Edgewood Park Historic District
The Edgewood Park Historic District was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1986. 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 Edgewood Park Historic District is located in the west-central portion of New Haven, Connecticut, approximately nine-tenths of a mile north/northwest of the New Haven Green. The Edgewood Park Historic District encompasses slightly more than 240 acres of land, 145 acres of which now form Edgewood Park. There are 232 major structures located within the Edgewood Park Historic District, with additional structures located in the park.
The Edgewood Park Historic District's most notable topographical feature is the West River, which runs through Edgewood Park in the eastern end of the district on a north-south axis. From the West River, the landscape rapidly rises about forty feet to Yale Avenue on the west. To the east of the West River the land rises about forty-five feet to a relatively level plateau which extends toward the east through the remainder of the district.
Edgewood Avenue, a broad boulevard which features a large central esplanade, forms the principal east-west artery through the heart of the Edgewood Park Historic District. Other east-west roads include portions of Chapel Street on the southern side of the district, and Elm and Maple Streets on the northern side of the district. Roads which extend through the district from north to south include portions of Sherman Avenue, Winthrop Avenue, Norton Street, Ellsworth Avenue, Boulevard and Brownell Street.
Most of the major structures in the Edgewood Park Historic District were built as single family houses between 1888 and 1920. Of the 232 major structures in the district, only one structure does not contribute to the Edgewood Park Historic District's historical and architectural significance. The two dominant styles of construction are the Queen Anne and Colonial Revival styles. The Edgewood Park Historic District boundary is formed on the west by the boundary of Edgewood Park, and on the south by the park and the rear property lines of those buildings fronting on Edgewood Avenue. On the east the boundary is formed by the west side of Sherman Avenue, and on the north by Elm Street and the park boundary.
Edgewood Park is located on the west end of the Edgewood Park Historic District, between the Edgewood esplanade and Donald Grant Mitchell's former farm at Edgewood. A c.1888 map by Mitchell shows the park and esplanade much as they are today. The park is bounded on the east by West Park and Edgewood Avenues and Boulevard; on the south by Derby Avenue; on the west by Yale and West Rock Avenues and on the north by Whalley Avenue. It is bisected by Edgewood Avenue and Chapel Street, and the West River runs north and south across its length. A winding pedestrian road, as well as a number of paths run through the park, according to Mitchell's plan. The duck pond is a notable feature along the north side of Chapel Street. Only a few structures are located within the park, the largest being the modern ice-skating rink near Whalley Avenue. Other notable features of the park, which combines lawns with wooded sections, include the memorial to the USS Maine. This memorial, erected by the Allen M. Osborn Camp #1 United Spanish War Veterans, depicts a soldier holding a gun. The figure is executed in bronze taken from the ship and is mounted on a granite plinth. Other late nineteenth- and early twentieth-century features of the park include the aggregate lamp posts along the park road and several stone retaining walls. Perhaps the most impressive man-made feature of the park is the Edgewood Avenue Bridge which allows vehicular traffic to cross the West River and pedestrians to travel underneath to the south end of the park. A classically inspired balustraded terrace lines the water's edge. The metal truss bridge over the West River at Chapel Street is less ornate.
Several newer adjuncts are also part of the park, including tennis courts, playground equipment, a picnic pavilion and various bridges over the river.
Edgewood Avenue Esplanade and Other Residential Parts of the District
While all the streets located within the Edgewood Park Historic District boast a wealth of intact turn-of-the-century residences, the most prominent single streetscape in the district continues to be Edgewood Avenue between Winthrop Avenue and Edgewood Park. The relatively large scale of the houses along this broad boulevard, in conjunction with the unusually well-maintained historic integrity and grand scale of the boulevard itself, effectively denotes this street as the principal access corridor between Edgewood Park and New Haven's downtown core.
Over 25% of the contributing structures in the Edgewood Park Historic District are located along this esplanade, while the remaining 75% are located on the side streets which cross Edgewood Avenue, and on Maple or Elm Streets or the section of Edgewood Avenue east of the esplanade. Less than 1% of the structures in the Edgewood Park Historic District were built before 1888, while the bulk of the buildings were constructed between 1889 and 1900. Approximately 100 buildings were constructed between 1889 and 1900. Approximately 100 buildings in the district were built between 1901 and 1920, most of these dating prior to World War I. Only one non-contributing structure is located within the district, at 186 Norton Street.
Nearly all the structures are residential in nature; although a few were built as multi-family dwellings, most were originally constructed as single-family houses. Over 90% are built of frame; shingles and clapboard sheathings predominate. A few have stucco facing on one or more stories.
