Beaver Hills Historic District
The Beaver Hills Historic District was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1986. Portions of the content on this web page were adapted from a copy of the original nomination documentation. [†] Adaptation copyright © 2010, The Gombach Group.
The Beaver Hills Historic District is situated in northwestern portion of the City of New Haven, which is located along Connecticut's coastline approximately 80 miles northeast of New York City and 35 miles southwest of the mouth of the Connecticut River. The Beaver Hills Historic District lies about one-half mile south of the Hamden town line and one-half mile east of the center of the Village of Westville. It occupies the eastern and northern portions of a small hill rising 60 feet above Beaver Ponds Park, which encompasses 130 acres of land immediately adjacent to the east. Framed by Goffe Terrace to the south, Boulevard to the west, and Crescent Street to the east and north, the Beaver Hills Historic District includes 276 major structures on approximately 97 acres of land. Of these 276 major structures, 235 contribute to the Beaver Hills Historic District's significance as one of New Haven's best and most nearly intact examples of a suburban residential subdivisions planned and developed during the early twentieth-century.
The Beaver Hills Historic District is traversed by five major roads aligned on parallel southwest/ northeast axes (Winthrop Avenue, Norton Parkway, Ellsworth Avenue, Colony Road, and Bellevue Road) and three smaller cross streets aligned on parallel southeast/northwest axes (Dyer Street, Glen Road, and Moreland Road). With the exception of Dyer Street, which appears to date from the 1870s, all of these roads were laid out between 1908 and 1925.
From a design standpoint, four district roads are particularly noteworthy. Planted during the Beaver Hills Historic District's initial years of development, the 60-foot high hardwood trees which now line Ellsworth Avenue and Colony and Bellevue Roads, with their broad overarching canopies and regularly spaced trunks, give each of these streets a strong arcade-like appearance. The greater breadth and grassy central esplanade of Norton Parkway combine to give this street a graceful, park-like atmosphere. At their intersections with Goffe Terrace, Norton Parkway and Ellsworth Avenue are also notable for the brick gateway piers featuring tile plaques depicting beavers. These piers were constructed by the Beaver Hills Company in 1908 to define the southern terminus of the neighborhood.
The Beaver Hills Historic District continues to remain overwhelmingly dominated by large to moderately sized single-family houses erected between 1908 and 1936. Built on individual lots ranging from 125 to 200 feet deep and 50 to 75 feet wide, the houses along each street maintain essentially uniform setbacks of about 30 feet. Architectural styles represented in the Beaver Hills Historic District include vernacular examples of the Queen Anne, Colonial Revival, Tudor Revival, Bungalow, Spanish Colonial Revival, and Prairie modes. Colonial Revival, Tudor Revival, and Bungalow are the three most prevalent styles, respectively accounting for 57%, 29%, and 6% of the Beaver Hills Historic District's building stock as a whole. Wood and concrete are the principal structural materials utilized in district buildings, although significant examples of houses erected with exterior walls of load-bearing brick are also extant. Common sidings for frame houses include clapboard and wood shingles. Many Beaver Hills Historic District structures, particularly those built after 1925 in the Tudor Revival style, feature exterior walls veneered, in whole or in part, with differing combinations of stucco, brick, stone, and/or half-timbering. A number of houses also retain original slate roof shingles.
The Beaver Hills Historic District retains an unusually high degree of architectural integrity, having changed little during the postwar era. Most structures are in good-to-excellent physical condition. Most buildings retain all or the bulk of their historic exterior fabric and features, including original siding and roof surfacing materials. In most cases, notable exterior alterations have been limited to the installation of modern storm windows and doors, and/or the enclosure of small side and/or rear porches.
The Beaver Hills Historic District is particularly notable for its relative lack of significant visual intrusions. With a handful of exceptions, virtually no demolition or construction has taken place within the district since the early years of the Second World War. There is only one vacant lot in the Beaver Hills Historic District. While the district includes 41 structures deemed to be non-contributing, in all but five cases this designation was based solely on the fact that such houses were erected between 1937 and 1942 and therefore do not currently meet the minimum age criteria established for National Register structures. Non-contributing structures which fall into this category invariably share the same attributes of scale, style, materials, and workmanship (often even the same builders) as nearby contributing structures erected prior to 1937.
The Beaver Hills Historic District is architecturally significant as one of New Haven's finest extant groupings of early twentieth-century suburban residences. While a number of popular early twentieth-century building styles are represented in the Beaver Hills Historic District, the area is particularly notable for its inclusion of the city's best concentrated collection of vernacular Tudor Revival-style single-family houses, and one of the city's largest and most intact concentrations of pre-1945 Colonial Revival style houses. Many Beaver Hills Historic District houses also represent the work of locally prominent architects and/or builders of the era. The Beaver Hills Historic District is historically significant because it encompasses one of New Haven's most nearly intact examples of an early 20th-century suburban subdivision to have been thoroughly planned, promoted, and developed under the auspices of a speculative real estate development corporation. It also ranks "...among the first..." twentieth-century residential neighborhoods in the city "...to reflect the arrival of the automobile."
