Quinnipiac River Historic District

New Haven City, New Haven County, CT

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The Quinnipiac River Historic District was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1984. Portions of the content on this web page were adapted from a copy of the original nomination documentation. []


The Quinnipiac River Historic District is located in New Haven, Connecticut, a large industrial city approximately one hundred miles northeast of New York City on Long Island Sound. The Quinnipiac River Historic District includes a large part of the former village of Fair Haven, a small maritime community which grew up on both the east and west banks of the Quinnipiac River in the late eighteenth century. Most of the buildings in the Quinnipiac River Historic District were constructed between 1780 and 1920. Although the Quinnipiac River Historic District is largely residential, it also contains representative examples of the early commercial buildings, churches, and private schools as well as some of the buildings associated with the oystering industry which was the village's major focus from the 1780s until the turn of the century. The major north-south streets in the district are Quinnipiac Avenue and Lenox Street, on the east bank of the river, and North and South Front Streets, Perkins Street, East Pearl Street, Clinton Avenue, Atwater Street, Houston and Ferry Streets, on the west bank of the river. The major east-west streets are Chapel Street, Grand Avenue and its extension East Grand Avenue on the east bank, and Pine Street.

Architectural styles are represented in the Quinnipiac River Historic District include Colonial, Federal, Greek Revival, Italian Villa, Italianate, Second Empire, Queen Anne, High Victorian Gothic, Gothic Revival, Romanesque, Colonial Revival and Jacobethan Revival. Physically the Quinnipiac River Historic District is grouped tightly on both sides of the river around the central point of the Grand Avenue Bridge. The river is not only geographically the central feature of the Quinnipiac River Historic District, but it is the dominant feature because of the terrain of the district and the orientation of the buildings. Almost every building within the Quinnipiac River Historic District is in sight of the water or directly fronting on it. A bridge has been in existence on this site since the early 1790s and the bridge was largely responsible for the development of Fair Haven as we know it today. Few structures in the Quinnipiac River Historic District are more than two blocks away from the river and some of the densest concentrations of early and significant buildings in the district are located on or facing the river bank (i.e. North Front Street on the west bank and Quinnipiac Avenue on the east bank). The Quinnipiac River Historic District is geographically tied to other natural and man-made features besides the river. On the east bank the sharp rise of Fair Haven Heights marks the edge of the concentration of early settlement and the eastern boundary of the district. On the northeastern corner the boundary of the district is defined by the railroad tracks north of the junction with Hemingway Street. On the south, the Quinnipiac River Historic District is defined by industrial buildings and more recent residential construction on the east bank and the boundary of the Quinnipiac Brewery, already on the National Register, on the west bank. The western and northwestern edges of the district are defined by a combination of residences built after the Quinnipiac River Historic District's period of greatest significance (i.e. post-1870s) and mid-twentieth century commercial and residential uses.

Within the extensive geographical confines of the Quinnipiac River Historic District is a section of bottomland at the mouth of Hemingway Creek which comprises the major undeveloped land in the district. Another major open space in the Quinnipiac River Historic District, the nicely landscaped seven-acre neighborhood cemetery, the Fair Haven Union Cemetery, is in the northwestern corner of the district, bounded by Pine, Bridge and Atwater Streets and Grand Avenue. It is a beautifully landscaped area, which like many cemeteries was developed in the late nineteenth century into a park-like environment, with handsome High Victorian Gothic polychrome stone gates and a memorial chapel executed in the same style in the center of the cemetery. With the exception of the landscaped surroundings of the schools and churches along Grand Avenue, the rest of the large open spaces in the district are the result of demolition. These demolitions are particularly evident along South Front Street where a riverside park and a new housing development are planned, and on the south side of Grand Avenue and the north side of Exchange Street between South Front and East Pearl streets. This vacant land mainly takes the form of waste ground rather than surface parking lots.

The Quinnipiac River Historic District is a large one; it contains 567 buildings. Ninety-two percent of the buildings in the district contribute to its historic and/or architectural significance. The most common building material is wood, although brick is fairly widely used for commercial and institutional structures. The Quinnipiac River Historic District has a strong residential character; however, the corridor formed by Grand Avenue/East Grand Avenue, the section of Quinnipiac Avenue two blocks north and south of the bridge and the east side of North Front Street are commercial sections. Other private and public uses, such as school and church buildings, the public library and the neighborhood cemetery and fire station are also located in these commercial sections. More than 50% of the buildings in the Quinnipiac River Historic District were constructed between 1780 and 1870, the period when Fair Haven achieved its greatest significance.

The earliest house in the Quinnipiac River Historic District dates c.1765, and only a handful of buildings in the district date before 1800. A good example of the type of house built in the district in the late eighteenth century is the Levi Granniss House at 198 North Front Street.

Early nineteenth century styles are well represented in the district; the Stephen Rowe House and Tavern at 182-184 North Front Street and the Federal style King Block at 14 Grand Avenue exemplify early commercial buildings in the district. The early nineteenth century saw the construction of numerous small, plain, Post-Colonial houses. In Fair Haven these have little detailing which makes them recognizable as representative of a particular architectural style. These one- or two-story frame dwellings have gable roofs and are set either gable-end-to-street or with the roof ridge parallel to the street. Most are built on raised basements. This house type probably was the earliest and most common type of dwelling in Fair Haven, and the form persists into the second half of the nineteenth century. This form manifests itself despite the variety of nineteenth century architectural styles also exhibited in the district.

The Greek Revival style, the style popular when Fair Haven's prosperity reached a pinnacle in the second quarter of the nineteenth century, is the dominant style in the Quinnipiac River Historic District. The two- or two-and-a-half-story frame gable-end-to-street house set on a raised stone or brick basement is the most common house type in the district. Other house types with Greek Revival details are also in evidence in the district, as well as commercial buildings at 29 Grand Avenue, 280 North Front Street and the Long Brick Store at 28-30 East Grand Avenue. The Second Congregational Church at 65 East Grand Avenue is the most monumental building of this style in the district.