The main styles represented in the Edgewood Park Historic District are Queen Anne, Colonial Revival, and a transitional style which incorporates elements of both styles. The Queen Anne style seems to be the best represented in the Edgewood Park Historic District. A notable example of this style is the Dennis and Hannah Manning House at 469 Edgewood Avenue. A typical example of the Colonial Revival style is the Newton H. Cox House at 190 Ellsworth Avenue. A representative example of the full-blown transitional style is the Frank J. Schollhorn House, at 454 Edgewood Avenue. More striking than the stylistic differences of the houses within the Edgewood Park Historic District is the amazing similarity of form, which cuts across the various styles. Most of the houses are 2-1/2 stories tall, and because they are located on rather narrow lots of similar size, they tend to be oriented with their narrow ends toward the street. The intersecting gable roof is the most common roof type, and all the styles tend to incorporate the use of 2-story canted bays. Another common house form within the Edgewood Park Historic District is the American Foursquare.
Another factor which successfully unites the Edgewood Park Historic District, and which makes it an extension of the park, is the landscape plan. The tree-lined streets and uniform set-backs contribute to the sense of the district as a neighborhood.
Edgewood Park Historic District is New Haven's finest, most intact and cohesive example of a large residential neighborhood whose initial development was actively fostered by the city under the design and planning tenets embodied by the late nineteenth-century City Beautiful Movement, a movement designed to achieve an harmonious balance between the natural and built environment within the context of the urban setting.
Mitchell was born in Norwich, Connecticut, and was a graduate of Yale College. After an initial venture with the Foreign Service in Europe he turned to literary pursuits, writing on a variety of subjects for several magazines. He also published several books. In 1855 he settled in New Haven, purchasing a large farm which he named Edgewood. Under his pen name of Ik Marvel he wrote about farming, home construction, and town planning in a series of books, using Edgewood as a model. In 1904 Mitchell was presented with an award by the New England Association of Park Superintendents and at that time Mitchell was acknowledged as having "laid the foundation for scientific and beautiful park building throughout this country." For many years Mitchell served as a landscape consultant with such prestigious clients as Princeton and Lafayette Colleges and the City of Allegheny, Pennsylvania. As an advisor to the Parks Commission of the City of New Haven, he set his personal seal on a city which was his home for over fifty years.
The architectural significance of the Edgewood Park Historic District lies mainly in the fact that it is one of the largest and most nearly intact late nineteenth-century residential areas in the city. It boasts a wealth of variations on the Queen Anne and Colonial Revival styles, and most of these houses have been little altered since their construction. The district was intensively developed between 1892 and 1910, and the houses are nearly similar in size and materials. A remarkable richness of late nineteenth and early twentieth-century architectural detail is evident in the district. These details are elegant, crisp and well executed. Substantial examples of the Queen Anne style such as the Nathaniel B. Stone House (1908), 7 West Park Avenue, are included in the Edgewood Park Historic District. The Stone House with its polygonal corner turret and wraparound porch, or the Steven B. Warren House (1893-94), 24 Maple Street, with the Art Glass window in the stairwell, have a number of fine details typical of the style and period. Excellent examples of the full-blown Colonial Revival style are evident in the three houses at 742-48 Elm Street (1909), with their symmetrical proportions and pedimented dormers. Another common form of the Colonial Revival style within the district is represented by the John M. and Adella Marvin House (1907) at 384 Edgewood Avenue. This hipped-roof structure has a central hipped dormer and three-bay facade sheltered by a large one-story porch. Only a few of the houses in the Edgewood Park Historic District have suffered greatly from unsympathetic additions or alterations, although forty-four have been sheathed in aluminum, asbestos, or vinyl siding, or have lost all or part of their original porches.
The preservation of Mitchell's landscaped esplanade in the center of Edgewood Avenue, and the presence of the landscaped side streets and Edgewood Park maintain Mitchell's original conception of the neighborhood.
Like many of the areas located along the fringe of New Haven's early to mid-nineteenth-century urban core, most of the district known today as Edgewood remained thinly settled and semi-rural prior to the end of the Civil War. Maps dating from the nineteenth century indicate that most of the settlement which had taken place in the area by the early 1870's consisted of approximately three dozen houses plus associated outbuildings; virtually all of these were located along the southern, northern and eastern fringes of the Edgewood area.
One of the principal reasons accounting for the sparse nature of settlement in Edgewood throughout the bulk of the nineteenth century was the existence of New Haven's large Old Alms House Farm complex in the heart of the district. New Haven first erected buildings for use as an alms/work house in the eastern end of the modern Edgewood district in 1800.
