Prospect Hill Historic District
Prospect Hill Historic District was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1979. Portions of the content on this web page were adapted from a copy of the original nomination document.  Adaptation copyright © 2010, The Gombach Group.
Prospect Hill Historic District encompasses a high ridge lying between Prospect Street and Whitney Avenue, two major north-south streets radiating from the 9-squares center of New Haven. The south face of the ridge descends gradually along the present Science Hill (Yale University) and Hillhouse Avenue, to the downtown area. West of Prospect Street and east of Whitney Avenue the land slopes down sharply, affording scenic views of East and West Rocks from many points within the northern half of the district.
Of the roughly 270 buildings (excluding garages, sheds and other minor outbuildings) lying within the Prospect Hill Historic District, approximately 70 percent are currently one-family houses, while another 24 percent, originally also one-family dwellings, have been converted for use as multi-family housing, educational or religious facilities, or house social service organizations. Included in this category are several buildings of Albertus Magnus College (700, 760-810 Prospect Street); the main building of St. Mary's Roman Catholic School (490 Prospect Street); the Gesell Institute of Child Development (310-l4 Prospect Street); the St. Francis Home for Children (651, 661 and 682 Prospect Street); Human Relations Files, Inc. (755 Prospect Street); the International Student Center of New Haven (406 Prospect Street); and numerous Yale University departments and offices (e.g., 309 and 340 Edwards Street; 202, 204, 242, 254, 282, 285 [relocated to 380 Edwards Street] and 301 Prospect Street and the Othniel Marsh House, a National Register property at 360 Prospect Street). The final 6 percent of the Prospect Hill Historic District buildings consists of apartment houses (all but one of which, 550 Prospect Street, agree in period and style with the one-family dwellings in the district) and institutional or educational facilities built as such (e.g., the original late 19th-century Yale observatory at 370 Canner Street, now converted and enlarged as a public school; and the Connecticut Agricultural Experiment Station, another National Register property encompassing 6 buildings at 123 Huntington Street). Also in this category is the campus of Yale's Sterling Divinity School, a Colonial Revival complex closely related to the domestic architecture of the district. Noticeably absent from the Prospect Hill Historic District are any commercial or industrial structures.
The character of the Prospect Hill Historic District is, therefore, strongly residential. Further, the great majority of the included houses are large and spacious and many are sited within professionally landscaped grounds. Along the eastern and southwestern extremities of the Prospect Hill Historic District the houses are set, in typically urban fashion, comparatively close to each other and to the street. Streetscapes within the central and northwestern portions, the northern part of Prospect Street and the St. Ronan Street/Edgehill Road vicinity, are more rural and episodic. Houses in these latter areas are generally set further apart and from the street line than in the eastern and southwestern fringe areas. Many give the impression of miniature country estates designed for maximum privacy within their suburban context.
The Prospect Hill Historic District possesses a considerable amount of historic integrity in overall appearance, compared to that of its peak period of development, ca.1890-1930. An earlier neighborhood of large Victorian estates in the southern part of the district between Prospect and St. Ronan Streets, which grew up in the 1860s and 1870s, has largely disappeared — its main representative today is the John M. Davies House at 393 Prospect Street (1868), a mansion in the French Empire Revival style. Only a few other examples of residential architecture dating from this early period, representing Italianate and Gothic Revival styles, are scattered throughout the district; 210 Prospect Street, 210 St. Ronan Street, and 7-9 Edgehill Road. Today, however, the Prospect Hill Historic District constitutes an architectural panorama of the Shingle, Colonial Revival and Tudor Revival styles. The design quality of the vast majority of these buildings, from relatively modest middle and upper middle class dwellings, through the extravagant residences of New Haven's leading families, to educational structures such as the Sterling Divinity Quadrangle is of a consistently high order and marked by constantly varying, individualistic interpretations within each stylistic category.