Italianate houses and Italian Villas are also numerous in the Quinnipiac River Historic District. There are a handful of Second Empire houses, but several of these, like 37 East Pearl Street, are remodelled versions of earlier houses. There are a number of Queen Anne houses within the district. Although most of these are of the plainer gable-end-to-street type with Queen Anne details applied to an otherwise simple house, there are also more substantial Queen Anne houses with complex plans, asymmetrical massing, turrets, a variety of sheathings, extensive millwork ornament and stained-glass windows.

Included in this group of more substantial Queen Anne houses are 65 East Pearl Street, 113 East Pearl Street, 561 Quinnipiac Avenue and 227 Lenox Street. Representative of the more modest Queen Anne houses in the district are 533-545 Quinnipiac Avenue. A small Queen Anne style office was also built on the east bank of the Quinnipiac River and is presently used by the oystering company at 610 Quinnipiac Avenue.

Only three clear-cut examples of the High Victorian Gothic style exist in the Quinnipiac River Historic District: the East Pearl Street Methodist Church at (5 East Pearl Street, the Fair Haven Union Cemetery gates and the Soldiers Memorial Chapel in the cemetery. A number of houses in the district have Victorian Gothic detailing. The chief of these is the brick East Pearl Methodist Church parsonage at 100 East Pearl Street, but there are numerous more modest frame houses such as 55 and 61 Pierpont Street, also built in this style in the district.

The sole Gothic Revival structure in the district is the St. James Episcopal Church on East Grand Avenue. The Grand Avenue Congregational Church, originally designed to reflect classical ideals in 1853, was altered to the Romanesque style c.1878.

Although commercial buildings form a small percentage of the district, there are several good examples of mid-to-late nineteenth century commercial buildings in the district. Among these are the Roland T. Warner Hardware Company, the Todd-Chidsey Store, the former Fair Haven Post Office, the Bishop Building and the Henry Crawford Store, all on Grand Avenue.

The Colonial Revival was a popular style for the infill buildings constructed in the district in the early twentieth century. One of the largest and most substantial buildings of this style is the Friendless Home on Clinton Avenue. Many Colonial Revival frame duplexes were built in Fair Haven between 1890 and 1930. The Colonial Revival was also a popular style for commercial buildings in the district; notably the Sol Kean Building at 85 Grand Avenue and Geppi's Restaurant at 117 Grand Avenue.

The Jacobethan Revival is well represented in the Quinnipiac River Historic District by two school buildings on Grand Avenue: the Horace Strong School at 69 Grand Avenue and the Fair Haven Junior High School at 164 Grand Avenue, as well as the Atwater Training School on Atwater Street.

Present Appearance

The present appearance of the Quinnipiac River Historic District is largely a product of construction between 1830 and 1925. The greatest alteration of the appearance of the district was caused by the demolitions along South Front Street, the south side of Grand Avenue between South Front Street and East Pearl Street, and the north side of Exchange Street between South Front Street and East Pearl Street. Only one house survives along South Front Street. The major survival of the King Block on the southwest corner of Grand Avenue and South Front Street, is the only structure of historic or architectural significance on the south side of the block. Several newer commercial structures along Grand Avenue do not contribute to the district: Perrotti Farm Market at #70, Grand Apizza at #111, Romeo's Imports at #121, the garage at #135 and the car dealership at #141.

Because of the commercial character of the east side of North Front Street there are several intrusive modern commercial buildings on a street that otherwise boasts some of the district's oldest and most nearly intact buildings. Among these intrusions are #185, #195, #201, #213, all small post-1929 commercial buildings. The earliest structures lie between Grand Avenue and Pine Street on the west side of the street. The block between Pine and Chatham streets has several early nineteenth century houses, but there are also Victorian houses and bungalows intermixed with the earlier residences.

Pierpont Street is a residential street with houses ranging in date from 1830 to 1930. Most date between 1840 and 1890, and no non-contributing buildings are located on the street.

Likewise, Ferry Street is a residential street with much the same character as Pierpont Street except that several houses have storefront additions.

East Pearl Street, one of the most nearly intact streets in the Quinnipiac River Historic District, is primarily residential. The houses range in date from 1835 to 1915, and the only intrusive structure is Pequot Plaza, a modern shopping center, at 130 East Pearl Street, near the junction of Grand Avenue.

Like Pierpont Street, Exchange Street, Houston Street and Lewis Street are all residential streets which lack major intrusions. Exchange Street's houses date between 1840 and 1900 and Houston Street's between 1840 and 1905. Lewis Street, only one block long, was developed somewhat later, and although the buildings date between 1870 and 1925, most of the houses date from the 1870s. Pine Street, which forms part of the northern boundary of the district, is also a residential street, and the houses range in date from 1820 to 1925. The oldest houses are mainly those nearest North Front Street, and the north side of the street near the junction of Maltby Street appears to have been developed in the 1880s and 1890s, while bungalows and other early twentieth century houses are located on the south side of the block. A pickle factory, built c.1919 as a brewery, is located on the north side of the street. No major intrusions interrupt the streetscape.

Chambers Street, another residential street, with houses dating between 1830 and 1900, has only one intrusive building in the form of a 1940s brick apartment block at #79.

Clinton Avenue and Atwater Street, parallel streets located north of Grand Avenue, are both residential streets which were developed at approximately the same time. Most of the residences date between 1830 and 1922. One Federal house, the Chancelor and Lucy Kingsbury House, is located on Clinton Avenue near the corner of Grand Avenue. Otherwise, the character, materials, scale and style of the street are quite consistent, with the exception of two minor intrusions: a modern garage set back from the street at #46, and a modern apartment complex at #56-70. Atwater Street's only intrusion is a modern duplex at #52-54. The only nonresidential use is the Atwater Training School, originally built as a teacher's training school, and now used as a senior citizen center.

