Trowbridge Square Historic District
The Trowbridge Square 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.
The Trowbridge Square Historic District is located in New Haven, Connecticut, a medium sized New England industrial city lying along the northern coast of Long Island Sound approximately 100 miles northeast of New York City. The Trowbridge Square Historic District encompasses 214 major structures on 26 acres of relatively level land at the northeastern end of a large peninsula known as City Point, which extends southward from the heart of the city between the West River and the western shoreline of New Haven Harbor. Better than ninety-five percent of these 214 major structures contribute to the Trowbridge Square Historic District's historical and architectural significance as a substantially intact working-class residential neighborhood which developed over the course of the final two-thirds of the nineteenth century.
The Trowbridge Square Historic District is traversed by roads laid out in a slightly irregular grid pattern. East/ west streets include Columbus Avenue, Portsea Street, Carlisle Street, Putnam Street, Spring Street and Rosette Street; north/south streets include Liberty Street, Cedar Street, Salem Street, and Edgar Street. All but three of these roads were laid out during the district's initial period of modern development, 1830-1850. Columbus Avenue, which spans the northern end of the district, and Putnam had been laid out by the early 1800s; Rosette Street, which spans the southern end of the district, dates from the 1880s.
Laid out in 1830 by social reformer Simeon Jocelyn and builder/architect Isaac Thompson, the streets in the northern half of the Trowbridge Square Historic District form a nine-square grid evidently modeled after New Haven's large original nine-square settlement-plat plan. As in the city's original nine-square plan, the central square of the plat established by Jocelyn and Thompson was reserved for use as an open public space. Known today as Trowbridge Square, this 0.83 acre "green" surrounded by fencing of the same period and style as that bordering the New Haven Green continues to form the Trowbridge Square Historic District's only public park.
Architectural modes represented within the Trowbridge Square Historic District include vernacular examples of the Greek Revival, Italianate, Queen Anne, Romanesque Revival and Colonial Revival styles. In terms of scale and detailing, most buildings tend to be extremely modest in comparison to structures of their style and period built in other portions of New Haven. This is particularly true of a number of the small Greek Revival style and Italianate style frame houses built by local developers in the district between the late 1830s and mid-1870s. While often featuring somewhat more elaborately detailed exteriors and a slightly larger scale, most houses erected between the early 1870s and the 1890s continue to exhibit a modesty of design which tangibly reflects the Trowbridge Square Historic District's historic evolution as a working-class neighborhood.
While the overwhelming number of buildings in the Trowbridge Square Historic District are modest frame houses located close to each other on narrow and deep rectangular lots, the Trowbridge Square Historic District also includes four larger and more elaborately detailed structures associated with the district's emergence as a residential neighborhood heavily populated by Irish railroad workers during the final third of the nineteenth century: the Church of the Sacred Heart at 198 Columbus Avenue, Sacred Heart Convent at 200 Columbus Avenue, Sacred Heart School at 202 Columbus Avenue, and Sacred Heart Church Rectory at 70 Liberty Street. Designed by the prominent local nineteenth-century architect Sidney Mason Stone, and originally built in 1851 for use by the South Congregational Church, this building became a Roman Catholic institution in 1875. The Queen Anne style rectory, Colonial Revival/Romanesque Revival style school and Jacobethan Revival style convent, all erected in the mid-1890s on the same block occupied by the church, replaced a group of earlier frame structures which Catholics had purchased and adapted for these uses in the 1870s and 1880s.
Unlike the few other surviving working-class neighborhoods which developed in New Haven during the nineteenth century, the Trowbridge Square Historic District maintains a relatively high degree of architectural integrity. Trowbridge Square Historic District streetscapes continue to be wholly or substantially dominated by first-generation frame houses ranging from 1-1/2 to 2-1/2 stories in height. With the exception of small groups of houses located along Salem Street across from Trowbridge Square and along the eastern end of Portsea Street and the western end of Carlisle Street, houses are sited close to the street. Many streets feature groupings of two or more virtually identical houses built on speculation by or for nineteenth-century real estate developers; they continue to reflect the real estate speculation patterns which dominated housing construction in the area during the heyday of its physical development.