Most of the changes which have occurred within recent years in the Prospect Hill area have concentrated along Prospect Street itself, particularly south of Highland Street. A large cluster of post-World War II apartment complexes along this street has been avoided by the district boundaries (although part of one, at 550-54 Prospect Street has been included due to its close proximity to two fine older houses). As drawn, the Prospect Hill Historic District contains only a handful of scattered, minor intrusions (non-contributing structures). The majority of these are single-family dwellings constructed within the last 20 years in a wide variety of modern architectural styles, unrelated to the principal architectural themes established in the district during its peak periods of development. On the other hand, a number of houses in Colonial or Tudor Revival styles dating from the 1930s (i.e., less than 50 years old), particularly along Ogden Street, have been included as contributing structures because of their essential support of the district's major stylistic themes. A few of the pre-1930 buildings in the Prospect Hill Historic District, now occupied by social or educational organizations, have been expanded with modern additions (for example, 651 Prospect Street and 370 Canner Street). On the other hand, many of the finest Colonial and Tudor Revival houses in the district which are now occupied by Yale University, Albertus Magnus College, and St. Mary's School have received only minor alterations while their exteriors have been kept intact and in excellent repair as a result of their new uses.
The development of Prospect Hill as an extended suburban neighborhood within New Haven during the period 1890 through 1930 was a swift and distinct movement historically. Its district cohesiveness at the present time rests primarily on its visual and architectural continuity resulting from this development, and from its unifying geographical setting. The character of the Prospect Hill Historic District also contrasts with its surroundings in the following ways:
South — The neighborhood around Hillhouse Avenue constitutes a separate historic district. This district [now, Hillhouse Avenue Historic District listed in 1985] achieved architectural and historical significance in the period prior to the major development of Prospect Hill (i.e., the 1800s through the 1860s), and has recently acquired a large number of significant modern structures (post-1950), also not an important factor for the Prospect Hill Historic District.
West — The area west of Prospect Hill (including Mansfield and Sheffield Streets, Sheldon Terrace and Winchester Avenue) comprises the eastern part of the Winchester Triangle, which was developed in the late 19th century as the Farmington Canal, and later the Canal Line Railroad, were laid out through this area and a number of gun and carriage factories located here. It was also a major immigrant neighborhood in the late 19th century. The streetscapes which border Prospect Hill on the west side are thus lines with late 19th and early 20th-century workers' housing developments of an entirely different character from the contemporary residential patterns on the adjacent hill. This western area is also marked by higher incidences of deterioration, unsympathetic alteration of period structures, and cheaply-designed modern intrusions than the Prospect Hill Historic District.
East — The district [now, Whitney Avenue Historic District listed in 1989] is defined on the east by Whitney Avenue, chartered by James Hillhouse in 1798 on the route of one of the colonial radial highways from New Haven center. Originally almost all the land along the avenue was owned by Hillhouse or by Eli Whitney. It was developed as an attractive, upper-class, residential street only from the 1880s and 1890s. Thus, the area is contemporary with, but historically and architecturally distinct from, Prospect Hill. The most outstanding structures along the avenue belong to the Shingle and Chateauesque styles, although today clusters of fine period homes are separated by numerous later apartment and commercial buildings. As a busy route to points north in all periods, Whitney Avenue constitutes a separate historic district in its own right. Thus, avenue properties and their original carriage houses or outbuildings have been excluded from the Prospect Hill boundaries.
North — Between Edgehill Road and Prospect Street in Hamden is a neighborhood of one-family houses representing a slightly later period (1920s and 1930s through 1970s) than that of Prospect Hill. This northern area includes an increasing number of relatively recent homes and reaches a climax with Mill Rock, where an exceptionally fine collection of houses in modern architectural styles is located. Between Edgehill Road and Whitney Avenue, however, the district boundary is drawn to exclude a row of identical houses along Cliff Street which are smaller and more modest in terms of design and detail, and are slightly later in date, than the residences along adjacent streets included within the district. The block stretching from the north side of Cliff Street into Hamden is occupied by the former Frederick Brewster Estate (1910), now a public park, which belongs geographically with the Hamden neighborhood previously mentioned.
