the residential borders of the East Haven Green Historic District, which include some good examples of colonial architecture as well as a group of less significant houses influenced by the Italianate, Queen Anne, and Colonial Revival styles.

Historical Background and Significance

East Haven was once part of the Town of New Haven, the seat of government for the New Haven Colony founded by Theophilus Eaton and the Reverend John Davenport in 1638. When the colony organized in 1643, it included Milford, Stamford, Guilford, and Southold, Long Island, and Branford joined the following year. New Haven remained a separate colony until 1665 when it became part of the Connecticut Colony and later, the co-capital of the colony and state. East Haven, or East Farms as it was once known, remained part of the Town of New Haven for almost 150 years, evolving from a satellite farming community to a separate parish, or church society, with some limited governing powers as a village. Although farming was the principal occupation, East Farms settlers also started an iron forge and blast furnace in 1655. Located where present-day Route 1 crosses at the foot of Lake Saltonstall on the Farm River, it was the first ironworks in Connecticut and possibly the first in the colonies to utilize bog iron. When the City of New Haven was incorporated as a city in 1784, city and town bounds were not coterminous, leaving villages on the periphery still part of the Town of New Haven. East Haven was the first to seek political independence, becoming a separate town in 1785, followed by Hamden and North Haven in 1786.

The East Haven Green Historic District encompasses just a small part of the original town commons, an area that once totaled more than 400 acres. There are few references in New Haven town records, but in 1686 a survey was ordered of 200 acres set aside in 1640 and several hundred more acres of river meadow and marsh land to the south. As reconstructed and mapped by town historian Clifford Nitchke, the northern portion (about 65 acres[1] included the present four-acre Town Green as well as the adjacent cemeteries, and extended east to the Farm River, the Branford town line. Apparently the northern boundary always followed the road to Tokoket (Branford) laid out in 1640, present-day Main Street, which still borders the Green. On the west, part of the commons ran from the Green along Main Street to the site of the present fire station.

As was the case in many colonial towns, the East Haven commons served several functions. In the early years, it was a communal pasture where livestock freely grazed and also served as a central marketplace and militia training grounds. Liberty to establish a blacksmith shop on the northwest corner of the present Green was granted in 1662 to John Potter, who lived to the east on Main Street, a privilege later extended to Roswell Chidsey and Samuel Bradley. Some of the commons was set aside for the support of the ministry, and in time, the first meetinghouse, parsonage, and schoolhouse were located there.

As early as 1679 the inhabitants of East Haven, led by Samuel Hemingway, began to petition the Town of New Haven for "liberty and encouragement" to establish a new village and church. While this first attempt to found a parish was not successful, a second effort in 1704 resulted in the erection of a small meetinghouse, which stood on a knoll near the northwest corner of the original commons with a schoolhouse at the rear. The first minister, the Reverend Jacob Hemingway, Samuel's son, a new graduate of the Collegiate School at Saybrook (later Yale College), received a house and five acres at the southeast corner of the Green, and also served as the schoolmaster. In 1707 part of the commons was sequestered for a town burying ground. Located at the rear of the present Old Town Cemetery, it encompassed an area just south of "Indian Bowl," a pond once thought to be the site of a Native American fort. The oldest grave there dates to 1712; prior to that time East Haven people were buried in New Haven in the old cemetery on the upper Green. When the East Haven cemetery was expanded to present size in 1797, it extended north across River Street to the southern edge of the Green. The most direct route from New Haven to the ironworks once ran along the east side. Laid out by a Mr. Tyler in the 1650s, it still is called Tyler Street on town maps. A second, larger meetinghouse was built on the north side of Main Street in 1719 which served the parish until the new "Stone Church" was erected in 1774 farther west in the present-day center of town. The second and last schoolhouse to be located on the Green was erected in 1799.

The first recorded reference to the common as the "Green" appeared in New Haven and East Haven records in 1720, when the town meeting voted that "the Green shall not be disposed of except it be for some public use." Although the town had made allotments to proprietors along Main Street, the more customary settlement practice of setting out homelots around the rest of the common was not followed, which created some ownership disputes. Apparently in an effort to retain the Green as town property and forestall any more settlement there, wide roads were laid out that crisscrossed the Green and virtually covered the entire space. One of the proprietors already living nearby was Gideon Potter, whose house was located at 274 Hemingway Avenue at the southwest corner of the Green. Built in 1717, it is the oldest surviving house in the East Haven Green Historic District. Much later, Stephen Thompson, who lived farther west on Main Street, built houses for three of his sons around the Green. Only one still stands, the gambrel Cape erected for Amos at 27 Park Place in 1771. One erected for Moses on the foundation of the Hemingway parsonage on River Street was moved and later demolished, as was Stephen, Jr.,'s house that once stood at the corner of Main and Hemingway. Leverett Bradley, a member of the family who had a farm on River Street (the site of the East Lawn Cemetery), built his house at the head of Park Place in 1791 (47 Park Place).

