11/02

 

 

New Haven's Ronan-Edgehill Neighborhood

 

One of two New Haven neighborhoods designed for protection by the city's zoning ordinance as being "of unique and irreplaceable value to the community as a whole," Ronan-Edgehill is a resource not only for its residents, but for the hundreds of people who daily walk, jog, and drive along its quiet streets.

Although residential in appearance, the neighborhood has always been (as historian Richard Hegel puts it) "institutionally-anchored." Coexisting with its 220 households are educational institutions (Foote and St. Thomas day schools; Bethesda, Calvin Hill, and Edith B. Jackson pre-schools; the public Celantano School; the Berkeley and Yale divinity schools); churches (Bethesda Lutheran, St. Thomas (Episcopal), and First Unitarian-Universalist Society); research centers (Human Relations Area Files, Institute of Sacred Music, and Yale's Program on Non-Profit Organizations); and human service providers (Greenbriar, St. Francis Home, the Cedarhurst School, and There's No Place Like Home).

In addition, the churches serve as meeting places for dozens of cultural, charitable, and self-help groups.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Early History: The Hillhouse Family and Sachem's-Wood

Before the Civil War, what we now call Ronan-Edgehill lay on the grounds of the great James Hillhouse estate (which stretched from Grove Street northward to the present Highland Street) and Eli Whitney estates (which stretched from Highland into Hamden).

The Hillhouse family left a permanent imprint on the neighborhood. Many of its great oak trees were planted by James Hillhouse (1754-1832) - the entrepreneur and civic leader responsible for the enactment of the first municipal tree ordinance in the United States. The principal artery to and through the area -- Whitney Avenue -- was laid out by Hillhouse as the Hartford Turnpike.

In developing their extensive properties, James Hillhouse and his son, James Abraham, pursued a variety of innovative strategies, including the promoting of such public utilities as the Farmington Canal, the Hartford Turnpike, and the Grove Street Cemetery to enhance their value. The Hillhouse Avenue neighborhood (between Grove and Sachem streets) was one of the earliest planned urban real estate developments in the world.

 

The Hillhouses also encouraged industrial and commercial development to enhance the value of their properties. In the 1790s, James Hillhouse (known as "The Sachem" or big chief) encouraged Eli Whitney to locate his armory at the site of the New Haven Colony's old corn mill at the foot of East Rock. The area soon became a bustling industrial plantation, which boasted not only the gun factory itself, but a workers' village and operating farm to supply their food.

 

 

The properties to the north of the Hillhouse mansion (which stood on the site of Yale's Klein Tower) were not developed until the 1860s. The earliest houses in what is now Ronan-Edgehill were built soon after the end of the Civil War.

The neighborhood took its name from a reference in Sachem's-Wood, a poem by Hillhouse's son, James Abraham Hillhouse (1789-1841) to "St. Ronan's well," a reference in turn to a novel by Sir Walter Scott. Lawrence Street, laid out by the younger Hillhouse in the 1860s, was named for his wife, Cornelia Lawrence.

The poem includes a lovely description of the view from the veranda of the Hillhouse mansion, describing New Haven in the 1830s:

Now, from this bench, the gazer sees,

Towers and white steeples o'er the trees,

Mansions that peep from leafy bowers,

And villas blooming close by ours;

Hears the grave clocks, and classic bell,

Hours for the mind and body tell;

Or starts, and questions, as the gong

Bids urchins not disport too long.

A blended murmur minds the ear

That an embosom'd City's near.

See! how its guardian Giants tower,

Changing their aspects with the hour!--

There, Sassacus [East Rock], in shade or glow,

Hot with the noon, or white with snow,

Dark in the dawn, at evening red,

A type of grandeur ever stands,

From God's benignant, graceful hands!

 

 

 

 

 

This painting of East Rock by George Henry Durrie, depects "Sassacus" as it must have looked in James Abraham Hillhouse's time. The view is taken from just south of State Street, the rural land shown crossing the hay meadows belonging to the descendants of Abraham Bishop. The original of this painting is in the collection of the New Haven Colony Historical Society.

 

 

James Abraham Hillhouse's mansion, which stood on the site of Yale's Klein Tower, was designed by Alexander Jackson Davis and completed in 1830. Commanding "a wide range of meadows, orchards, and farm houses, with here or there a thick grove or distant water course," Highwood (later renamed Sachem's-Wood), became one of the most famous "suburban" house in New England.

 

 

 

"I am monarch of all I survey," Hillhouse wrote in a unpublished poem

My right there is none to dispute;

From the Turnpike [Whitney Avenue], to Powder House Lane [Prospect Street],

I am lord of the fowl and brute.