Prospect Hill was developed as an upper income, residential neighborhood of exceptional architectural quality, representing the taste and ideals of a large segment of New Haven's most prominent citizens, during the period 1880 through 1930. The comparatively vast extent of the Prospect Hill Historic District (its 185 acres represent about 1.25 percent of the total land area of the city), and its location within one of New Haven's most attractive geographical areas, have contributed to the historical importance of its development for the city as a whole. Additionally significant today is the high degree of authenticity of the neighborhood's historic character. This is partly because the majority of contributing district structures are between 50 and 90 years old and have not yet suffered seriously from decay and deterioration due to age. But more important is the fact that the use and occupancy of the area has remained much the same since its period of peak development. It remains today an elegant residential neighborhood largely inhabited by families whose social and economic status parallels that of the original occupants. The schools, colleges and social institutions which have, entered or expanded in the district since its development have as a rule respected its historic residential character. As a result, drastic alterations to the exteriors of the Prospect Hill Historic District structures have been generally discouraged, and even the landscaping and environmental qualities of the district streetscapes have in most cases been preserved. (The major exceptions are the post-World War II apartments along Prospect Street between Canner and Highland Streets, which are excluded from the present district boundaries.)
In the late 18th-century, Prospect Hill was purchased by James Hillhouse as part of his extensive real estate speculations in the northern corridor of New Haven, between Prospect and Orange Streets. At this time the hill was totally undeveloped, but Hillhouse encouraged its future direction as a desirable residential neighborhood by laying out Temple Street (now Hillhouse Avenue) on the southern slope of the hill, south of the present district, which became an outstanding early and mid 19th-century architectural district largely through the efforts of his son, James Abraham Hillhouse. The northern area, from the present Edwards Street to the Hamden town line, remained rural. Its potential was again recognized in the 1850s when a New York merchant, Charles Elliott, bought land on the west side of Prospect Street, from Highland to Division Streets, planning to build a healthful, landscaped residential community called Highland Park. Only Elliott's own house (1859, demolished) was completed before the project failed. But by the 1860s and 1870s a number of large and commanding estates and a few fine smaller houses dotted the hill. Prospect Street, between Edwards and Canner Streets, became a particularly fashionable section at this time and the site of two major estates owned by Oliver F. Winchester and John M. Davies, partners in the Winchester Repeating Arms Company the factory was located nearby on Winchester Avenue. Only the Davies, Townshend, Morris and Marsh houses (at 393, 210, 230 and 360 Prospect Street, respectively) remain from this era.
Along with these houses and estates, an important occupant of the district in the 1870s was one of two 19th century New Haven orphanages, St. Francis' Roman Catholic Asylum (built ca.1870, demolished), a rather grandiose French Empire Revival building occupying the center of landscaped grounds which stretched from Prospect Street to Whitney Avenue just north of Highland Street. Edgehill Road was not cut through the orphanage grounds until about 1900, and still retains the gateposts and stone wall of the former asylum estate. North of the orphanage, the Connecticut Agricultural Experiment Station erected its first two buildings in the late 19th century (previous station buildings on the site, adapted from a former residential estate, are now demolished). Other streets in the district appeared around the turn of the century. Autumn Street, originally a carriage way accessing St. Ronan Street and Whitney Avenue houses, was laid out by the 1890s and developed as a residential street between ca.1912 and 1930. Loomis Place, another short street on the opposite side of St. Ronan Street, did not appear until about 1914, and quickly became a locus for fine brick Colonial Revival houses. The northern part of Prospect Street, overlooking West Rock, became the site of the most patrician estates in the district after 1900. The grandest of these occupied a 19th century recreation spot, Ball Spring, and after 1925 formed the main campus of Albertus Magnus College (west side of Prospect Street, near the Hamden town line). Later, and almost as fashionable and prestigious were the houses along Ogden Street, laid out from Edgehill Road to Whitney Avenue in 1930, which represent the final stage of the Prospect Hill development.
