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Howard Avenue Historic District


The Howard Avenue Historic District was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1985. 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 Howard Avenue Historic District is located in the southwestern portion of New Haven, Connecticut, a medium-sized New England industrial city situated on the northern coast of Long Island Sound approximately 100 miles northeast of New York City. Forming the central spine of a large peninsula extending southward from New Haven's core downtown area between the West River and the western side of the city's harbor, the Howard Avenue Historic District includes 32 acres of land and 151 major structures. All of these major structures contribute to the district's significance as a substantially intact, major residential thoroughfare which developed between the 1860s and the early 1900s.

The area's landscape rises gradually in the form of an inclined plane from the district's southern to northern boundaries. The Howard Avenue Historic District's southern boundary is defined by the major physical and visual break formed by the post-World War II intrusion of Interstate 95. While the historical and architectural development of the southern point of Howard Avenue and the area north of Interstate 95 are linked, continuity of the modern landscape has been divided. The northern boundary is defined by the transition which takes place in the scale, period and/or usage of district buildings and the institutional and commercial structures which dominate Howard Avenue north of Washington Avenue. The Howard Avenue Historic District's eastern and western boundaries are defined by the change in scale and/or siting characteristics between the houses found along Howard Avenue and those which dominate the adjacent side streets; houses along these side streets, though built in the same period as those along Howard Avenue, are in most cases more modestly detailed and/or sited closer to the street than those found within the district.

Howard Avenue is the district's principal traffic artery. In terms of scale and layout, this street currently forms one of the city's widest and most stately avenues. Land records indicate that the road probably dates from the mid-1640s; however, its present arrangement as an extremely broad thoroughfare flanked by wide pedestrian promenades may have resulted from a design plan initiated around 1800 under the auspices of James Hillhouse, one of the city's most important property owners and civic leaders. Small portions of the side streets which intersect Howard Avenue between the Interstate 95 right-of-way and Washington Avenue also fall within the district's boundaries. The Howard Avenue Historic District is roughly bisected into northern and southern halves by a railroad culvert associated with the former New York, New Haven and Hartford Railroad. This culvert was laid out in the area just north of the intersection of Howard and Kimberly Avenues during the mid-nineteenth century.

Architectural styles represented in the Howard Avenue Historic District include vernacular examples of the Italianate, Gothic Revival, Second Empire, Stick, Queen Anne, Romanesque and Colonial Revival modes. Roughly 75 percent of the Howard Avenue Historic District's buildings were designed in the Queen Anne (50%) or Colonial Revival (25%) modes; the dominance of these two styles provides a tangible illustration of the Howard Avenue Historic District's heyday of development as the principal middle-class residential locus in southwestern New Haven, 1880-1915.

Most houses built in the Howard Avenue Historic District prior to the 1880s were originally designed for use as single-family residences. While the construction of one-family houses in the district continued through the early years of the twentieth century, by the 1880s, multi-family residential forms, such as duplexes, row buildings, and two- and three-family houses were also becoming prevalent. Like other major avenues in the city which developed as middle-class residential "strips" during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, Howard Avenue also includes a few scattered structures originally designed for mixed commercial-residential and institutional uses, as well as several neighborhood churches.

The majority of Howard Avenue Historic District buildings are wood-frame structures; however, significant examples of structures built of brick are also extant. Most wood-frame structures continue to retain original exterior detail features, such as bracketed cornices, gable-rake bargeboards, window moldings, finials and/or porch fabric. Particularly notable original exterior details retained by brick structures include corbelled brick courses, and cut-stone, terra-cotta and polychromatic brick trim. Buildings generally retain all or the bulk of their original massing characteristics. Significant exterior alterations to most buildings tend to be limited to the application of later twentieth-century siding materials, such as aluminum, asbestos or asphalt, over original clapboard and/or wood-shingle sidings or front porch modifications.

