New Haven Green Historic District
The New Haven Green Historic District was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1971. Portions of the content on this web page were adapted from a copy of the original nomination document. [†] Adaptation copyright © 2011, The Gombach Group.
The New Haven Green Historic District's three historic churches are ranged equidistantly along Temple Street, between Elm Street and Chapel Street on the sixteen-acre common. United Church, at the corner of Temple and Elm streets, is distinguished by the four engaged fluted Ionic columns which adorn the projecting central portion of the facade, supporting a full entablature and pediment with a modillioned cornice. The belfry of the church is crowned by an ornate round cupola pierced by arched windows and topped with a large weather vane. In 1967, after successive remodelings had marred the restrained beauty of the original interior, a restoration program returned it to approximately its mid-nineteenth century appearance. While the circular pulpit apse was added in 1850, the low saucer dome in the ceiling, from which hangs a large cut-glass chandelier, is part of the 1815 structure.
Like United Church, the adjacent Center Church is a brick structure with wood trim. It boasts, however, a full tetrastyle Tuscan portico bearing in the tympanum a large asymmetrical rinceau motif of carved acanthus ornament. A tapering steeple rises in five stages above the portico to a height of about 210 feet. The lateral walls of the church, with their double tier of windows are enriched by a balustraded cornice. Externally, the structure conveys the lightness and classical grace of James Gibbs' Georgian masterpiece, St. Martin's-in-the-Fields, the prototypal church which undoubtedly influenced the design of Center Church. The interior dates largely from 1842, when renovation resulted in the lowering of the galleries and the replacement of the original high box pews and pulpit by more modern fixtures. The first pulpit is now in the Kawaiaho Church of Honolulu, Hawaii.
Although described by its architect as "Gothic" in style, Trinity Episcopal Church at the corner of Temple and Chapel Streets illustrates the naivete with which the style was first handled in America. The proportions of the nave, with its low-pitched roof and modified cornice, are essentially those of the traditional New England meetinghouse, transformed by the somber ashlar walls, the tall pointed windows, and a relatively academic Gothic entrance tower. In 1870, the present stone belfry replaced the wooden pinnacles and crenellation which formerly capped the tower. The addition of a chancel and other alterations have considerably changed the character of the interior; the galleries, however, date from 1814-16.
The significance of the New Haven Green Historic District lies in the presence on the green of three remarkably fine churches which, because of their architectural merit as well as their setting, compose an outstanding urban ensemble of nineteenth century America. Center Church (1812-14) whose tall, graceful spire still dominates the green, was the first of the three to be completed. The Boston architect Asher Benjamin drew the initial plans for Center Church, but it was Benjamin's former student, Ithiel Town, who prepared the final design and supervised the construction. Both Town and Benjamin greatly influenced nineteenth century American architecture, disseminating their ideas through the publication of builders' handbooks and articles. The exterior of Center Church has remained unchanged and it ranks today as one of the country's most imposing Federal style edifices.
The second of the churches, United or Old North Church (1813-15), is also an elegant if less exuberant expression of the Federal style. The plans, attributed by some sources to David Hoadley, were apparently modified by the builder, Ebenezer Johnson, Jr., and the structure reflects the influence of both Benjamin as well as John McComb, Jr., architect of the New York City Hall (1911). It is possible that the design of Center Church played some part, too, in the final plan of United Church.
The third church on the New Haven Green represents a departure both in style and materials from the other two, although the architect was Ithiel Town. Built of seam-faced local trap rock in the incipient Gothic style for New Haven's Episcopal congregation, Trinity Church (1814-16) was one of the first large Gothic structures in America, and forms a striking contrast to the Neo-Classical Center and United Churches.
As a fortunate convergence of taste and circumstance, and as a very successful combination of noble architecture and pleasing ambience, the New Haven Green Historic District is a highly significant aesthetic achievement in urban landscape design.
Historic American Buildings Survey. New Haven Architecture. Washington, 1969
Kelly, John Frederick. Early Connecticut Meetinghouses. 2 vols. New York, 1948. II, 2-21, 22-31, 32-44.
Reps, John W., The Making of Urban America: A History of City Planning in the United States. Princeton, 1965, 128-130.
† Historic Sites Survey Staff, Division of History, Office of Archaeology and Historic Preservation, New Haven Green Historic District, New Haven, CT, nomination document, 1971, National Park Service, National Register of Historic Places, Washington, D.C.