 

Oh, solitude, sweet are the charms

That sages have seen in thy face.

Let me fly from the city's alarms

To dwell at thy beautiful place.

 

For converse, love, friendship and mirth

Divinely bestowed upon men!

Possessed I the wealth of the earth,

I could not do better again.

 

Where else could I assuage

More sweetly? Come tell me the truth.

Where gather more wisdom from age,

Or hear louder sallies from youth?

 

To the south of Sachem's Wood -- on family properties lying between today's Sachem and Grove Streets, James Abraham Hillhouse -- working with Davis and other carefully chosen architects, created America's first planned suburban development. This engraving, dating from the 1860s, looks northward up elm-lined Hillhouse Avenue from Grove Street. At the end of the street stands Sachem's Wood.

 

Although many of the magnificent houses Hillhouse built still stand, the integrity of New Haven's most distinguished group of historic structures has eroded over the years. In 1942, Sachem's Wood itself was razed. In the 1950s and 60s, Yale demolished many structures at the southern end of the avenue, including pioneer architect Ithiel Town's great villa (which had housed the first architectural library in America).

Today, Yale's plans for expansion and campus integration further threaten the district: in the early 1990s, the last privately-owned home on the avenue -- the Aaron Skinner/Rachel Trowbridge House -- came into Yale's hands. While the exterior of the house has been carefully restored, its fine cast iron fence has been removed and its formal gardens paved over for a parking lot. At the same time, Yale built the Luce Center in an empty lot to the south of 38 Hillhouse -- a structure that qualifies as one of the ugliest buildings in New Haven. In 1999, Maple Cottage (85 Trumbull) was razed; 88 Trumbull is about to be torn down; the exquisite James Dwight Dana house, at the corner of Hillhouse and Trumbull, is threated by plans to build a large engineering facility in its back yard.

Fortunately, the other side of the Hillhouse estate -- the area stretching northward from Sachem's Wood -- remains a monument to the family's commitment to the city and its future. Although houses and streets now occupy the area where once "to St. Ronan's sparking brink/The wolf and wild cat came to drink" (a reference to the spring at the corner of St. Ronan Street and St. Ronan Terrace from which the neighborhood took its name), the area in many ways embodies the suburban ideal articulated by James Abraham Hillhouse. Magnificently wooded, many of the neighborhood's great great oak trees date back to the Hillhouse era and were very liked planted by James Abraham and his father.

For the full text of James Abraham Hillhouse's poem, Sachem's-Wood, go to Sachem's Wood

 

Early History: The Whitney Family

Eli Whitney, Jr. (1820-1894), son of the great inventor, not only expanded the Armory, but constructed New Haven's first waterworks on the site. (The distributing reservoir and steam pump house, with its 90' chimney, can be seen at the extreme right in the Hazen & Bailey birds-eye view). The younger Whitney also encouraged homeownership among his workers, making houselots along the Hartford Turnpike (now Whitney Avenue) available at low cost. Many of these still stand.

From the 1790s through the 1930s, the Whitney family was a dominating presence in the neighborhood. At the end of the eighteenth century, Eli Whitney (1765-1825) purchased from James Hillhouse extensive holdings, including acreage that stretched from present day Highland Street in New Haven into Hamden's Spring Glen. On these properties, he constructed an industrial plantation that combined manufacturing, agriculture, and housing for his workforce.

 

 

This wood engraving shows the Armory complex as viewed looking northward along the Hartford Turnpike in the mid-1820s. To the right ofthe highway is the Armory itself, where the Whitneys made muskets under contract to the federal and a number of state governments. To the left are the workers' houses along Armory Street and other structures connected with the Whitney's farming operations. Dead ahead is the celebrated covered bridge designed by pioneer architect-engineer Ithiel Towne (a small-scale replica of which stands today on the Eli Whitney National Historic Site).

 

The Whitneys' Enduring Influence

Eli Whitney died in 1825, when his son and namesake was only five years old. During young Eli's childhood, the armory was operated by his uncles, Philos and Eli Whitney Blake -- both notable inventors and manufacturers in their own right. When he came of age in the early 1840s, he assumed energetic command of the family business, expanding the industrial complex to include three factory sites along the Mill River.

Westward expansion enormously increased the market for guns -- both for civilian and military purposes. In order to diversify his output from muskets and rifles to hand guns, the younger Whitney contracted with inventor Samuel Colt to manufacture the first of his revolvers for the Texas Rangers. (With the profits earned from the sale of these "Whitneyville Walker Colts," the inventor was able to establish his own armory in Hartford). Whitney also profited from the Mexican War (1846-48), during which he sold armaments both to federal and state governments.