Modifications to the historic exterior fabric of individual buildings in the district vary to some degree. In most cases, alterations are limited to the application of later siding materials, such as aluminum, asphalt and asbestos, over original clapboards or wood shingles, and/or modifications to historic porch and window fabric. A few buildings currently feature intrusive facade or side elevation additions, such as commercial fronts or rooms projecting outward above front porches. However, despite the intrusive character of these alterations, which are in most cases reversible, even the more extensively modified houses retain enough of their distinguishing original massing and/or detailing characteristics to merit their inclusion as contributing structures within the district, especially when considered within the visual context of their respective streetscapes as a whole. Most houses built between the 1870s and the end of the nineteenth century continue to retain distinguishing exterior details such as bracketed eaves and cornices, bargeboarded gable rakes and distinctive fenestration features. Houses built prior to the 1870s, most of which incorporated few if any exterior detail embellishments in their original designs, derive their distinctive architectural character from their scale, massing and arrangement within the context of individual streetscapes.
The Trowbridge Square Historic District has suffered relatively few losses to demolition or intrusions as a result of new construction since the turn of the twentieth century. This is particularly remarkable since the Trowbridge Square Historic District has formed part of the City of New Haven's Hill neighborhood renewal and redevelopment target area since 1972. The Trowbridge Square Historic District currently includes only 13 vacant lots and six structures deemed to be non-contributing due to their architectural and/or usage incompatibility, as well as their early twentieth-century construction dates. As a result, the Trowbridge Square Historic District continues to retain an unusually cohesive identity as an historic entity.
The Trowbridge Square Historic District is historically significant as New Haven's most intact and cohesive surviving example of a working-class residential neighborhood which was planned and developed as such during the nineteenth century. The Trowbridge Square Historic District is also significant for the association between its initial plan and early development and Simeon Jocelyn, one of New Haven's foremost social reformers and real estate developers of the antebellum era. The Trowbridge Square Historic District is architecturally significant for its retention of a large and relatively well-preserved contiguous array of modest houses which illustrate and document the development of working-class residential architecture over the course of the final two-thirds of the nineteenth century.
Historical and Architectural Summary
The area in which the Trowbridge Square Historic District lies had an unsavory reputation in the early decades of the nineteenth century. Separated from the built-up part of the city by the salt marshes of the West Creek (whose course is now marked by Route 34, the Oak Street Connector) and bordering on docks and tanneries, it appears to have been one of the shanty settlements that grew up on the fringes of town. At the turn of the century the high ground along Columbus Avenue was known as Sodom Hill. The Trowbridge Square Historic District itself, hopefully named Mt. Pleasant, was referred to as a "plaque spot." By 1812 development seems to have been contemplated. A map of that date shows a grid of streets laid out in the form of two large squares delineated by Howard Avenue, Columbus Avenue, Putnam and Water Streets, each square similar in size to one of the nine squares of the city. The area is labeled "Oyster Point Quarter." It is known that James Hillhouse owned a great deal of land in the Oyster Point Quarter which he was attempting to develop. It is also known that Hillhouse was concerned in other sections with ensuring an orderly growth of the expanding city and perpetuating the grid of the nine squares beyond its original limits. It seems highly likely that the initial blocking out of the neighborhood was strongly influenced by him. The project, however, was premature. The depression of 1807-25 intervened temporarily arresting the city's expansion, and little new building took place. (A documented account of Hillhouse's activities in the area is given in the Howard Avenue Historic District National Register nomination, the initial development of Howard Avenue being integrally related to that of Spireworth.)
The modern history of the Trowbridge Square Historic District dates from 1830. In that year, Simeon Jocelyn formed a business partnership with local builder/architect Isaac Thompson. The two men immediately purchased slightly more than 15 acres of undeveloped land in the district, laid out Portsea, Carlisle, Putnam, Salem and Liberty Streets and subdivided most of the land along these new streets into small building lots. The layout of this subdivision, which the two men christened "the Village of Spireworth," was designed as a miniature version of the city's original nine-square settlement plat. Like its model, the central square of the village ("Spireworth Square") was reserved for use as an open public space.
The project as a whole, which included Howard Avenue, was typical of the vertically integrated neighborhoods of the nineteenth century.
The degree to which the concept for the physical layout of the village can be attributed to Jocelyn or Thompson individually remains unclear. The fact that Thompson was a self-professed "architect" suggests that he probably bore primary responsibility for the design. However, the concept of establishing the village as a model residential community for members of the city's low-income population, a temperate and egalitarian village populated by blacks and whites living in peaceful harmony, is undoubtedly attributable to Jocelyn.