The farmland originally associated with these buildings, known as the Second Alms House, was extensive. It covered better than 250 acres of the land in the core of the modern Edgewood District between Sherman Avenue and the West River.
In the 1850's New Haven erected a new (Third) Alms House facility near the western end of Martin Street, now known as Edgewood Avenue. The move resulted from pressure put on the town to open up land along the eastern fringe of Edgewood for residential development. This demand for potential new housing sites was fostered by the population growth associated with the developing carriage manufacturing industry in the area known today as Dwight Street Historic District, the western side of which abutted the Alms House Farm lands laid out in 1800.
Following the opening of the Third Alms House facility, the town sub-divided and offered for sale roughly fifty acres of the eastern section of the Alms House farmland abutting the western side of the Dwight Street Historic District (land between Winthrop and Sherman Avenues south of Maple Street) for development as housing sites. However, the bulk of the remaining acreage associated with the Alms House was intentionally retained by the town until 1874. In a town meeting that year, it was voted to purchase a farm in Westville and move the entire complex out of the Edgewood district. It was also decided at this meeting that the town should subdivide the remaining land for sale to individuals as building lots.
Despite the fact that the decision was made to relocate the facility and open up its Edgewood holdings for sale and development in 1874, the relocation of the Alms House to Springside Avenue in Westville did not take place until 1888-89. The continued presence of the Alms House in the neighborhood inhibited sales of the building lots, but after 1889 the area experienced a virtual explosion in lot sales and house construction.
As in many .American communities which were becoming increasingly urbanized following the end of the Reconstruction era, the tenets of urban planning and design embodied in the movement known as the City Beautiful made a significant impact on the City of New Haven during the latter decades of the nineteenth century and the early years of the twentieth century. City Beautiful drew much of its essence from such precedents as the grand boulevards and linear gardenways designed and built in Paris in the 1850's and 1860's under the auspices of George-Eugene Haussman, the large public parks designed and built under the supervision of Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux in New York City (Central Park-1858) and Brooklyn (Prospect Park-1867), as well as such classical Renaissance themes as rhythmic architectural continuity in streetscape design.
The pervasive influence of City Beautiful in New Haven during the decades surrounding the turn of the century is nowhere better reflected than in the approach which the City of New Haven took in fostering the development of its expansive Alms House Farm holdings as a residential subdivision in 1889. Working in conjunction with Donald Grant Mitchell, the designer of East Rock Park (1880), and one of the city's most prominent landscape architects and leading advocate of the concepts embodied in City Beautiful, the city laid out land along both sides of the West River as a large park based on the earlier East Rock model. The central east-west artery leading through the district to this new park, Martin Street, was totally redesigned, emerging as a broad avenue featuring a large park-like central esplanade. In recognition of Mitchell's design efforts, as well as his donation of a substantial portion of his own land along the western side of the West River for the new park, both Martin Street and the park were renamed for Mitchell's nearby farm, "Edgewood." The newly christened Edgewood Avenue led directly to Mitchell's estate, which was the next tract of land to be developed as a residential suburb in the early years of the twentieth century.
The City of New Haven's effort to ensure the development of the post-1889 Old Alms House Farm subdivision as a showpiece of modern urban planning and design was not limited to the creation of a new park and avenue. The city's intention that the subdivision be developed as a residential district featuring substantial, well-designed houses is reflected by the fact that the vast majority of the deeds granted to individuals for property in the subdivision after 1889 carried the following restrictive covenant:
"...if at any time hereafter this property shall be used for any purposes other than for a residence, or if more than one dwelling house to accommodate more than two families be erected thereon, or if the first cost of such dwelling house shall be less than three thousand dollars, then the whole of said lot and all improvements thereon shall be forfeited and revert to the grantor, its successors and assigns forever."
Residential development in the Old Alms House Farm subdivision along the lines established by the city was basically complete by the second decade of the twentieth century. Most of the occupants were prosperous professional people or middle management in one of the city's many factories. Today, virtually all of the houses built during this period still stand. Most retain nearly all of their original exterior features.
Lamb, Barbara, "Donald Grant Mitchell and His Edgewood Farm," unpublished paper, collection New Haven Colony Historical Society, 1984.
Map of the Lay Out of Lots on the Old Alms House Farm from maps made by Cassius W. Kelly, Engineer, dated August 23, 1890, and September 26, 1891. Collection New Haven Colony Historical Society.
† Kate Ohno, New Haven Preservation Trust and John Herzan, Connecticut Historical Commission, Edgewood Park Historic District, New Haven, CT, nomination document, 1986, National Park Service, National Register of Historic Places, Washington, D.C.