The area has been spared the debilitating effects of extensive remodeling, demolition and intrusive new construction since the early years of the twentieth century. Most of the limited demolition and/or new construction which has occurred has been confined to the northern half of the district. The intrusive character of recent structures, such as the city's Davenport Library/Roberto Clemente School complex at 610 Howard Avenue and modern fire house at 525 Howard Avenue, and the low-income housing project along the western side of Howard Avenue near Putnam Street, is minimized by their low-profile designs and use of exterior construction materials (brick and wood) which are sympathetic in color and texture to materials used in neighboring historic structures.

Significance

The Howard Avenue Historic District is architecturally significant for the quality and variety of its building stock, which forms the most intact and well-preserved array of late nineteenth- and early twentieth-century vernacular architecture currently standing in the southwestern portion of New Haven. Howard Avenue Historic District buildings include some important examples of the work of prominent local architects of this period, such as Rufus G. Russell and Leoni Robinson, as well as a number of buildings known to have been erected by master builders, such as Luzerne Thomas and the firm G.A. Baldwin and Sons. The Howard Avenue Historic District is also significant because its buildings continue to effectively illustrate the historic development of Howard Avenue as one of the city's principal late nineteenth/early twentieth century middle-class residential thoroughfares.

Historical Development

Howard Avenue is one of New Haven's oldest roads.[1] Land records indicate that the street, originally known as the Second Quarter Road, was probably laid out in the mid-1640s in conjunction with the First Division of the community's Common Lands established by the city's original Proprietors. Despite the street's early date, most of the land which lay along both its sides remained minimally developed through the first half of the nineteenth century; throughout this period it was utilized primarily as outlying farmland. Prior to the 1850s, Howard Avenue's principal function was as a public access corridor between the city's developing core downtown area and a small village populated by oystermen and their families which developed at the southern end of the road on the point of land formed by the confluence of the West River and New Haven Harbor.

The only notable development which occurred along Howard Avenue prior to the 1850s appears to have been directly related to the physical layout of the street itself. In the early 1800s, most of the land along the street (more than 122 acres) was purchased by James Hillhouse and John Hall, both on an individual and a partnership basis. Hillhouse and Hall were the first real estate developers to actively attempt to foster residential development along the street. In order to stimulate interest in the area on the part of prospective buyers, the two men appear to have spearheaded an effort to transform this essentially unimproved rural track into a broad landscaped avenue, which they referred to as "Broad Street."[2]

Hillhouse's and Hall's efforts to attract settlers to "Broad Street" proved a disappointing failure. By the late 1830s, both men apparently gave up on the project, selling the bulk of their holdings to more optimistic local speculators. However, like Hillhouse and Hall, most of these speculators met with little success in their attempts to open up the area as a major residential locus during the ensuing three decades.

Initial residential development along Howard Avenue, as well as along most of the side streets which lay immediately to its east and west, was greatly facilitated by the construction of a horsecar railway line from the city's downtown district out to and down along the northern half of the avenue during the 1860s. However, while the existence of the street railway improved the accessibility of the area, residential development along Howard Avenue accelerated only slightly through the 1870s; by the end of this decade less than two-dozen scattered houses had been built.[3] However, the 1880s saw the beginning of a building boom along the street which was to continue into the first decades of the twentieth century. During this era a number of local builders and developers, reacting to a rapidly increasing demand for housing in this portion of the city, began erecting residential structures along the street and adjacent areas like Trowbridge Square at an increasing pace.[4] One of the principal factors accounting for the increasing demand for new housing in the area and the subsequent increase in construction activity along Howard Avenue during this era was the concurrent construction and/or expansion of major repair and terminal facilities along the harbor front nearby to the east by the New York, New Haven and Hartford Railroad.

The New York-New Haven railroad line was laid out through the southwestern portion of New Haven during the 1850s, crossing Howard Avenue just north of its intersection with Lamberton Street. In 1866, the railroad company purchased a large tract of land just south of this right-of-way about one block east of Howard Avenue, as well as substantial portions of the adjacent harbor mud flats. At this location the company immediately began to erect a repair complex composed of a roundhouse and a group of small repair shops. In the mid-1870s, the company erected a large new depot at the northern end of its property along Union Avenue. As the railroad prospered and the scope of its activities and services continued to expand during the remaining decades of the century, the size of the labor force employed at these facilities increased dramatically: by the early years of the twentieth century, the railroad had emerged as the largest single employer in southwestern New Haven.