The businessmen, scientists, scholars and civic leaders who settled on Prospect Hill comprise a group of some importance in terms of New Haven history during the period of its emergence as a modern city. A few of the individuals who made their homes there were prominent leaders in their fields at the state or national levels. The list includes paleontologist Othniel C. Marsh (360 Prospect Street); two Connecticut governors, Luzon B. Morris (230 Prospect Street) and Wilbur L. Cross (24 Edgehill Road); inventor of the first widely-used ice-making machine in America, Alexander Catlin Twining (314 Prospect Street); nationally-prominent sportswriter for the New York Times for 50 years, Hubert H. Sedgewick (683 Prospect Street); and the founder of one of the largest and most important gun manufactories in the United States, Oliver F. Winchester (Prospect Street, demolished), and his early partner, John M. Davies (393 Prospect Street). But the majority of original owners on Prospect Hill were local leaders of industry, finance and education, such as the owners of New Haven's two largest department stores in this period, Adolph Mendel and Walter Malley (352 and 305 St. Ronan Street); president of the local trolley line and of the New Haven National Bank, Hayes Q. Trowbridge (100 Edgehill Road); and Edwin S. Wheeler, New Haven Harbor Commissioner and president of the Economy Concrete Company, a leading developer and manufacturer of artificial stone in Connecticut (377 St. Ronan Street). Many of the Prospect Hill Historic District homes were occupied by Yale deans, professors, and staff members, including President A. Whitney Griswold (1950-1963, 237 East Rock Road) and Andrew Keogh, possibly the most important librarian in Yale history (49 Huntington Street). This mixture of business leaders and educators is an historic characteristic of New Haven's better residential neighborhoods. As such, Prospect Hill is the direct descendant of the city's late 18th-century "Quality Row" on Elm Street, and the mid 19th-century development of Hillhouse Avenue.
The idea that education is most successful within an attractive, respectable domestic environment was popular throughout America during the late 19th and early 20th centuries. It is not surprising in this connection that Prospect Hill early became a key area for many of the city's best private and special schools and small colleges, and several Yale University departments also located there. Included in this list is the first Yale observatory (370 Canner Street, significantly built in conjunction with two fine residences for Observatory Officers, 459 and 477 Prospect Street); Miss Terry's School (367 Prospect Street, house now at 210 St. Ronan Street); the St. Francis Orphan Asylum (Prospect and Canner Streets, now at 651 Prospect Street); the Gateway School (located at 5 St. Ronan Terrace in the 1920s-1950s, now defunct); St. Mary's Roman Catholic School (490 Prospect Street); the Prospect Hill Day School (originally 460 Prospect Street, later at 370 Canner Street, now defunct); and more recently Albertus Magnus College (main Campus at 700 and 760-810 Prospect Street); Yale's Sterling Divinity School (413-423 Prospect Street); the Berkeley Divinity School (now at 363 St. Ronan Street); and the Culinary Institute of America (formerly at 393 Prospect Street).
The principal historic significance of Prospect Hill today is unquestionably its array of outstanding late 19th and early-20th century domestic architecture. Only a few examples remain from the area's first wave of development, from about 1860 to 1880. These include the above-mentioned houses at 210 Prospect Street (1871), 210 St. Ronan Street (1860), and 7-9 Edgehill Road (1860s), all exceptionally fine and well-preserved versions of the Downingesque Victorian cottage; and 230 Prospect Street (1872-73), an example of the mature Stick style.
The most distinguished building from this period, however, is unquestionably the John M. Davies House at 393 Prospect Street. Built in 1868 by New Haven's most prominent Victorian architect, Henry Austin, in collaboration with David R. Brown, the house is the finest example of the French Empire Revival style in New Haven and one of the city's most elegant mansions of the Victorian era. The picturesquely-composed mass of the house, set well back from the street on the crest of the hill (originally within landscaped grounds), houses a loose arrangement of large rooms with high ceilings and elegant details, originally including marble floors, elaborate fireplace and overmantle frames, sculpture niches, plasterwork ceilings and elegant chandeliers. In this century the house was owned by a prestigious cooking school, the Culinary Institute, and some of the rooms renovated as cooking and classroom spaces. Several dormitory blocks were erected on the grounds (demolished), and the house was surrounded with blacktop driveways and parking areas. The house was one of eleven properties included in the 1964 Historic American Buildings Survey of New Haven. Prior to the purchase of the house by Yale in 1970, it was unoccupied for a short time and vandalized, particularly on the interior. Today the house is an exceptional example of deterioration within the district. The university, which now uses the house for storage, has protected it with a security system and has conducted a feasibility study of the restoration and future use potentials of the building.