On the east bank of the river there are fewer open spaces due to demolition. The major losses have been confined to the commercial buildings on the south side of East Grand Avenue near the bridge. The bridge itself was dismantled, but is now in the process of being rebuilt on the original location and according to the same design as the turn-of-the-century bridge. Quinnipiac Avenue, the major street on this side of the river, boasts more than seventy contributing buildings ranging in date from the early nineteenth century to the 1920s, however a number of newer houses and commercial buildings are also located on this street. Nine modern single-family houses and duplexes, a garage and a gas station are the major intrusions. These intrusions are however scattered along the entire length of the street, and not concentrated in any one area.

Like Quinnipiac Avenue, Lenox Street also contains numerous contributing buildings dating between 1812 and the 1920s. All of these are residential, but like Quinnipiac Avenue a certain amount of new construction is scattered along the street. There are five post-World War II houses located within the five blocks which lie within the district boundaries.

Clifton Street is one of the major east-west streets on the east bank of the river. Residences dominate the street, and these date between 1774 and 1910, and include one of the oldest buildings in the district. A modern fish market at the western end of Clifton Street near the river is the only major intrusion.

Welcome, Aner and Oxford streets are all short east-west residential streets which link Quinnipiac Avenue and Lenox Street. Welcome Street has no intrusive structures and its houses date between 1842 and 1875, with the majority dating from the 1840s and 1850s. Aner Street has only one house, and this is an intrusive modern residence. Oxford Street has two houses dating from the 1850s, and one modern duplex.

Lexington Avenue's northern end, a one-block residential area, north of Clifton Street, is included in the district. Three out of the four houses date between 1830 and 1860, with the remaining house being an intrusion.

Although only two blocks of East Grand Avenue are included in the district, it boasts a number of the district's most significant buildings; St. James Episcopal Church, the Second Congregational Church, the local fire station, the Long Brick Store and three intact nineteenth century houses. The major intrusions are the small modern commercial buildings on the north side of the street near the bridge.

Some changes made in the Quinnipiac River Historic District were simply a result of the evolution of the neighborhood, and are not necessarily detrimental to the integrity of the buildings or their contribution to the district. For example, early in the nineteenth century Rowe's Tavern was moved from Grand Avenue to its present site on North Front Street. Some 1920s Bungalows were also moved to the northern section of North Front Street from an area north of the district c.1940, while in the 1910s several houses were moved from Grand Avenue and the northern side of Exchange Street when the Fair Haven Junior High School was built. Some early nineteenth century houses, like 76 East Pearl Street, an Italianate house, were remodelled in another architectural style quite soon after they were constructed. Many early nineteenth century houses received Victorian porches with sawn and turned ornament. These alterations are generally well designed and well executed and add to the character of the buildings.

Common alterations made to early houses in the Quinnipiac River Historic District include the addition of asbestos, aluminum or vinyl siding to frame structures and the removal of original porches. Sometimes the original or even later porch additions are replaced in part by modern wrought-iron supports and poured-concrete floors. Some of the Italianate houses have lost their original towers. Commercial buildings have suffered more than the residences. Modern plate-glass windows, storefronts and inappropriate sheathing materials have altered the street-level facades of many of the commercial buildings.

Original Appearance

Fair Haven in the early days of settlement was a small community of frame buildings near the waterfront. The population boom in the early nineteenth century led to the expansion of the area beyond the tight settlement on both river banks. Although most of the buildings continued to be built of frame, some brick structures were also constructed. The earliest available maps of Fair Haven date from the late 1850s and 1860s. The picture that these maps create is that of a mixed-use community. On the west bank both sides of South Front Street were developed, with keg factories located south of the present district boundary. Oyster barns dotted the shoreline on the east side of North and South Front streets. The Coates and Barnes Oyster Market was in operation near the Grand Avenue Bridge, East Pearl Street, one of the chief residential streets in the district, had achieved a density similar to that of today, while the east side of Houston Street, particularly on the block south of Chambers, was less densely built. Likewise, Ferry Street included more undeveloped lots than East Pearl Street. The north side of Pierpont Street, now an enclave of late nineteenth and early twentieth century houses, was largely undeveloped. Grand Avenue was largely residential and a Roman Catholic Church was located on Bright Street near the cemetery. The railroad tracks bisected Atwater Street and Clinton Avenue. In the case of Atwater Street, little development took place north of the tracks, while Clinton Avenue had widely scattered houses in the same area. Above Grafton Street, only the J.S. Farren House was standing. The lots on Pine Street between Clinton Avenue and Maltby Street were subdivided, but undeveloped. The configuration of North Front Street was much as it is today except for the east side of the street. A harness and livery shop was located near the bridge and the rest of the east side of the street was dotted with more oyster barns and the J.E. Bishop Fair Haven Oyster Depot. North of Pine Street the east side of the street was undeveloped and only three houses were located on the west side south of the Chatham Street intersection.

On the east bank, commercial buildings flanked both sides of East Grand Avenue near the bridge west of Quinnipiac Avenue. The railroad tracks crossed the river north of the Grand Avenue bridge and looped south, crossing Lenox Street two streets south of Grand Avenue and travelling south between Lenox Street and Quinnipiac Avenue. The west side of Quinnipiac Avenue was densely built all the way from the south end of the district to, but not including, the Hemingway Farm on the north end of the district. Oyster barns were common on this side of the river also. A school was located on the east side of the street at the site of the present Quinnipiac School. The Charles Ives estate was located north of #90 Clifton Avenue, marking the historical as well as the physical boundary to the district. Clifton and Lenox streets were among the most densely built residential streets. The 1859 map shows an engine depot on the northeast corner of Grand Avenue and Lenox Street, a railroad adjunct which has vanished with the tracks.

