West Haven Green Historic District
The West Haven Green Historic District was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2000. Portions of the content on this web page were adapted from a copy of the original nomination document. [†] Adaptation copyright © 2010, The Gombach Group.
The West Haven Green Historic District consists of the 5.3-acre Green and the buildings surrounding three sides of the Green. The First Congregational Church and several historical monuments stand on the Green itself. While the location of the Green was established in colonial times, the present landscaping and the surrounding buildings date from the late 19th century. The two most architecturally significant buildings in the West Haven Green Historic District are the frame Romanesque Revival Congregational Church with its brick Colonial Revival additions on the Green, and the traprock Episcopal Church, designed by Cram, Goodhue & Ferguson, which is on the Church Street (south) side of the Green. Commercial buildings line Campbell Avenue on the east and frame domestic structures face the open space from across Savin Avenue on the west. The block of Main Street on the fourth (north) side of the Green is dominated by mid-20th century architecture, mostly commercial but including the City Hall. Since these buildings are less than 50 years old, the block is not included in the West Haven Green Historic District.
The Green is a flat square block bounded on the north by Main Street, on the east by Campbell Avenue, on the south by Church Street, and on the west by Savin Avenue. Its earliest feature is the 18th-century cemetery in the southwest corner. The landscaping of radial walks lined by shade trees was initiated in the late 19th century, and the monuments and bandstand in the 20th century.
The siting and spacing of buildings within the West Haven Green Historic District fall into three categories, which are related to the religious, commercial, and residential functions. First, the two churches are surrounded by ample space, the Congregational Church being alone on the Green and the Episcopal Church with its satellite properties occupying the entire Church Street block. Second, the commercial buildings on Campbell Avenue have common walls, creating maximum density. And third, the modest but comfortable spacing of the seven houses is consistent with late-19th/early-20th century residential practice.
The Congregational Church, on the Green, consists of the three sections, the 1859 frame sanctuary, the 1915 brick Parish House, and the 1959 brick Education Building. The sanctuary is a two-story rectangular building with projecting front tower and steeple in the Federal/Greek Revival tradition, but with distinguishing Romanesque Revival features of round arches, solid proportions, and strong cornices characteristic of its era of construction. Christ Church Episcopal, across the street to the south, also adjoins an 18th-century cemetery. The stone church building articulates a Gothic Revival design of the architectural firm of Cram, Goodhue & Ferguson.
The row of commercial buildings runs along Campbell Avenue from just north of Main Street to just south of Curtiss Place. At the north the large three-story Tudor Revival Wood Building faces the Italianate Thompson Block across Main Street, to be followed by a row of mostly early 20th-century stores which continues to Curtiss Place, The Classical Revival/Colonial Revival brick office building of the Southern New England Telephone Company then anchors the southeast corner of the district.
The West Haven Green Historic District's seven houses are comfortably spaced, starting on Church Street west of Christ Church and extending around the corner along the west side of the Green on Savin Avenue. They are stylistically eclectic examples of the Queen Anne, American Foursquare, Colonial Revival, Neo-Classical Revival, and Dutch Colonial Revival styles. The West Haven Green Historic District's one apartment house, at the northwest corner, is in the Tudor Revival style, three stories high, and by its size and style balances the three-story Tudor Revival commercial block at the northeast corner.
Objects and Structure
20th-century changes have brought three monuments to the Green. The World War I memorial consists of a granite pedestal which supports the bronze figure of a Doughboy celebrating the Armistice, while the Firefighters Monument features a bronze bell on rough finished granite, and a large boulder commemorates a West Haven incident in the Revolutionary War. The chess table is an added amenity. The most recent addition is the 1987 frame bandstand.
The West Haven Green Historic District is significant historically because it was settled in the 17th century as part of the New Haven Colony and because it played a central role in the area's late-19th/early-20th century religious, commercial, and residential development. At the beginning of this period, in 1876, ownership of the Green passed from church to town. The Green is significant architecturally because it contains well-designed and well-preserved examples of many of the styles in vogue in the mid-19th century and early-20th century, including Romanesque Revival, Italianate, Queen Anne, Tudor Revival, and Colonial Revival.
When the New Haven Colony was established, ca.1640, it included a section known as West Farms, where first settlers arrived in 1648, which over the centuries has evolved into the City of West Haven. West Haven remained a section of New Haven until 1822, when it became part of the new Town of Orange. Late in the 19th century, West Haven developed as the residential borough in the otherwise rural Town of Orange, before it was set off as a separate town in 1921 and incorporated as a city in 1961.
By the early 18th century, West Haven had sufficient population to warrant becoming a separate parish, which was created by the General Court in Hartford in 1715, The first building to be constructed by the Congregational Church followed in 1719. It was built on the Green, then a low marshy plot of ground used as pasture.
The Congregational parish was soon followed, in 1723, by an Episcopal parish, the second oldest in Connecticut, after Stratford. West Haven's first Christ Church Episcopal building was constructed in 1739, on about the location of the present edifice, also on or adjacent to the Green. There was no street separating the two as Church Street (1905) now does.