The great majority of houses within the Prospect Hill Historic District date from the period 1880 to 1930. While the Colonial Revival style and its variants constitute its primary architectural theme, a wide range of other late-19th and early-20th century period styles are also represented. Overall, it is an unusually revealing collection illustrating the complexity of period styles, and their use and adaptation, in American domestic architecture during this time. Further, the high architectural standards set by the earlier estates in the Prospect Hill Historic District, such as the Davies House, continued to influence the design quality of much of the district architecture and a few later examples, such as 100 Edgehill Road and 700 Prospect Street equal or surpass the visual impressiveness and artistic merit of the Davies House. The Prospect Hill Historic District's architectural profile is summarized in the following list of stylistic categories and their average to outstanding representatives.
Queen Anne — The Yale Observatory Officer's houses at 459 and 477 Prospect Street (both 1882) exemplify the standard, vernacular version of the type popularized by Henry Hudson Holly in the 1870s with his articles on the Queen Anne style in The American Architect. A blending of Queen Anne and Richardsonian Romanesque is represented by J. Cleveland Cady's Marsh House (360 Prospect Street, 1878). The Alexander Catlin Twining house at 314 Prospect Street (Brown and Stilson, 1880) is an individualistic example with a greater flavor of historic authenticity about it, but at the same time re-echoes some of the design features of the nearby Marsh house, 208 St. Ronan Street (ca.1885), clad in a variety of shingle patterns and brick and ornamental tilework, exemplifies the multiple surface textures and jagged outlines which characterize this style.
Shingle Style — Several outstanding examples of this style within the Prospect Hill Historic District fall into two general categories. The first is exemplified by the Hayes Q. Trowbridge House at 100 Edgehill Road (1907). Characteristic Shingle style open planning, encompassed by a broad roofline, is developed there in a design based on cross axes, undoubtedly inspired by well-known earlier examples such as the John Crowdin house on Long Island (1885) by McKim, Mead & White. The second and more common interpretation of the style within the Prospect Hill Historic District focuses on its association with American vernacular architecture of the 17th and early 18th centuries. The colonial gambrel roof and the gambrel gable facade are common and important motifs within the district which underscore an essential relationship between the Shingle and full-blown Colonial Revival style houses (8 and 9 St. Ronan Terrace, and 50 Edgehill Road).
Colonial Revival — The Colonial Revival style, based on American domestic architecture of the Georgian and Federal periods, dominates the Prospect Hill Historic District. Typical of the early examples, such as the houses along East Rock Road and Huntington Street are large, square, frame houses with steep hip roofs and Palladian details; the prototype here is McKim Mead & White's influential H.A.C. Taylor house in Newport, R.I. (1885-86, demolished). Later examples in the Prospect Hill Historic District display, alternately and sometimes within the same structure, greater historic authenticity and a freer and more inventive attitude towards the use of Colonial sources (especially J. Frederick Kelly's 711 Prospect Street, 1925 also 490 Prospect Street and 250, 260 and 352 St. Ronan Street). Common, particularly in Prospect Hill houses by New Haven architectural firm Brown and Von Beren, is the use of the gambrel gable as a facade motif. Often classified as Dutch Colonial by contemporary writers, this motif is used in a variety of ways within the Prospect Hill Historic District and harmonizes particularly well with many Shingle style houses in the area (3 Edgehill Road, 1917; and 396 St. Ronan Street, 1910, both by Brown and Von Beren; also 50 Edgehill Road, cited above, by the same architects).
In recognition of the strong Colonial Revival theme of the Prospect Hill neighborhood, the Sterling Divinity Quadrangle of Yale University, completed in 1932 at 413-23 Prospect Street (Delano & Aldrich, architects), is itself a Colonial Revival campus. Based on Thomas Jefferson's University of Virginia, but modified with modernized details such as the cylindrical brick piers of the eight connected pavilions, as well as by the use of a central Colonial church feature rather than the original's Roman rotunda, the quadrangle is a unique expression of this revival style within American collegiate architecture. It should also be noted that the quadrangle occupies the site of the former Thomas G. Bennett estate (1903, McKim, Mead & White, demolished). The exceptionally fine ironwork gates originally belonging to this important estate are preserved along St. Ronan Street, at the rear of the Divinity School grounds.