Despite the two hundred-odd years that have passed since Fair Haven was settled, an amazing number of buildings from the late eighteenth and nineteenth century oyster village have survived. Most of these are first generation buildings, that is to say, they were the first structures built on a particular site. Even though a number of early buildings were demolished along South Front Street, Exchange Street, Grand Avenue and East Grand Avenue, the quantity of remaining historic structures indicates that Fair Haven is indeed an unusual and special resource.


The Quinnipiac River Historic District is a rare surviving example of an intact and cohesive nineteenth century maritime community. It gained prominence in the mid-nineteenth century as a major oyster port, with ancillary industries of ship building and shipping. It had its own economic and political institutions until the late nineteenth century when it was annexed to the City of New Haven. Remaining today are a great many early and mid-nineteenth century structures built by local oyster dealers, mariners, and traders. Represented in the Quinnipiac River Historic District are significant examples of domestic architecture spanning a 100 year period (1785-1885). These include some of the city's best vernacular examples of Colonial, Greek Revival, Italianate, and Italian Villa styles.


The Quinnipiac River Historic District is centered on the main topographical feature of the area, the Quinnipiac River. The confluence of the Quinnipiac River on the east and the Mill River on the west resulted in a broad, fertile plain known since Colonial times as the "Neck" or "Great Neck." As the fresh water of the rivers blended with the salt water of New Haven Harbor, broad shallow basins of water with brackish pools and muddy salt flats formed around the Neck. These pools and flats provided a perfect breeding ground for many shellfish, especially oysters.

Early Settlement 1638-1824

The Quinnipiac Indians inhabited the Quinnipiac River Valley on a seasonal basis and their enjoyment of the oysters is evidenced by the huge shell heaps generated by their expeditions which are located outside the district boundaries.

The first settlers came to New Haven in 1638 and the oysters on all sides of the harbor provided an abundant source of food. The Neck was divided into farm lots and for over one hundred years this area remained an open, undeveloped expanse of pasture and salt meadows. On the east bank of the Quinnipiac the land distribution is thought to have followed a similar pattern; large tracts were divided among the New Haven proprietors as part of the town's Second Division in the last half of the seventeenth-century. In 1707, the land in the district was divided when the town of East Haven was formed east of the Quinnipiac. Settlements occurred concurrently on both banks of the river but the village which later became Fair Haven was in fact politically divided although it functioned in effect as one village. The first white settlement in the district occurred in the late eighteenth century. Daniel Brown erected a house on the east bank facing the present-day Quinnipiac Avenue c.1765, a little north of Grand Avenue. (The core of this house still survives in a greatly altered state at 715 Quinnipiac Avenue, and is the oldest documented residence in the district). On the Neck there was little development except for the ferry path which extended from the northwest section of the Neck to the southeast point where Pardee's Ferry, chartered in 1650, provided a means of transportation for horses and passengers across the river. A small riverside settlement developed along the east bank of the river near the ferry, but no early buildings from this community are extant. The earliest permanent residents of the Neck established homes in the area by the late eighteenth century. Thomas Ailing bought a house lot on the Neck in March, 1783, and in 1794 Moses and Dorothy Brocket sold a piece of land "with the old dwelling house."[2] The earliest dwellings were built at the water's edge on the present day North and South Front Streets. Although none of these early houses survive, their form does, in houses built in the nineteenth century.[3] The first houses were small, one or two-room timber-frame structures built on raised ashlar block basements just above the highwater mark. The houses at 208, 254, and 262 North Front Street, although built in the early nineteenth century, are indicative of these early waterfront dwellings.

A great spur to the development of the village, called Dragon, which was to span both banks of the river, was the construction of a bridge in the early 1790s. The new bridge straddled the river at approximately the same site as the present Grand Avenue bridge. After the bridge was finished in 1792, settlement shifted from the area south of the bridge northward to Grand Street, the newly completed east/west axis road linking the bridge to the ferry path. Grand Street (now Grand Avenue) became the main street of the growing village. Stephen Rowe, one of the early leading settlers of the village, purchased a lot on the corner of Grand Avenue and North Front Street in 1796 and in the following year he acquired a parcel diagonally across the corner adjacent to the bridge. On the latter, he built in 1804 a large tavern and store that became the center of the oyster trade in the early nineteenth century. This building still stands at 182 North Front Street. Nathaniel Granniss, a real estate speculator, donated three-quarters of an acre just west of the bridge on Grand Street for the purpose of a public common, and as a site for a meeting house or school. The east bank of the river also went through a period of change in the late eighteenth century. The town of East Haven established a public east-west highway in 1790 following approximately the same route as the present Quinnipiac Avenue. In the same year the town of East Haven also offered for the first time lots for sale between the highway and the river. The construction of the Grand Street bridge linked the small settlement on the east bank permanently with the Neck settlement and provided a more direct route to New Haven for residents of the town of East Haven.

Oyster fishing and trading was the primary early industry of the growing waterfront community. In the first two decades of the nineteenth century, scattered parcels were bought and sold all along the water's edge. The parcels often included the "waterlot" in front of the parcel where the resident usually built a small wharf and sheds. The mollusks were gathered in long dugout canoes, then taken to each household where they were opened by women and children in the dark, cool basements of each dwelling. After opening, the oysters were placed in wooden kegs in which they were shipped out of town.

Oyster dealing was not the sole commercial activity however. Many early residents owned small ships or schooners that plied the Atlantic coast. Several residents, including Stephen Rowe, traveled as far south as the West Indies. Other residents were ship builders, constructing one and two masted schooners in shipyards along the muddy banks. Still other residents were small farmers.