The continuing growth in the size of the railroad's labor force during the final third of the nineteenth century fostered a dramatic increase in the demand for new housing throughout southwestern New Haven during this same era. New Haven city directories from this period indicate that unlike the streets which lay to its east and west, which developed as low-income neighborhoods like the Trowbridge Square district, populated predominantly by unskilled and semi-skilled railroad workers, Howard Avenue developed throughout this era as a fashionable middle-class thoroughfare. Between the 1880s and 1920s, roughly 50 percent of the street's population was made up of small businessmen, independent shopkeepers, and professionals, such as doctors, dentists and lawyers, while the remaining 50 percent were employed at the nearby rail yards as clerks, supervisors, engineers, and skilled upper-level blue collar workers, such as machinists and carpenters.

From an ethnic standpoint, the population of Howard Avenue during its heyday of development was dominated by a mixture of Yankee and Irish stock. Many of the Irish who settled along the street during this period had moved from the adjacent low-income neighborhoods where they had settled in the previous decades, a reflection of the increasing assimilation and upward mobility of this ethnic group during this period. However, by the early 1920s, the social makeup of Howard Avenue's population began to change. As an increasing number of the street's middle-class population moved to newer and still-more fashionable "streetcar suburbs" developing in the more outlying portions of the city, Italian immigrant and, to a lesser extent, Polish immigrant laborers began to move onto the street. From a social and economic standpoint, by the 1930s, Howard Avenue had assumed a working-class character virtually indistinguishable from the neighborhoods which flanked it to the east and west. With the extensive movement to suburban towns brought about by the dawn of the modern automobile age following World War II, the ethnic character of Howard Avenue once again began to change. As a new generation of upwardly mobile Italian-American and Polish-American families began moving from the street to nearby towns such as Orange, Hamden, North Haven and East Haven, the street began to experience a significant and ever-increasing influx of black and Hispanic families. Like most other portions of New Haven's Hill district, the population of Howard Avenue is today heavily dominated by members of these two ethnic groups.

Architectural Significance

Although relatively few in number, the Howard Avenue Historic District does include some structures which stand as significant examples of the work of prominent local nineteenth century architects. Prominently sited on the northwestern corner of Howard and Columbus Avenues, the Gothic/Stick-style house at 622 Howard Avenue erected for and by local lumber dealer and builder Nicholas Countryman in 1866-67 is a relatively rare surviving example of a residence designed by Rufus G. Russell during the early years of his career. Basically a "Gothicized" version of the familiar Italian Villa mode of the mid-nineteenth century, the building's bonnet-like truncated-pyramidal roof, exposed rafter ends and steeply pitched gable dormers and large projecting facade gable hood embellished by ornamental bracing all reflect the influence of the design theories espoused by the mid-nineteenth century architect Calvert Vaux.

Another significant structure known to have been designed by a prominent local architect is Leoni Robinson's 1887 All Saints Episcopal Church at 375 Howard Avenue, a highly unusual local example of ecclesiastical architecture featuring a somewhat eclectic combination of massing and detail elements derived from a variety of popular late nineteenth-century modes, including Romanesque Revival, Stick and High Victorian Gothic.

The Howard Avenue Historic District also encompasses a number of structures designed and constructed by local builder/architects of the late nineteenth/early twentieth centuries. Foremost among these are Luzerne I. Thomas, "a builder and carpenter... noted for his knowledge of drawing and design," and the construction firm G.A. Baldwin and Sons.[5] It was Thomas who designed the stands as the best surviving local example of a wood-frame church featuring combined stylistic elements drawn from the Queen Anne, Colonial Revival and Gothic modes. G.A. Baldwin and Sons were responsible for the construction of many of the brick Queen Anne style houses erected in the district during the final decades of the nineteenth century. Typical examples of this firm's work include the three houses built for and occupied by the principals of the firm: the George A. Baldwin House at 297 Howard Avenue, the George E. Baldwin House at 217 Howard Avenue and the Harry A. Baldwin House at 333 Howard Avenue. In terms of their design quality and craftsmanship, these houses, which are heavily embellished with cut-stone, terra cotta, and polycromatic-brick trim,rank among the better examples of vernacular Queen Anne style brick houses in the city as a whole.