A native resident of New Haven, Simeon Jocelyn (1799-1879) was an early nineteenth-century Congregational minister who was strongly influenced by the "liberal gospel of responsibility" of his era, which charged the more fortunate members of society with the duty of educating and uplifting as well as maintaining the poor, ignorant and disadvantaged. Jocelyn's subscription to this philosophy led him to become one of the city's more active and outspoken local proponents of temperance and, in particular, abolitionism. For example, as a means of providing for the "spiritual betterment" of the city's black population, he helped organize a black church known as the United African Society in 1820, and officiated at church services and related functions for the ensuing 14 years. In conjunction with several like-minded men, including his brother, the noted artist and engraver Nathaniel Jocelyn, Simeon spearheaded an unsuccessful attempt to establish a "college for colored people" in New Haven in 1831. During the antebellum years, he also emerged as a leading spokesman for the American Anti-Slavery Society, an organization which he helped found in 1833.
Like most prominent men of his era, Jocelyn was also quite active as a businessman and real estate speculator/developer. In cooperation with his brother, he operated a highly successful engraving firm in the city. The profits generated by this firm enabled Jocelyn, in conjunction with various partners, to embark upon a number of real estate ventures throughout the city during the 1820s and 1830s; these ventures included the 40-acre Franklin Square subdivision in the eastern portion of the city, one of the largest planned subdivisions laid out in the city prior to the final decades of the nineteenth century.
While the Village of Spireworth was not the largest real estate project initiated by Jocelyn, it proved to be the most significant of his ventures. It was the only project in which Jocelyn is known to have actively attempted to combine his passion for real estate speculation with the moral imperatives embodied in the "liberal gospel of responsibility." Jocelyn's desire to establish and develop the village as a harmonious community in which the city's poor and disadvantaged, a high proportion of whom were blacks, could achieve spiritual, moral and (hopefully) economic "betterment" was reflected in the very choice of the new village's name, which "...alluded to 'a slender spindling sort of grass' that grows only in poor soil." it was also reflected in restrictive covenants placed in deeds granted for individual lots in the village during the 1830s and 1840s, which stipulated that no "ardent spirits" could be sold on the property, that the property could never be sold or rented to persons of "disreputable character," and, in some cases, that sale or rental of the property to "colored" individuals would not be refused solely on that basis. The settlement of blacks in the village during the 1830s and early 1840s was further encouraged by the construction and transfer of title for a small school (no longer extant) for blacks on Carlisle Street facing the square to members of the village's growing black population and the donation of a lot on Salem Street opposite the square to these same individuals "solely for the erection of a House of Worship," in 1834.
By the mid-1830s, a number of property owners who held land abutting the eastern and southern sides of the original nine-squares of the village, such as Henry Hotchkiss, who owned and operated a ropewalk slightly south of Putnam Street, and Elijah Prindle, began extending village roads through their properties and subdividing land along these extensions for sale as small building lots. While most deeds granted for these new lots specify their location as "Mount Pleasant" rather than "Spireworth," from a social, economic and architectural standpoint, by the mid-1840s, the blocks lying immediately east and south of the village's original nine-squares were beginning to emerge as integral components of a still lightly populated, but nonetheless physically expanding low-income neighborhood. For example, the 1845-46 New Haven City Directory lists 66 individuals living in the area by that year. Of these individuals, about half were occupying two-dozen small frame houses which had been built within the village's original nine squares; extant examples of these houses include 154, 158, and 169 Cedar Street, 66 and 68 Liberty Street, and 168 and 172 Portsea Street. The remaining half lived in similarly modest frame houses built in the blocks along the fringe of the village core, such as the range of houses erected between 1838 and 1845 for Elijah Prindle along the southern side of Portsea Street east of Liberty Street, and the range of houses (no longer extant) erected during this same period along the southern side of Putnam Street to the east and west of Liberty Street on land owned by the Hotchkiss family. This city directory also indicates that virtually all of those living in the area were employed as common laborers performing menial tasks. It also indicates that by this time that the area's population was predominantly black (58%) and that blacks and whites were thoroughly integrated in terms of location of residence within the district.