The architecture of this early nineteenth century period is closely related to its Colonial predecessors. On the west bank of the river the Levi Granniss House (c.1790) at 198 North Front Street is a prototypical late eighteenth-century dwelling. The building has a center-chimney and is one-and-a-half stories tall, situated on a random block ashlar basement. The form and detail is strictly vernacular in expression. The raised basement is a common indigenous feature that served as a workspace protected from the elements, separate from the living quarters. The basic one-and-a-half-story frame gable-roofed Post-Colonial house seems to have been the most common type of residence during this period. Several examples of this simple house form survive at 208 North Front Street (1818-1819), 254 North Front Street, 7 Pine Street (1820), and 8 Pine Street (1822).

Another building type during this period is exemplified by Rowe's Tavern, a two-story five-bay single pile frame structure with a central chimney. Another example of this house form is the James Hunt House (1812) at 718 Quinnipiac Avenue on the east bank of the river. The Justin Kimberly House at 624-628 Quinnipiac (1828-1829) and the Aner Brown House at 291 Lenox Street (1812) present variations on this form.

Foreshadowing the popular gable-to-the-street Greek Revival house form is the Chancelor Kingsbury House at 10 Clinton Avenue. This two-story frame structure is three bays wide with a side hall plan and an elliptical fanlight over the entry. Other houses showing the transition are the Rowe-Fowler House at 736 Quinnipiac (built between 1806 and 1811), and the Henry and William Linsley houses located respectively at 641 and 645 Quinnipiac Avenue (both 1828).

Few documented commercial buildings from this period survive in the district. The most substantial of these is the King Block at 14 Grand Avenue. Built c.1820, this two-and-a-half-story brick structure is set with its gable end to the street, typical of the Federal style. This building is one of the earliest commercial structures in the city.

Growth of the Oyster Port 1825-1865

The years 1825-1865 saw the establishment of the bustling waterfront community that we think of today as Fair Haven. In 1824 at a meeting of the inhabitants of the village it was resolved to change the name of the community from Dragon to Fair Haven. From the initial settlement along the riverbank grew a densely settled autonomous community complete with its own political, social and economic institution. In 1808, there were one hundred and fifty people living in fifty dwellings in Fair Haven. By 1840, there were seven hundred and eighty-seven inhabitants. It was during this period Fair Haven split from the town of New Haven and created its own semi-autonomous government.

Oystering and its supporting industries had everything to do with the growth of Fair Haven. Residents of neighboring towns moved here in the 1830s and 1840s and built small waterfront dwellings along North and South Front Streets. In front of their houses they extended wharves of cut sandstone into the muddy banks of the river. The importation of oysters, first from neighboring rivers and bays such as the Housatonic River, Newark Bay, and the North River, then from more distant places, such as Egg Harbor and Delaware Bay, helped to make the local industry blossom into a major regional center for oyster dealing and processing. By the 1830s, local mariners were sailing to the Chesapeake Bay, returning with large quantities of southern oysters.

The importation of oysters due to the limits of local fields gave rive to a dramatic increase in the scale of local operations. A fleet of schooners built in local shipyards brought back thousands of bushels of oysters to be processed and then shipped inland to regional markets. Although many families supplemented their incomes by processing oysters at home, a growing number of dealers were large enough to be able to employ a dozen or more people in their work. Oyster wharves and sheds were built to handle the work. Levi Rowe and Company, an east shore dealer, had twenty vessels in operation, employed one hundred or more people in processing 150,000 gallons of oysters a year. Other dealers of note included the Barnes and Mallory Company, the J.E. Bishop and Company, Goodsell and Rowe and countless small dealers.

The oyster industry brought a host of ancillary industries to the community. One of the earliest and most significant was shipping and ship building. Stephen Rowe traded with the West Indies on a small scale as early as 1790. By 1836, twenty vessels were owned by Fair Haveners, six in the West Indian trade, while the others plied the Atlantic coast. These small marine operations exported lumber, apples, fish and ice to the south and brought back cargoes of coal and cotton to New England. The Benham New Haven Directory of 1847-48 lists twenty-four shipmasters and twenty-eight mariners in Fair Haven. By the mid-nineteenth century, the number of vessels increased dramatically to handle large shipments of imported oysters. Eighty vessels were employed in the oyster trade by 1857.

The demand for ships gave birth to a local ship building industry. There were four major shipyards within the district, the G.W. Baldwin Company, and the J.H. Woodhouse yards on the east shore, and Tuttle and Munsell Company, and Lane and Jacobs Company on the west shore.

Keg, pail and tub makers were a third local industry, spawned to meet the needs of the oyster trade. Zadoc Morse is listed as a keg maker in the 1847-48 New Haven City Directory. The "Business Directory and Map of Fair Haven, 1856" lists James A. Preston on Ferry Street, L.A. Tanner on Pearl Street, and James Broughton in the King Block as oyster keg and can manufacturers. By 1868, three large companies dominated the market, producing the 150,000 kegs needed yearly. These were the Fair Haven Keg and Can Company, the Kellogg and Ives factory, and the Fair Haven Oyster Keg Company.

Hiram A. Barnes manufactured lime from oyster shells, first on South Front Street, then on Chapel Street. Other merchants and artisans took advantage of the new prosperity in the community and opened their shops here. The New Haven City Directory of 1847-48 lists sail makers, tinners, wheelwrights, carpenters, blacksmiths, and grocers, all serving the community. Large and small business blocks were built on the east and west approaches to the bridge. Dr. Charles S. Thompson opened a drugstore in the White Store building on the west side of the bridge. The Tood Block, a four-story masonry building, was built in 1859 on the site of the old Rowe's tavern (the tavern was moved to the rear of the lot). Daniel M. King purchased Heman Hotchkiss' hotel block about 1850 and opened the Fair Haven Coffee House (still standing at 14 Grand Avenue) in a small portion of the building. The rest was filled with a variety of small merchants and artisans. Ambrose Todd and Horace R. Chidsey opened a grocery and feed store on Grand Avenue about 1860 (this building still stands at 89 Grand Avenue).