Tudor Revival — Second in importance and number of examples to the Colonial Revival style within the Prospect Hill Historic District is the large and varied category of houses inspired by late medieval and early Renaissance English domestic architecture, subsumed under the heading Tudor Revival. The coexistence of early American and early English architectural themes within the district is revealing of the social attitudes of the Prospect Hill community, characterized by a strong Anglo-American identity. The variety of interpretations of the Tudor Revival style are represented by 310 and 810 Prospect Street, 5 St. Ronan Terrace, 123 Edgehill Road and 640 Whitney Avenue.
Other Styles — Among the most architecturally impressive houses on Prospect Hill are Renaissance Revival estates of palatial quality. The Samuel A. York House at 500 Prospect Street (1905) is one of the most formal and ambitious designs of Brown & Yon Beren in the city. The Louis Stoddard House at 700 Prospect Street (1905), now Rosary Hall of Albertus Magnus College, is the most lavish estate ever constructed in New Haven, and an excellent example of the early-20th century domestic work of the nationally-prominent Boston architectural firm, Peabody & Stearns.
Scattered throughout the Prospect Hill Historic District are numerous houses not covered by the above categories, whose presence reflects the great range of stylistic possibilities available to the American Architect during the decades around 1900. Italian Villa Revival (787 Prospect Street); French Renaissance Revival (651 Prospect Street); and even versions of the Spanish Colonial and Prairie styles (661 Prospect Street) are represented. In addition, numerous houses dating from the late 1920s and 1930s represent interesting interpretations of more traditional period style houses through the eyes of incipient modernism, such as the modernized Georgian mansion at 140 Ogden Street, designed by Douglass Orr (1930).
Collected within the Prospect Hill Historic District are designs by locally and nationally influential architects and architectural firms including several leaders of late-19th and early-20th century eclecticism. Among the most important are:
Boston — Peabody & Stearns (100 Edgehill Road, 700 and 760 Prospect Street); R. Clipston Sturgis (310 Prospect Street, 291 Edwards Street)
New York — Grosvenor Atterbury (64 Edgehill Road, 570 Prospect Street, 305 St. Ronan Street); Don Barber (400 Prospect Street); J.C. Cady & Co. (360 and 276 Prospect Street); George S. Chappell (275 East Rock Road); Delano & Aldrich (123 Edgehill Road, 87 Ogden Street, 413-23 Prospect Street); Ewing & Chappell (490 and 790-792 Prospect Street); James Gamble Rogers (450 and 460 St. Ronan Street); Rossiter & Muller (755 Prospect Street); Heathcote Woolsey (190 St. Ronan Street)
Philadelphia — Mantle Fielding (82 Edgehill Road)
New Haven and Connecticut — Henry Austin & David R. Brown (393 Prospect Street); Brown & Stilson (314 Prospect Street); Brown & Von Beren (75 Autumn Street, 3 and 50 Edgehill Road, 500 Prospect Street, 340, 346 and 396 St. Ronan Street); R.W. Foote (331, 352 and 386 St. Ronan Street); J. Frederick Kelly (711 Prospect Street); Carina Eaglesfield Mortimer (120 Ogden Street); Douglas Orr & Office (352 Canner Street, 107. 140 and 316 Ogden Street, 810 Prospect Street); Leoni W. Robinson (421 St. Ronan Street, 23 and 35 Edgehill Road); Rufus G. Russell (370 Canner Street, 210 Prospect Street).
Eclecticism of the late-19th and early-20th centuries has only recently begun to enjoy a widespread and growing interest among students and scholars of American architectural history. Because it represents a cohesive community encompassing a broad range of period styles and architects, the Prospect Hill Historic District constitutes a rich and potentially significant resource for this field of study.
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Rollin G. Osterweis. Three Centuries of New Haven. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1953.
Leland Roth. "General Comments, Prospect Street." Unpub. student paper, Yale University, 1968.