The Green was the site of several events during the American Revolution. When East Haven was threatened during the invasion of New Haven by the British in July 1779, the colonial militia from area towns as far away as Durham mustered there. The previous year, 2,800 troops under the command of the Marquis de Lafayette camped on or near the Green. Lafayette, who was on his way to Providence to join up with the French fleet, stayed at the Reverend Street's house. Tradition holds that his return to East Haven in 1824 was marked by the erection of a "liberty pole" on the Green, which stood until 1840 when it disappeared on election night in the presidential campaign of William Henry Harrison and John Tyler.

Victorian women were in the forefront of the village improvement movement of the nineteenth century, which often focussed on the beautification of public spaces. In East Haven they began with the town cemetery. Little had been done there in the way of maintenance since 1786, when townspeople banned the grazing of cattle and horses, while allowing sheep, geese, and calves to roam there to keep down the brush and grass. In 1849 a society of young women was formed to raise subscriptions to make improvements, which included the partial filling of the pool at Indian Bowl and grading there for a carriage path, and installing a new stone wall on the south side and picket fences on the other borders. The old hearse house, in poor repair and no longer in use, was torn down. Perhaps inspired by the new Henry Austin (1804-1891) gate at New Haven's Grove Street Cemetery, a decision was made to install an entrance gate. Designed by Sidney M. Stone (1803-1888), another New Haven architect, it was replaced by the present Cowles Memorial Gate in 1907, which was donated by E.B. Cowles of Boston, a descendant of an old East Haven family.

The Bradley Farm along River Street (once known as Bradley Street) was privately purchased to make way for the new East Lawn Cemetery in 1898. The farmhouse and barns were demolished and the Moses Thompson House (on the site of the Hemingway parsonage) was moved to 233 Hemingway Avenue. Unlike the older town-owned cemetery, which is run by appointed trustees, the new graveyard was owned and run by a private association. The stone office erected there in 1927 honors Leroy A. Chidsey, a descendant of Deacon John Chidsey, who lived nearby at 133 Main Street. The deacon was a tanner by trade and, until quite recently, remnants of his tan vats could still be seen at the rear of his property.

Landscaping of the Green after the Civil War marked a shift from active to more passive uses. In June of 1861 the East Haven town meeting had voted to discontinue the public highways on the Green so the area could be fenced. A committee was appointed to investigate the cost of fencing, grading, and other improvements, but actual implementation of the plans was delayed by the war. When the schoolhouse on the Green burned down in 1862, it was not replaced; a new school was built on Main Street in 1867. The area was graded in 1869 and elm trees were planted; ball playing was forbidden and fined by 1876. A perimeter fence was erected that year and an octagonal bandstand, quite similar to the present structure, was built in 1886. The selectmen were authorized to mow the grass in the "park" at least three times a year and sell the hay. With its new landscaping, the Green attracted new residential development. Among the houses that sprang up in this period were four erected by the Chidsey family at 3, 7, 11 and 15 Park Place.

The more ceremonial aspects of the Green were emphasized after 1900, a period when many towns began to celebrate Arbor Day and Decoration Day. The custom of planting trees on Arbor Day began in the Midwest in 1872 and spread to Connecticut by 1887. On Arbor Day in 1903 the East Haven Women's Club planted 100 trees, which were donated by town and neighborhood residents and school children. In later years, trees were planted to honor governors of the state and a plaque marks the former location of an oak donated in 1908 by President Theodore Roosevelt. When the Green was surveyed and mapped in 1910, there were 150 trees in place; each was located and coded with a number to identify the donor. Of interest is the fact that the overall planting pattern left an open space along the south side, as it still does today. The map also shows that the perimeter fence had been removed (in 1905) and there were additional paths radiating out from the center along the cardinal points of compass. It appears that the first bandstand was located east of where the paths converged, rather than west, its present location. Also illustrated were the tracks for the electric railway that had passed by the Green on the west and south since 1900 and remained in place into the 1940s. The cars came from New Haven on Main Street, then ran down Hemingway Avenue to the southwest corner of the Green, where the tracks branched for the run to Branford along River Street.