The Howard Avenue Historic District also boasts a wealth of important examples of wood-frame Queen Anne-style residences. The quantity and diversity of the exterior wood detailing of these Queen Anne-style buildings are remarkable and the most outstanding architectural characteristic of the district. The Purmont Bradford House at 588 Howard Avenue, for example, is particularly notable for its high-style massing and retention of virtually all of its original exterior trim features, including brackets, bargeboards, half-timbering motifs, finials and window sash. However, the Howard Avenue Historic District's Queen Anne-style frame architecture is more typically represented by somewhat more modestly scaled houses and duplexes such as those located at 248,332-34, 455, and 619-21 Howard Avenue. Many of these structures retain all or a high proportion of their original ornamentation features, and rank among the finest of their style and period within the city.

Several significant examples of nineteenth century row housing complexes stand in the northern half of the district. These include the brick block erected at 533-39 Howard Avenue in 1877-78 by local builder Bennett Hotchkiss and the block built for Robert DuBois at 518-26 Howard Avenue around 1892. The Hotchkiss Building, with its heavily scaled, bracketed projecting cornice is typical of the type of Italianate-style masonry row structures erected throughout many of the city's growing residential neighborhoods. The Dubois block, which features a main cornice embellished by denticulated moldings, projecting window bays and large brick semicircular arches embellished with keystones and corbelled brick trim, is a somewhat rare local example of a late nineteenth-century row housing featuring strong Romanesque Revival-style influence. The diminutive two-unit row house built around 1890 at 634-36 Howard Avenue stands as a particularly good, as well as a more elaborately detailed, example of the Romanesque Revival style.

One of the most notable structures found in the Howard Avenue Historic District is the elaborately detailed Third Police Precinct at 649 Howard Avenue. Lavishly embellished with corbelling, pressed-brick window and doorway arches as well as other prominent features such as a central facade barbican, this building is by far the most architecturally significant and best-preserved surviving example of the type of small precinct headquarters erected for the city's police department in outlying neighborhoods during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.

Endnotes

  1. In her recently published book, Doris Townshend, local historian, suggests that Howard Avenue was named for John Edgar Howard of Maryland (1752-1827) in ca.1840. Howard "was an officer in charge of Maryland troops under General Washington and received a Congressional medal for gallantry in the battle of Cowpens. In 1788, he was elected Governor of Maryland, and from 1796 to 1803 he served in the U.S. Senate." Townshend suggests that James Hillhouse, who was a U.S. Senator during the same period as John Howard, was responsible for renaming the street after his legislative colleague. Doris B. Townshend, The Streets of New Haven: The Origin of Their Names, (New Haven: New Haven Colony Historical Society, 1984), pp. 78-79.
  2. The actual extent to which Hillhouse and Hall were involved in the layout of Howard Avenue remains somewhat unclear, as concrete documentary evidence remains sketchy. Deeds and mortgages which the two men acquired and dispensed during this period first begin to reference "Broad Street" in the first decade of the 1800s. Where possible, deeds which two men initially received for property along the street were compared to the deeds given when they sold it. This comparison indicated that these parcels, when sold by Hillhouse and/or Hall were approximately 10 feet shallower than they had been when the two men purchased them. In combination with Hillhouse's known extensive activities in public and private landscape improvement projects of the period, and the fact that the physical layout of the Avenue after 1830 strongly reflects design elements favored by Hillhouse in other similar projects of this period, suggests that Hillhouse, in particular, was probably involved in creating the present form of the street. For a more detailed account on James Hillhouse and his activities as a landscape designer, see "Hillhouse Avenue Historic District," MSS. (unpublished National Register Inventory-Nomination Form, 1985). Copy on file at the Connecticut Historical Commission, Hartford, Connecticut.
  3. Building Count derived from O.H. Bailey and J.C. Hazen, The City of New Haven, 1879, (Boston: O.H. Bailey and J.C. Hazen, 1879).
  4. A documented account of the development of the Trowbridge Square area is given in the "Trowbridge Square Historic District" National Register Inventory Nomination Form 1985, the development of the Trowbridge Square neighborhood being integrally related to that of Howard Avenue.
  5. Elizabeth Mills Brown, New Haven: A Guide to Architecture and Urban Design, (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1976), pg. 91.