Despite the activities of Jocelyn and his brother Nathaniel, who had succeeded Thompson as Simeon's partner in the mid-1830s, and developers such as Prindle and the Hotckhisses, by 1851, less than 50 houses had been built within the expanded village area. The reasons for the limited extent of development in the area by the early 1850s are still not fully understood; it was probably due in some measure to the severe depression of the real estate market which accompanied the financial panics which swept the nation in 1837 and 1839. Having made extensive investments in local real estate ventures in the years immediately preceding these panics, developers such as the Jocelyns found themselves financially over-extended by the early 1840s and, unable to recover, bankrupted by the mid-1840s.
By the early 1850s, most of the still-substantial portions of undeveloped land at Spireworth Mount Pleasant had been acquired by other speculators/developers. The most significant of these were members of the Trowbridge family, a "merchant dynasty" who had owned large tracts of land along the harbor-front nearby to the east since the Colonial era, and Gerard Hallock. Thomas Trowbridge and Gerard Hallock spearheaded the construction of the South Congregational Church on the northwestern corner of Liberty Street and Columbus Avenue in 1851; they also appear to have provided the wherewithal to make improvements to the district's square, such as the erection of the extant granite and casts iron fence, about this same time. While Hallock engaged in some speculative housing construction and sold lots in the southern portion of the district (where most of his land was located) to small-scale builder/developers over the ensuing decades, it was Thomas Trowbridge and other members of his family who assumed the role as the district's principal speculative developers between the 1850s and the 1890s, a fact reflected by the renaming of the district's square for the family during the 1880s.
The Trowbridge family's involvement in the development of the area after 1850 appears to have been motivated primarily for the purpose of financial investment and gain. However, their development of the area over the course of the remaining decades of the century did follow the area's early development pattern in at least one major respect; virtually all of the houses which the Trowbridges had built during this period were designed for sale or rental to members of the city's growing lower-income working-class population.
The Trowbridge family was responsible for the construction of a high proportion of the small, stylistically reduced worker's cottages built around and near the square during the second half of the nineteenth century. For example, in the 1850s, the family had a range of small dwellings constructed along Carlisle Street opposite the square; they had the northern side of Portsea Street opposite the square built up in the 1860s; during the 1870s members of the family built the groups of small cottages lining Salem Street at the square's western end, and along the southern side of Carlisle Street just east of the square; in the 1880s, the family had the small Queen Anne style cottages on Cedar Street facing the eastern end of the square built.
By the mid-1860's, the Trowbridge family and Gerard Hallock had also begun to sell off some of their holdings in the district to local builder/developers, the most significant and active of whom was Andrew C. Smith. Smith's initial involvement in the area seems to have been as a builder; he appears to have constructed a number of the houses erected for the Trowbridges in the early 1860s. By the late 1860s, Smith had purchased most of the land lying along both sides of Cedar Street between Putnam and Spring Streets from the Trowbridges and Hallock, as well as a number of other scattered lots throughout the district. On most of these lots, he erected Italianate style houses with low-hip or gable-to-street roofs. While somewhat larger and featuring slightly more elaborate exterior details than the workers' cottages built in the area for the Trowbridges, Smith's houses nonetheless exhibit a modesty of scale and design typically associated with nineteenth century workers' housing.
The continuing growth and development of the district as a working-class residential locus from the 1860s through the end of the nineteenth century was closely associated with the concurrent development and expansion of the New York, New Haven, and Hartford Railroad. In the 1860s, the railroad began to erect major repair and terminal facilities along the mud flats of the city's harbor, which lay adjacent to the eastern side of the district. The construction and expansion of these facilities over the ensuing decades fostered an ever-increasing need for unskilled and semi-skilled as well as skilled labor, which created, in turn, a constantly growing demand for cheap housing in the area.
As in other growing industries in New Haven during the second half of the nineteenth century, the railroad's principal source for unskilled and semi-skilled labor was the city's growing population of Irish immigrants. By the mid-1870s, most blacks who had been living in the district in previous decades appear to have relocated to other neighborhoods in the city, such as the upper Hill and Dixwell, while Trowbridge Square and its environs developed into one of the city's principal lower-income Irish working-class neighborhoods. The district's emergence as a predominantly Irish area was tangibly reflected by the purchase and conversion of the 1851 South Congregational Church in 1875 by the district's Irish Roman Catholics for use as the Church of the Sacred Heart.