As the population grew in the waterfront community, so too grew the number of religious and social institutions. In the first decades of the nineteenth century, Fair Haveners traveled either to New Haven or East Haven to attend church services. By the 1830s, however, several local congregations were in the formative stage. The First Congregational Church of Fair Haven was organized with fifty-six members, twenty-three from the east shore and thirty-three from the west shore, in 1830. A Greek Revival style church was built on the schoolhouse lot donated by Nathaniel Granniss. The schoolhouse, built on the site in the early nineteenth century, has little or no detail. By the mid-1830s and 1840s, the simple cape was dressed in distinctive Greek Revival period details, including a wide entablature with box cornice and return, and a trabeated surround enframing the entry. The Zina Ball House at 228 North Front Street is a good example of the antebellum version of this form.

The two-story, gable-fronted Greek Revival style dwelling followed the one-and-a-half-story cape in popularity. Built in the years 1835 to 1855, there are more examples of this domestic house type in the neighborhood than any other. Built on a raised or partially raised brick basement, most have functional subterranean working space with one or more forms of egress and large window openings. The roof ridge lies perpendicular to the street, allowing for narrower urban house lots with deep rear yards. The detail is almost identical on this type of house. Each house has a box cornice with complete return across the gable end, a rectilinear window in the gable, usually with Greek style tracery, and a trabeated surround or classical portico at the entry. The five dwellings at 58 through 72 East Pearl Street, despite severe alterations, demonstrate the order and grace created by the repetition of the basic house type along the block. Whether planned or spontaneously generated, this ensemble created an ordered streetscape befitting a growing community. A slight variation of the two-story, gable-fronted Greek Revival can be seen in the one-and-a-half-story gable-fronted dwelling that also appears during this period. These have details similar to the two-story dwellings. However, everything is scaled down to fit a smaller structure. Examples remain at 32 and 66 Chambers Street, 52 and 94 Exchange Street, and 200, 232, 288, and 292 North Front Street.

A third popular house type during this period was the two-story Italianate house. Built between 1848 and 1860, these dwellings are characterized by their box-like forms, broad, projecting eaves, and full front porch or veranda. Although originally the Italianate style denoted large houses of grand proportions, it was adapted in Fair Haven and elsewhere to modest vernacular interpretations. Two large Italianate style houses remain at 37 East Pearl Street (c.1852, remodelled in the Second Empire style in the 1870s) and 106 Exchange Street (1850-1851), while many more smaller ones were built; among these were 42 and 88 East Pearl Street, 74 Houston Street, and 57 and 97 Clinton Avenue, 264 North Front Street, 315 Lenox Street, and 27 Oxford Street, A number of these reflect, on a more modest scale, the influence of Henry Austin's designs, particularly those of the large houses that he designed on Hillhouse Avenue. The massing, proportion and details of several houses within the district are similar to those of the James Dwight Dana House at 24 Hillhouse Avenue. Among these are the Samuel Hemingway House, 37 East Pearl Street, the Willis S. Barnes House at 42 East Pearl Street, the Dan and Julia Smith House at 59 East Pearl Street and the Elijah S. and Jane Ball House at 76 East Pearl Street. The Lyman Woodward House, at 169 Grand Avenue, is the last surviving true suburban villa in the district. Although the Woodward House was not built on the same scale as the Dana House, it is a grand house for Fair Haven, and may well have been designed by Austin. Grand Avenue, which was in the early nineteenth century a residential street mainly comprised of large estates, began after the Civil War to be developed commercially. Hence, the Lyman Woodward House is a rare survival not only in the context of the section of Grand Avenue included in the district, but of the street as a whole.

The last domestic house type of this period is the two-and-a-half-story gable-fronted Italianate built from 1848 to 1865. The gable-fronted Italianates tend to be larger in scale than their Greek Revival predecessors. They appear voluminous in scale and have bold, heavy detail. The lateral and raking eaves project sharply over end walls, and the window surrounds and entry porch have a modelled quality. Often these houses have an elaborate entry porch or large veranda with carved columns. In several instances, a three-tiered off-center Tuscan tower creates the finishing touch to this urban and slightly exotic house type. Several of these mid-nineteenth century dwellings remain at 48, 59, and 69 East Pearl Street, 19 and 27 Perkins Street, 17 Pine Street, 274, 285, and 296 Lenox Street and 583-585 Quinnipiac Avenue. Again, many houses of this type in the district borrow details from Henry Austin's grand designs built along Hillhouse Avenue. Distinct comparisons can be drawn between the John P. Norton House at 52 Hillhouse Avenue (built 1848-1849 and designed by Henry Austin) and the Charles and Eunice Perkins House at 19 Perkins Street.

Throughout much of the building history of this period, one particular carpenter-builder appears again and again. Elbert J. Munsell built many dwellings and structures in Fair Haven from the 1830s until his death in 1853. He can be credited with the permeation of the two-story gable-fronted Greek Revival house type, as he built many of them. He also built several houses in the Italian Villa style, including the residence at 74 Pierpont Street and his last residence at 106 Exchange Street. Other buildings by Munsell include the houses at 32 and 36 Pine Street, and the double house at 37-39 Grand Avenue.

The two most important individual structures built on the east bank of the river during this period were the Second Congregational Church (1851), a late Greek Revival brick structure, and the Saint James Episcopal Church (1844), a brownstone Gothic Revival church which is a scaled-down version of the larger and more pretentious Trinity Church which was built in the New Haven Green c.1813 and designed by Ithiel Towne. The two churches are located at 65 and 60 East Grand Avenue respectively.