References

Primary and Secondary Sources

Atwater, Edward E., ed. History of the City of New Haven to the Present Time. New York: W.W. Munsell and Company, 1887.

Brown, Elizabeth Mills. New Haven; A Guide to Architecture and Urban Design. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1976.

Dana, Arnold Guyot. "Pictorial New Haven, Old and New." Unpublished Scrapbooks. On file at the New Haven Colony Historical Society, 114 Whitney Avenue, New Haven, CT.

Loether, J. Paul and Preston Maynard. New Haven Historic Resources Inventory, Phase II; Eastern New Haven. New Haven: The New Haven Preservation Trust, 1982.

Loether, Paul and Dorothea Penar. New Haven Historic Resources Inventory, Phase III; Northern New Haven. New Haven: The New Haven Preservation Trust, 1983.

Loether, Paul and Dorothea Penar. New Haven Historic Resources Inventory, Phase IV: Western New Haven. 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, CT.

"New Haven Building Department Records." On file in the New Haven Building Department Office, 200 Orange Street, New Haven, CT.

New Haven City Directories. New Haven: J.H. Benham and Price and Lee, 1860-1925. "New Haven Land Records." On file at the New Haven Town/City Clerk's Office, 200 Orange Street, New Haven, CT.

Ryan, Susan and Preston Maynard. New Haven Historic Resources Inventory, Phase I: Central New Haven. New Haven: The New Haven Preservation Trust, 1982.

Townshend, Doris B. The Streets of New Haven: The Origin of Their Names, "New Haven: New Haven Colony Historical Society, 1984.

Maps and Atlases

Atlas of the City of New Haven, Connecticut. Philadelphia: G.M. Hopkins, 1888.

Atlas of New Haven, Connecticut Compiled by Streuli and Puckhafer. Bridgeport, CT: Streuli and Puckhafer, 1911.

Bailey, O.K. and J.C. Hazen. Map of the City of New Haven from Surveys. Boston: O.H. Bailey and J.C. Hazen, 1879.

Beers, Frederick W. Map of the City of New Haven and Fair Haven from Actual Surveys, etc. New York: Beers, Hellis and Soule, 1868.

Buckingham, D.W. Map of the City of New Haven from Actual Survey. Jocelyn, Darling and Company, 1830. Copy of file at the New Haven Colony Historical Society.

Doolittle, Amos. Plan of New Haven. New Haven: A. Doolittle, engraver, 1812. Copy on file at the New Haven Colony Historical Society.

Doolittle, Amos. Plan of New Haven. New Haven: A. Doolittle, engraver, 1817. Copy on file at the New Haven Colony Historical Society.

Hartley and Whiteford. Map of the City of New Haven from Actual Surveys, etc. Philadelphia: Collins and Clark, 1851.

Searl, S. W. Map of the City of New Haven, Connecticut. Philadelphia: Eneas Smith, 1859 Copy on file at the New Haven Colony Historical Society.

Survey Made for the City of New Haven by the United States Coast Survey; Sheet No. 6: New Haven, Connecticut, 1877.

† J. Paul Loether, New Haven Preservation Trust and John Herzan, Connecticut Historical Commission, Howard Avenue Historic District, New Haven, CT, nomination document, 1985, National Park Service, National Register of Historic Places, Washington, D.C.

Howard Avenue Historic District Map

Street Names
Howard Avenue

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