The Green was the scene of action during the Revolutionary War when Major General William Tryon led British forces in a brief invasion directed at New Haven. The July 5, 1779, incident, in which 27 Americans lost their lives, is commemorated on the Green by a memorial boulder to Adjutant William Campbell, a British soldier who saved the life of West Haven's Reverend Noah Williston, and by a slate gravestone in the cemetery erected by the great grandson of a West Haven citizen who lost his life that day.
The Green began to assume a landscaped identity in the 19th century when by 1860 it had walks and was fenced in. Some disagreement between the two churches over whether the Green should be enclosed, and if so exactly what area, led to removal of the fence and consideration of what entity held title to the Green. The question of ownership arose basically from introduction of Connecticut's 1818 constitution which disestablished the Congregational church, thereby dissolving the unity of church and town in such matters as ownership of real estate. The question came to the fore when the Congregational Ecclesiastical Society began to plan for replacement of its edifice. The issue was finally disposed of by decision on the part of the Congregational Church, by a vote of 12 to 6, to quit claim to the borough its interest in the Green. The deed, dated March 13, 1876, and recorded at Orange Land Records, volume 25, pages 77 and 78, reads in part, "the first [sic] Ecclesiastical Society of West Haven ...quit claim...unto the Borough...all the right, title...in the West Haven Green...excepting ...the site upon which the present ...edifice stands. With the right to enlarge same...." The right to enlarge was exercised for the 1915 and 1960 additions, and for the 1980s play yard on Church Street (The Green). The question of ownership of the town green has been settled by similar quit claim in some other Connecticut town; and sometimes left unresolved, as in Branford.
As the 19th century drew to a close and the 20th century opened, West Haven participated in Connecticut's commercial and industrial growth, which brought downtown development. The row of commercial buildings on the east side of the Green that gradually came into place was served by a trolley line on Campbell Avenue. The buildings often were owner occupied, with retail or other business facilities on the ground floor and living quarters for the owner's family on the second. Multi-story blocks housed professional offices, lodges, and town offices. Parallel accompanying residential construction developed on the west side of the Green. The West Haven Green, always the center of religious activity, strengthened its place in the community by becoming the important focus of commercial and desirable residential facilities as well.
Buildings, Objects, and Structures
The Congregational and Episcopal church buildings are good examples of several styles of ecclesiastical architecture. The initial Congregational edifice, built in 1719, deteriorated and was replaced in 1851 by a new structure of unknown appearance, which was destroyed by fire only eight years later, in 1859. The following year the present sanctuary was erected to the design of Sidney Mason Stone of New Haven, a prominent contemporary of Henry Austin. It was designed in the Wren/Gibbs tradition of gable-roofed rectangle with projecting front tower and spire complemented by banks of tall side windows. However, Federal or Greek Revival trim, traditional in New England for such churches, here is replaced by classical motifs such as round-arched openings and modillion courses sensitive to the Romanesque Revival mode of its day. The eclectic design is carried through on the interior where a two-story-high round arch on tall paired pilasters dominates the white pews and galleries. The 20th-century additions are equally reflective of their eras in the Neo-Classical Revival Parish House and Colonial Revival Education Building, both in red brick with white trim and hipped roofs.
Christ Church Episcopal, on the other hand, reflects the 19th-century conviction of its mother denomination, the Church of England, that the only appropriate architectural style for churches is the Gothic Revival. Cram, Goodhue & Ferguson, the leading American firm designing in the mode responsive to this official view as espoused by the Ecclesiologist Society, created a fine example of the type for West Haven's Christ Church Episcopal. The walls devote far more area to stone ashlar than windows in the Norman tradition of the Early English interpretation of the style, in a manner consistent with the chunky proportions and heavy buttresses which place less emphasis on the vertical than later interpretations. The dark wood interior is consistent in its plan of nave and aisles, its high arched truss ceiling, and abundant Episcopal iconography in stained glass and other materials. Bertram Grosvenor Goodhue (1869-1924), the partner in charge, began his career in the office of James Renwick (1818-1895) before entering into partnership with Ralph Adams Cram (1863-1942) in 1891 for a highly successful ecclesiastical practice. After Goodhue established his own office in 1914, he was responsible for the Fine Arts Building of the Panama-California Exposition of 1915 and, his last work, the Nebraska State Capitol.