Historical and Architectural Summary
The rise of land where the Beaver Hills Historic District lies was named "beaver hills" during the Colonial era due to its close proximity to several small ponds to the east which beavers frequented in great numbers during that period. The modern history of the Beaver Hills Historic District dates from the first decade of the twentieth century. Prior to the turn of the century, the Beaver Hills Historic District remained dominated by patches of dense woods and open fields associated with farms owned by George Mead, Seldon Osborn, and William Farnham. The Mead farm encompassed the southern third of the district. The Osborn and Farnham farms dominated the central and northern portions, respectively. Between 1908 and the early years of the Second World War, the district emerged as one of New Haven's most popular and densely populated middle/ upper-middle class suburban residential neighborhoods, a transformation planned, promoted, and regulated by the progeny of George Mead and William Farnham.
Following George Mead's death in 1906, ownership of his farm passed to his numerous heirs. Led by George Mead's eldest son, D. Irving Mead, these heirs, all of whom lived in other states, decided to subdivide the farm into house lots and initiate development of the land for residential use. In order to effect this purpose in as systematic and profitable a manner as possible, in 1908 Mead's heirs pooled their resources to form the Beaver Hills Company, a speculative real estate development corporation chartered by the State of New York. Several weeks after its formation and the completion of its initial Mead farm subdivision survey, the company acquired an additional nine acres of land from the abutting Osborn farm to the north. Extending northward to and, in the western portion of the district, beyond Dyer Street, this additional acreage was rapidly incorporated within the company's overall subdivision plans.
Following the completion of its subdivision layout, the Beaver Hills Company immediately began to promote the development of the area as a preferred residential locus for businessmen, professionals, and similar middle to upper-middle class city residents. In its sales brochure, the firm's overall marketing approach and goals were summarized as follows: "Beaver Hills offers a novel opportunity to those who would live in their homes, designed with reference to their own needs and surroundings, with all that gives one pride in location."
Services and restrictions established by the Beaver Hills Company to regulate the progress of the subdivision's development over the long term were numerous and varied. Working in conjunction with the city, the company laid out new, carefully landscaped streets with curbs and broad tree-lined sidewalks through the subdivision, as well as the land which abutted it to the north. In order to "avoid undesirable cheapness of design" the company provided a full range of house plans of different styles to its patrons as well as an "approved" group of professional architects for consultation purposes. While not required, the company was also willing to act as the general contractor supervising the actual construction of a client's new house. The company also attached a restrictive covenant on every deed for lots purchased in the subdivision. Stipulations in this covenant included the requirements that new owners build a single-family house costing a minimum of $3,500, and that construction of the house had to take place within two years of the lot purchase date.
From an architectural standpoint, the Beaver Hills Company's goal in its development of the district was "...the ideal of the House Beautiful and the House Useful combined for the man of average income." While the firm did not require its clients to use its own staff of architects, all plans for new houses in the subdivision were subject to the company's approval prior to construction. Organized primarily as a sales and regulating organization, the firm did not initially intend to become involved in building houses on speculation (although as the years progressed it did so on an increasing basis), but rather to act as the agent/overseer in the "proper" development of the area. Nonetheless, its services were intended to be available in "assisting" each purchaser with every aspect relating to the design and construction of their new home.
To help emphasize the area's identity as a self-contained residential community, the Beaver Hills Company erected the extant brick and concrete gateway piers along Goffe Terrace flanking each of the streets leading into the district from the southwest. To bolster the area's sense of community spirit, the company initially constructed 390 Norton Parkway for use as a neighborhood "clubhouse." The company also maintained a field office in this building. In the company's promotional brochure, this house is described as a "...Bungalow modeled after the characteristic structures of southern California, with Mission furniture."  The building's clubhouse functions were transferred to the Bungalow style Beaver Hills Tennis Club building at 591 Winthrop Avenue following its completion in 1913.
In retrospect, the Beaver Hills Company's approach in its efforts to initiate development of the area was not only highly successful; it was, at least from a local standpoint, also novel and highly significant. A 1916 New Haven Register article refers to the company's approach in developing the area as "...absolutely unique in the history of American cities." While journalistic license may have prompted the article's author to overstate the case somewhat, the article rather accurately conveys the sense that planned residential communities of this type were clearly not the norm during this era.
The Beaver Hills Company continued to promote and oversee development in the area through the greater part of the 1930s. On July 22, 1938, following the sale of the bulk of the last few remaining lots in the subdivision, the company ceased operations following its absorption by another family enterprise, the midwestern-based Mead Property Company. This latter firm made no attempt to maintain active involvement in the district.