On the west bank the First Congregational Church moved from its site on Grand Avenue between Perkins Street and Clinton Avenue to a new site on Grand Avenue between Atwater and Bright Streets. The new church was a brick structure combining Italianate and Neo-classical motifs designed by Volney Pierce, a Fair Haven resident, and built in 1853.

Annexation and Industrialization 1865-1910

In 1865, Fair Haven was a bustling, cohesive waterfront community still somewhat isolated from the City of New Haven. By 1910, it had been transformed into a dense residential suburb of 20,000 or more people, fully integrated into the fabric of the city.

In the years 1830 to 1860, the City of New Haven shifted dramatically from a mercantile economy to a manufacturing one. The small carriage shops, gun shops, clock makers, and hardware dealers were going broke or consolidating into larger, capital-intensive industries. The Wooster Square area which lay between Fair Haven and downtown became the manufacturing center of the city. By 1860, Wooster Square had become a dense residential and industrial quarter. With little or no land left for development, developers turned to the open expanses on the east side of the Mill River in Fair Haven.

During this period, residential and industrial development in Fair Haven went hand-in-hand. Samuel R. and Charles C. Blatchley were active in the residential development of the area. Samuel Blatchley moved to Fair Haven in 1866 and purchased a large tract south of Grand Avenue where he laid out streets and sold houses and lots. With their own team of carpenters, they built countless dwellings in the area and they were known for constructing "modest frame dwellings at modest prices the workingman could afford." The Blatchleys also encouraged needed public improvements. They were instrumental in the founding of the Westville and Fair Haven Horse Railroad Company c.1860 and they lobbied for the building of the Grand Avenue bridge in the same year. This bridge replaced the old 1791 bridge which had steadily deteriorated and was considered unsafe.

The introduction of the Westville and Fair Haven Horse Railroad had a major and immediate impact on the land values along Grand Avenue and the surrounding area. All of a sudden, artisans, laborers, and merchants could live two or three miles from downtown and still get to their workplaces in a short amount of time. Fair Haven became one of the city's earliest streetcar suburbs.

Fair Haven west of the Quinnipiac River was annexed to the city in 1871, and Fair Haven east in 1881. Although the east bank of the river did not experience extensive industrial development like the west bank during this period the residential development of the area blossomed. In the northern part of the district, the Hemingway farm was further subdivided with houses built fronting along Quinnipiac Avenue (890, 896, 904, 930, 965, 970, 991, 1146-48, 1162 1187, and 1212 Quinnipiac Avenue). Residential infill construction also continued along Quinnipiac Avenue and Lenox Streets. With the rapid increase in population came municipal and social services. Neighborhood schools were built to accommodate burgeoning enrollments (none are extant from this period in the district). A new fire station was built on East Pearl Street in 1871 by the city (demolished). Sewers, roadways and new bridges soon followed. Churches sprang up or were enlarged to meet the needs of the newcomers. The East Pearl Street Methodist Church built a new and larger church at 95 East Pearl Street in 1871-1873.

The oyster industry entered its most intensive stage during this period. Small scale dealers consolidated into major oyster businesses, cultivating hundreds of acres of oysters and employing one hundred or more people. Deep water cultivation of the oysters in Long Island Sound opened up thousands of acres of land for oyster farming. Henry C. Rowe was the first to experiment in this practice in the early 1870s. Overcoming severe natural impediments as well as political opposition, Rowe eventually succeeded in creating one of the largest oyster operations in the world. In 1887, he controlled 13,868 acres in the sound, planted 400,000 bushels of shells a year, and employed over one hundred men.[4] The J. E. Bishop Company, Tuttle and Wilson Company, S. Chipman and Company, Barnes and Ludington, and Hoyt Brothers were other major deep water oyster dealers.

The architecture of this period tended to follow the building trends and methods found in other parts of the city. The major development of this period was large-scale speculative house building. As well as Samuel Blatchley, Thomas F. Lowe started the mass production of simple balloon frame dwellings. Lowe built many of the houses on the west end of Exchange Street.

The most popular house type in this period was the two-and-a-half-story, gable-fronted dwelling with Italianate or Victorian Gothic details. Built on extremely narrow house lots, block after block of these dwellings were constructed, creating a dense urban neighborhood. The repetition of building forms, plus the uniform setbacks and side yards create a harmonious yet crowded streetscape. Exchange Street, west of Blatchley Avenue, is a typical example of this late-nineteenth century sort of streetscape.

By the end of the nineteenth century, population pressures in the city were so extreme that any available lot in Fair Haven on the west bank was built upon. Preference shifted away from Italianate styles toward Victorian Gothic and Queen Anne persuasions. Bays were added and building forms arranged to create a more interesting asymmetrical form, contrasting with the standard gable-fronted types.

The institutional buildings of this period display the exuberance and drama of the High Victorian era. The East Pearl Street Methodist Church built a fashionable High Victorian Gothic Church in 1872 that was lavishly detailed with polychrome masonry and decorative carved woodwork. The church was designed by New York City architect John S. Welch. The Fair Haven Union Cemetery, established in 1808 and much neglected until the Civil War, was improved by grading and landscaping in the second half of the century. In 1885, the High Victorian Gothic cemetery gates were erected for G.W. Granniss of San Francisco, a descendant of the early Fair Haven Granniss family. In 1895, the High Victorian Gothic design of David Bloomfield of Meriden was executed as the Soldiers Memorial Chapel, located in the center of the cemetery. The chapel boasted several large stained-glass windows manufactured by Tiffany & Company. The windows were designed by Edward P. Sperry, a New Haven native and one of Tiffany's chief designers. The ceiling was painted in an elaborate design by a professional artist, Gottfried Amman, a resident of Fair Haven who lived not far from the cemetery on Grand Avenue. The furniture of the chapel was custom built of oak by a New York firm according to the designs of D.D. Mallory of Baltimore, a descendant of one of the early families of Fair Haven.