In 1911 the Cannon Memorial was installed to honor East Haven's war dead. It was once thought that the cast-iron cannon was one of four that had comprised the battery at Fort Nathan Hale located on the east side of New Haven harbor at the head of Morris Cove and used in the War of 1812. However, this type of cannon was developed by John A. B. Dahlgren (1809-1970), head of the U.S. Navy Bureau of Ordnance during the Civil War.[2] Although they were moved to Lighthouse Point nearer the harbor entrance by the Spanish American War, improvements in gun technology made the such mussel loaders obsolete and they were dispersed among area towns for use as monuments.[3] New war memorials were installed much later in the century, which established the entrance to the Green at the northwest corner. The Lafayette Memorial was dedicated on Memorial Day, May 27, 1996. Originally known as Decoration Day, this national holiday was officially recognized in Connecticut in 1875.

Architecture

The architecture of the East Haven Green Historic District has undeniable historic significance. While the Green itself remains the centerpiece of the district, the houses provide a necessary historic context of some temporal depth. They stand today as witnesses to the evolution of the Green in the colonial and Victorian periods, and, together with ancient trees along Park Place and River Street, and on the Green itself, they contribute to a distinct sense of time and place. Architecturally, these historic properties collectively define and help preserve and enhance the Green, a significant public space that is so much a part of East Haven's heritage. While some houses have been converted to new uses and others have been altered by the use of synthetic sidings or additions, all of the buildings have retained their original historic form and thus contribute to the overall architectural significance of the East Haven Green Historic District.

Three key buildings have considerable architectural significance in their own right. The Leverett Bradley House at 47 Park Place and Gideon Potter House at 274 Hemingway Avenue, which anchor the Green from opposite corners, are fine, well-preserved examples of the Colonial style. Although built almost 80 years apart, they are remarkably similar in form and plan, illustrating the essentially conservative nature of colonial builders. The significance of the Bradley House is enhanced by a distinctive doorway, which combines the formality of a double door with a molded enframement with a flared doorhood, the latter a popular vernacular feature in the region during the colonial period. The replacement of the roof is the only apparent change to the exterior of this fine house. The exterior integrity of the Potter House was uncompromised by its conversion to office space, and the addition, while large, is quite unobtrusive, as it is not visible from the street. This sensitive approach to historic rehabilitation is also found in the bank's rather regional characteristics are also displayed in the Chidsey-Linsley Cape at 133 Main Street, the other architecturally significant house in the East Haven Green Historic District. It is distinguished by the use of flared overhangs on both the front and rear elevations, a rare manifestation of this characteristically Dutch construction. The more usual approach is a single facade overhang, which may extend out over a porch, a feature of several Capes in towns to the north of New Haven, such as Woodbridge. Other unusual features are the use of a double-leaf front door and the so-called "coffin" door at the front of the right elevation, elements normally reserved for larger two-story Colonials. These anomalies might be attributed to its building history, which indicates the reuse of an older foundation and framing materials.

Endnotes

  1. As determined by author using scaled acreage estimator on current USGS map of Branford quadrangle.
  2. The Dahlgren cannon was superior to earlier models because of his improved casting process, in which cold water was poured into the hot barrel casting to produce a harder and straighter bore. C. Nitchke, 8/5/01.
  3. These outmoded cannons were acquired by many towns for memorial purposes because of federal policy, which made them available upon request for just the cost of shipping.

References

East Haven, Connecticut. Hagaman Memorial Library Archives. History files.

Chidsey, Donald V. "Old Homes of East Haven." MS, 1934.

Dodd, Reverend Stephen. East Haven Register. New Haven: Turtle, Morehouse & Taylor, 1910 (Appendix to Hughes History of East Haven).

"Historic Preservation: A Plan for Connecticut, Vol. II." Connecticut Historical Commission, 1974.

Hughes, Sara E. History of East Haven. New Haven: Turtle, Morehouse & Taylor, 1908.

175th Anniversary: East Haven Connecticut 1785-1960 (Souvenir Program).

Nitchke, Clifford E. Personal communication and excerpts from his East Haven history files.

Town Greens, Statewide Architectural and Historical Survey. Connecticut Trust for Historic Preservation and Connecticut Historical Commission, 1996, site 47.

† Jan Cunningham, Cunningham Preservation Associates, LLC, East Haven Green Historic District, East Haven, CT, nomination document, 2001, National Park Service, National Register of Historic Places, Washington, D.C.

See Map

Street Names: Hemingway Avenue, Main Street, Park Place, River Street, Route 142

**Information is deemed reliable but not guaranteed. You should independently verify any information you use for decision making.
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