The oldest of the standing buildings in the commercial row on Campbell Avenue facing west toward the Green is the Thompson Block, 507-509 Campbell Avenue, which continues to be a strong statement of the Italianate style despite severe alterations to the first floor. The cubical mass, elaborate classical window trim, and broad bracketed roof overhang are character-defining Italianate features. The Tudor Revival Wood Building, 519-529 Campbell Avenue, is an equally strong expression of its style, presenting half-timbered facades on both the Campbell Avenue and Main Street front elevations. Its green tile roof and ongoing drugstore tenancy both are original features which continue from the time the building was constructed. Most of the other buildings on Campbell Avenue between Main Street and Curtiss Place are more modest 1- and 2-story structures, many with altered storefronts and added rear extensions. Nonetheless, they continue to convey an accurate sense of a commercial streetscape of their era. Contemporary early-20th century architectural trends are discernible in remaining original features such as the restrained wooden details of 481-483 Campbell Avenue, suggestive of the Arts and Crafts movement, and the flat classically inspired embellishment associated with the Art Deco style also found in 481-483 Campbell Avenue and at 485-487 Campbell Avenue. The final component in the row geographically, the Southern New England Telephone Building, and the last to be constructed, in 1924, is also the best preserved. The Neo-Classical Revival design is in the mode popularized by the Chicago World's Columbian Exposition of 1893, and therefore is somewhat retarditaire for the 1920s when 20th-century styles were coming to the fore, a circumstance consistent with the conservative architectural proclivity of corporate owners such as the telephone company. The care and accuracy with which the details of the original front section of the building were executed in the first floor of the rear addition are noteworthy.
The oldest of the residential buildings in the West Haven Green Historic District, and perhaps the most significant architecturally, is 38 Church Street, where the unity and completeness of Queen Anne/Stick style design are outstanding. The asymmetrical plan, clapboard siding at the first floor, imbricated shingles at the second, second-floor applied trim, and gable-end treatment, all well-preserved, give it distinction. Next door, 44 Church Street, the American Foursquare, five-bedroom Christ Church Rectory is another good example of its style and continues the residential function. Around the corner to the west, the Savin Avenue block continues the residential presence, although only one of the buildings, 686 Savin Avenue in the Dutch Colonial Revival style, continues to function as a single-family residence. Three others serve commercial purposes, while the former Congregational Parsonage, 678 Savin Avenue, an elaborate Neo-Classical Revival/Colonial Revival design, has been enlarged and converted to residential condominiums. The newest building (1943) is the Tudor Revival apartment block, 405 Main Street, at the northwest corner of the district, which balances in mass and style the Wood Building, 519-529 Campbell Avenue, at the northeast corner of the district.
The World War I Monument on the Green is a conventional design of granite pedestal, bronze figure, and bronze plaques. The figure is transitional in the sense that while it is an idealized oversized rendering of a generic subject in the Beaux-Arts discipline, it also reflects 20th-century realism in the exuberant pose of helmet held high in celebration of the Armistice. The plaques on the pedestal articulate pristine classical composition by their segmental shape, embellished mace borders, laurel wreaths, and foliate motifs. The Firefighters Monument exhibits a transitional mix of techniques in its early use of sandblasting for the front face of the pedestal with rock-faced finish for the sides and back. Other Connecticut memorials to firefighters are found in New London, New Haven, and Fairfield. The Campbell Boulder is unusual because it memorializes a British soldier, for whom Campbell Avenue was named, and for the crossed flags and still highly legible lettering in the stone.
A historic photograph shows the presence on the Green in the 19th century of a bandstand. The 1987 John C. Ireland Bandstand carries the presence of a bandstand on the Green into contemporary times.
Barr, William K.. "Looking Back...at the Campbell monument." West Haven Voice, February 19, 1998.
Congregational Quarterly 5 (October 1863):317.
Cram, Ralph Adams. Letter dated September 25, 1907, stating that Goodhue was primarily responsible for design. In possession of Christ Church Episcopal.
Cunningham, Janice P. Historic and Architectural Resource Survey of West Haven, CT. Statewide Historic Resource Inventory. Hartford: Connecticut Historical Commission, 1985.
Darbee, Herbert. West Haven, aluminum blue and silver signboard erected by Connecticut Historical Commission in front of City Hall, c.1980s.
Fire Department Captain, Fire Department Headquarters, Savin and Elm Streets, interview August 27, 1999.
Neustadter, Mary. West Haven Green. Statewide Historic Town Green Inventory. Hartford: Connecticut Historical Commission, 1991.
North, Harriet C., Municipal Historian. "The West Haven Green is buried in history." West Haven News, November 3, 1995.
Orange Land Records, volume 25, pages 77, 78, March 15, 1876.
Perrone, Joseph, historian, West Haven Christ Church Episcopal. Conversation, June 8, 1999.
Sabo, Beth M., Commissioner of Human Resources, City of West Haven, and manager of Town Green rehabilitation project. Conversation, June 11, 1999.
Shine, Bob, historian, West Haven First Congregational Church. Conversation, June 8, 1999.
Works Progress Administration Writers' Program. History of West Haven, Connecticut. 1940, pp.13,14.
"World War Memorial Dedication" (program). Armistice Day, November 11, 1928. West Haven, Connecticut.
† David F.Ransom, Consultant and John Herzan, Connecticut Historical Commission, West Haven Green Historic District, West Haven, CT, nomination document, 1999, National Park Service, National Register of Historic Places, Washington, D.C.