Following William Farnham's death, subdivision of the abutting land in the northern portion of the district for residential development was initiated in the late 1920s by William's heirs, led by his son Arthur. Unlike the Mead family, the Farnhams did not organize their holdings under a speculative corporate umbrella along the lines of the Mead family's Beaver Hills Company. Functioning as individuals and/or loosely organized partnerships, they retained no staff architects, nor did they provide consultive services with respect to design, construction, etc. However, virtually all deeds of sale given by the Farnhams included restrictive covenants essentially identical to those found in Beaver Hills Company deeds with respect to minimum setbacks, permissible building types, etc. The only notable difference was that in most cases the Farnhams increased the minimum house construction cost to $7.000. As a result of these covenants and the fact that most Farnham subdivision houses were erected by the same builders using the same basic patterns used in the southern portion of the district during this era, the Farnham subdivision essentially emerged as a de facto architectural and social extension of the Beaver Hills Company subdivision. The Farnham family continued to sell off lots in the district as well as in the area immediately abutting the district to the west through the mid-1940s.
Featuring numerous well-preserved examples of large and moderately sized houses designed and built in a variety of popular early twentieth-century vernacular architectural styles, the Beaver Hills Historic District continues to form one of the City of New Haven's most substantially intact contiguous collections of suburban residential architecture erected prior to the Second World War. Included within the Beaver Hills Historic District are New Haven's largest concentrated group of Tudor Revival style residences, and one of the city's largest and most nearly intact collections of Colonial Revival style residences. The Beaver Hills Historic District is dominated by houses "designed" and built by locally prominent early-twentieth century builders/construction firms, such as Nathan Drutman, B.H. Stowe, Lund and Lohne, the Emerson Construction Company, the Willard Home Building Company, and the Rosette Building Company, as well as the Beaver Hills Company, itself. However, it also includes a number of houses designed by locally prominent architects of the period, such as R.W. Foote, J. Frederick Kelly, and Brown and Von Beren, as well as the largest known collection of houses designed by C. Frederick Townsend and the architectural firm, Townsend and Norton.
The Beaver Hills Historic District also includes one final architectural feature worthy of note. It features one of the city's best collections of early twentieth-century garages, in both attached and freestanding forms. Most of these garages were constructed at the same time or within a year of the construction of the house with which they are associated. As a group, they form an early and important tangible reflection of the influential role played by the privately owned automobile in the development and expansion of the city's more outlying suburban residential neighborhoods like Beaver Hills, which were not readily accessed by extant streetcar railway systems during the early twentieth century.
Beaver Hills. New Haven: Beaver Hills Company, n.d. On file at the New Haven Colony Historical Society, 114 Whitney Avenue, New Haven, Connecticut.
Brown, Elizabeth Mills. New Haven; A Guide to Architecture and Urban Design. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1976.
Dwight Area Historical and Architectural Resources Survey (3 vols.). New Haven: The Connecticut Trust for Historic Preservation, 1980.
Loether, J. Paul, and Preston Maynard. New Haven Historic Resources Inventory, Phase II; Eastern New Haven (9 vols.). New Haven: The New Haven Preservation Trust, 1982.
Loether, J. Paul, and Dorothea Penar. New Haven Historic Resources Inventory, Phase III; Northern New Haven (9 vols.). New Haven: The New Haven Preservation Trust, 1983.
Loether, J. Paul, Dorothea Penar, and Peter Haller. New Haven Historic Resources Inventory, Phase IV; Western New Haven (12 vols.). New Haven: The New Haven Preservation Trust, 1984.
New Haven Assessor's Records. On file at the New Haven Assessor's Office, 200 Orange Street, New haven, Connecticut.
New Haven Building Department Records. On file at the New Haven Building Department Office, 200 Orange Street, New Haven, Connecticut.
New Haven City Directories (1907-1945). New Haven: J.H. Benham/Price and Lee.
New Haven Land Records. On file at the New Haven Town/City Clerk's Office, 200 Orange Street, New Haven, Connecticut.
New Haven Town Records: Corporations, vol. 19. On file at the New Haven Town/City Clerk's Office, 200 Orange Street, New Haven, Connecticut.
Ryan, Susan, and Preston Maynard. New Haven Historic Resources, Phase I; Central New Haven (7 vols.). New Haven: The New Haven Preservation Trust, 1982.
Maps and Atlases
Atlas of the City of New Haven. Philadelphia: G.M. Hopkins, 1888.
Bailey, O.H. and J.C. Hazen. The City of New Haven, 1879. Boston: O.H. Bailey and J.C. Hazen, 1879.
"From a Survey Made for the City of New Haven by the United States Coast Survey: Sheet No. 6 New Haven, Connecticut, 1877."
City of New Haven Real Estate Development Plat Map Files: Drawer 8, Number 50; Drawer 9, Numbers 122 and 123; Drawer 10, Numbers 6, 7, 94, and 95. On file at the New Haven Town/City Clerk's Office, 200 Orange Street, New Haven, Connecticut.
Insurance Maps of New Haven, Connecticut, Vol. 2. New York: Sanborn Map Company, 1923. Updated to 1931; 1951.
Streuli and Puckhafer. Atlas of New Haven, Connecticut. Bridgeport, Streuli and Puckhafer, 1911.
† J. Paul Loether and John Herzan, New Haven Preservation Trust, Beaver Hills Historic District, New Haven, CT, nomination document, 1986, National Park Service, National Register of Historic Places, Washington, D.C.