The district's growth and consolidation as an Irish working-class neighborhood continued through the earliest years of the twentieth century. Throughout most of the district, new construction was limited to erecting infill structures, such as the few multi-unit brick apartment buildings and frame tenements erected along Columbus Avenue just west of Salem Street (232-34, 246, 248 and 258-60 Columbus Avenue) and Portsea and upper Salem Streets (223-25 Portsea Street, 47-49, 48-50, and 52-54 Salem Street) in the late 1880s and 1890s. The only significant redevelopment of sites to have occurred prior to the twentieth century was located in the block framed by Columbus Avenue and Liberty, Portsea and Cedar Streets, where the parishioners of the Church of the Sacred Heart demolished a group of mid-nineteenth century frame structures prior to erecting the present school, convent and rectory buildings in the mid-1890s. During these latter decades of the nineteenth century most of the houses which currently line Rosette Street were constructed by developers for sale or rental to Irish workers from the nearby rail yards. Laid out in the 1880s, Rosette Street was the last street opened in the district. Located just north of the railroad culvert which forms the district's southernmost boundary, and lined with small modest Stick and Queen Anne/Colonial Revival style cottages, this street formed the southernmost terminus of concentrated residential development in the Trowbridge Square district prior to the turn of the twentieth century.
The overall physical character of the district experienced relatively few changes following the turn of the twentieth century. The most significant of these changes was the demolition of roughly a dozen and one-half houses, including a group of small workers' cottages erected for the Trowbridges across from the southern end of the square in the 1850s; these cottages were replaced in 1925 by the extant Trowbridge Recreation Center, a brick Neoclassical style structure designed by the locally prominent architectural firm Brown and Von Beren. However, during the early years of the twentieth century, the principal ethnic background of the district's population began to shift. As members of the area's upwardly mobile Irish-American population began to moving out to the expanding middle-class "streetcar suburbs" along the city's northern and western fringes, they were increasingly replaced by Italian immigrant families. City directories indicate that by the onset of World War II, the district's population was dominated by Italian-American workers and their families. Following World War II, the ethnic character of the neighborhood began to shift again. As more and more of the district's Italian-Americans moved to the developing suburban areas in adjacent towns, the district began to experience an influx of black and Hispanic families. Today, the district's population is dominated by these latter two ethnic minorities.
The Trowbridge Square Historic District derives its distinctive architectural character primarily from its retention of substantially intact, first-generation streetscapes comprised of extremely small and modestly scaled, stylistically reduced residences built over the course of six decades for members of the city's working-class population. Encompassing a relatively complete range of popular vernacular residential building styles and forms from this era, the houses which dominate these streetscapes not only continue to reflect the area's historic pattern and period of development; they also serve as one of the city's most intact and cohesive surviving catalogues documenting the evolution of nineteenth century workers' housing, providing, in the words of one noted local architectural historian, "... a contribution to American 19th century urbanism of a rare sort."
New Haven Land Records
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. "New Haven Old and New: Its Homes, Institutions, Activities, etc." MSS. 145 Volumes. On file at the New Haven Colony Historical Society, New Haven, Connecticut.
Loether, Paul and Dorothea Penar. New Haven Historic Resources Inventory, Phase III: Northern New Haven. New Haven: The New Haven Preservation Trust, 1983.
McQueeny, Mary Beth. "Simeon Jocelyn, New Haven Reformer." Journal of the New Haven Colony Historical Society, Volume 19, Number 3. New Haven: The New Haven Colony Historical Society, September 1970.
New Haven Historic Resources Inventory, Phase I: Central New Haven. New Haven: The New Haven Preservation Trust, 1982.
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.H. 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.
Hartley and Whiteford. Map of the City of New haven from Actual Surveys, etc. Philadelphia: Collins and Clark, 1851.
"Map of the City of New Haven from Actual Survey." Jocelyn, Darling and Company, 1830.
From a Survey made for the City of New Haven by the United States Coast Survey, Sheet No.6; New Haven, Connecticut, 1877.
New Haven City Directories, 1840-1924.
† Dorothea Penar & J. Paul Loether, New haven Preservation Trust and John Herzan, Connecticut Historical Commission, Trowbridge Square Historic District, New Haven, CT, nomination document, 1985, National Park Service, National Register of Historic Places, Washington, D.C.