The First Congregational Church also undertook a major renovation, altering Pierce's design drastically to reflect the newly fashionable Romanesque style c.1878.

Industrial Boom 1910-1945

Water pollution from industrial growth, climatic changes and an increase in natural predators brought the demise of the oyster industry. At the same time, this period was an era of tremendous industrial expansion for the city. These industries required great pools of labor to satisfy their production requirements and thus attracted thousands of foreign immigrants to the Elm City.

The Irish were the first to move into Fair Haven in the mid-nineteenth century. Attracted by the jobs at the railroad yards at Belle Dock and Cedar Hill, they chose Fair Haven because of its proximity to work. Italian immigrants flooded into New Haven in the early 1900s. Although many settled in Wooster Square they also lived in large numbers in Fair Haven south of Grand Avenue. At the same time, Polish immigrants settled in Fair Haven. By 1930, Fair Haven's population had swelled to 23,960 and those who were foreign born or of foreign born parentage out-numbered the original stock two to one.

City services were compelled to keep up with the dramatic growth of local neighborhoods. One of the most important public improvements was the construction of new schools. In less than twenty years, Fair Haven received four new school buildings. Within the district the Atwater Training School was built in 1918, the Strong School in 1915 (which replaced a building destroyed by fire on the same site) and the Fair Haven Junior High School in 1927-28. All were designed by the local firm of Brown and Von Beren and show their penchant for the Jacobethan Revival style. Brown and Von Beren were among the most prolific of New Haven's early twentieth century architectural firms. They designed a wide range of buildings, including commercial buildings and residences. Another notable building designed by this partnership is the fire station on East Grand Avenue. The fire station was designed in the Colonial Revival style and it boasts a slate tile gambrel roof and a handsomely detailed Palladian window. Built in 1927, it was the last contributing building to be constructed on East Grand Avenue. Another major public building constructed during this period, c.1916, was the Fair Haven Branch of the Public Library on Grand Avenue.

Many of the last building lots remaining in the Neck were developed during these boom years. The northeast sector especially saw the development of block after block of open land. The preferred house type of this period was the two-and-a-half-story, gable fronted duplex, constructed on a narrow house lot. These duplexes, built row upon row, with repetitive form and details, did much to preserve the residential quality of the neighborhood. This house type is most common along the northern ends of Clinton Avenue and Perkins Street where the railroad track once bisected the streets south of Pine Street. When the tracks were removed in the early twentieth century, many speculatively built houses of this type were constructed in these areas.

The commercial center of Fair Haven, which throughout most of the nineteenth century had been located at the east and the west ends of the bridge, now shifted westward to the intersection of Ferry Street and Blatchley Avenue, outside the boundaries of the district.

Decline 1945-1970

The years 1945 to 1970 saw a decline in the basic ingredients that make an urban neighborhood work. Many of Fair Haven's essential industries closed and its middle income residents moved to modern suburbs, leaving a deteriorated urban infrastructure for the city's poorest residents.

The large-scale energy intensive industries of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries proved vulnerable to foreign imports, high energy costs, and labor unrest. The New Haven Redevelopment Agency responded to local problems with the Fair Haven Urban Renewal Plan of 1968. The plan called for twenty million dollars in public improvements including development of a waterfront park along South Front Street, the construction of a replacement bridge across the Quinnipiac River, and the construction of 400 units of subsidized housing. In a later reversal, the decision was made to rebuild the old bridge.

Revitalization 1970-1982

The years 1970-1982 have seen a change in revitalization efforts in the neighborhood, aided by the creation of a local historic district in 1978 covering both sides of the Quinnipiac River. Although houses were demolished along South Front Street in the mid-1970s for the proposed water front park, those on North Front and East Pearl Streets have been undergoing renovation. On the east bank of the river major losses include the Phoenix Block, as well as some commercial buildings along the south side of Grand Avenue as a part of the plan for replacing the Grand Avenue Bridge. In the last decade, efforts to revitalize housing in the original oyster village have dramatically increased.

End Notes

[1]Large parts of this narrative were drawn directly from the sector histories of the New Haven Historic Resources Inventory, Phase III, Vol. I. Most heavily relied upon were the histories of Fair Haven (pp.22-36) and The Annex: Fair Haven East (pp.54-57)

[2]New Haven Land Records, Vol. 46, p.246.

[3]On September 25, 1793, Nathaniel Yale advertised the following house for sale: "A one story dwelling-house, gambrel roof, situated in the Great Neck (so-called) about two miles from the court-house in New Haven, and not far distant from the New Bridge; there are two large rooms on the lower floor, and two chambers; also an underground room suitable for opening oysters...," Doris B. Townshend: Fair Haven, A Journey Through Time (New Haven: New Haven Colony' Historical Society, 1976), p.16.

[4]Atwater, p.620.


Atwater, Edward E.: History of the City of New Haven, Connecticut (New Haven, 1887).

Fair Haven Union Cemetery Association (Fair Haven Union Cemetery Association, 1894 and 1897). Available at the New Haven Colony Historical Society.

New Haven Land Records, New Haven Town Clerk's Office, 200 Orange Street, New Haven.

Townshend, Doris B.: Fair Haven, A Journey Through Time (New Haven, New Haven Colony Historical Society, 1976).

Kate Ohno, New Haven Preservation Trust, and John Herzan, Connecticut Trust for Historic Preservation, Quinnipiac River Historic District, New Haven, Connecticut, 1983, nomination document, National Park Service, National Register of Historic Places, Washington, D.C.

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