Whitney was not content to live in the shadow of the father he never knew -- and yearned to carve his own niche in history. In the late 1840s, we became involved in the debate over the creation of a public water supply for New Haven -- whose population had quadrupled from 5,000 to more than 20,000 between 1800 and 1850. Along with these population increases came epidemics of water-borne diseases and catastrophic fires.

Some New Haveners opposed the idea of a water system, arguing that epidemics and fires were providential manifestations of God's will. Most favored the idea, but disagreed over whether the system should be publicly or privately owned and which sources of water it should draw on. After nearly a decade of heated argument, Whitney took matters into his own hands, pushing the necessary laws through the state legislature and litigating with the city to enforce his charter rights. He organized the New Haven Water Company and a firm to take charge of construction. The new company would use Lake Whitney as its principal source of supply.

Whitney had more in mind than just building a water system. He also wanted to consolidate his scattered manufacturing operations onto a single site and to increase the power available to them. By raising the old Lake Whitney dam from six to thirty-five feet, he would be able to serve both the public demand for water and his private need for water power to run his machinery. Construction of the system began in 1859 and water began to flow into its pipes from Lake Whitney on January 1, 1862.

The image to the right shows the armory after Whitney had completed its reconstruction. To the left of the main building, one can discern water pouring over the new dam. The building on the extreme left housed the water-powered pump whose 30 foot diameter wheels raised water from Lake Whitney to a distribution reservoir located on the site of the present Reservoir Street (see the 1879 bird's eye view). When this method proved to be too wasteful (it took four gallons of water powering the pumps to move one gallon into the distribution reservoir), Whitney constructed the steam pump house which still stands on Armory Street. In the 1930s, the company abandoned its old distribution reservoir in favor of a new one at a higher elevation atop Mill Rock. (This reservoir is now a private home).

Few vestiges of old Eli Whitney's original armory remain today. The 1860 reconstruction left only a group of fuel storage sheds and the foundry building (seen to the right of the main building in this image). Across Whitney Avenue, only the 1816 barn and the workers' boarding house (now occupied by the Connecticut Preservation Trust) remain. The group of eight interconnected workers' houses on the north side of Armory Street were razed when the Slow Sand Filter was constructed at the turn of the century. With the exception of the 1888 office building, all the structures connected with Eli Whitney, Jr. were demolished by the Water Company in the 1960s.

 

 

 

 

The Whitneyville Slow Sand Filter was the last major industrial construction project undertaken in the neighborhood. Designed by civil engineer Charles Ferry (better known for his work on the Yale Bowl), it was built between 1904 and 1908 using the then experimental building material reinforced concrete. The filter was the first water purification plant to be built in Connecticut and the first large-scale industrial use of reinforced concrete. Taken out of service more than a decade ago, the filter is slated for immanent demolition.

This image shows horse-drawn grading equipment preparing the site where the filter would be erected. The steam pump house with its 90 foot smokestack is in the background.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This detail of the 1879 birds-eye view map shows the mixed residential and industrial uses in the North Edgehill area. To the extreme right is the armory complex. The structure with the tall smokestack to the left of the factory is the steam pump house. The large building at the center of the picture is the Eli Whitney, Jr. estate. The large structure to the left of that is the Eli Whitney III estate. At the left of the image is the St. Francis Orphanage. At the bottom center of the image is the Richard Everit house, which still stands on Whitney Avenue (though its magnificent grounds were long ago subdivided into building lots).

Note that Edgehill Road had not yet been laid out and that St. Ronan Street ended at the Orphanage. The street to the right of the Orphanage -- Suburban Street -- no longer exists, though its route is still marked by two sandstone pillars on either side of Edgehill Road in the middle of the block between Highland and Huntington Streets.

 

 

 

 

 

 

The combination of a bustling arms factory and the city's water works gave the northern end of the Ronan-Edgehill neighborhood an unmistakably industrial character. This did not discourage the Whitneys and others from laying out great new estates in the vicinity. The image below shows the mansion Whitney, Jr. built for himself and his mother -- a house which stood on the present site of Edgerton Park. Although the mansion is long gone, a number of buildings from the Whitney estate still stand, including a splendid Gothic Revival double house at 9 Edgehill Road and a modest cottage at 80 Cliff Street.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This rambling shingle-style mansion was built by Eli Whitney III (18__-1924) in the block between Whitney Avenue, Prospect Street, and Ogden and Cliff streets.

Eli Whitney III was a key figure in the development of Ronan-Edgehill as an up-scale residential neighborhood. After his father's death in 1894, he sold the gun business to Winchester Repeating Arms and turned the armory site into a prototypical industrial park -- an incubator for start-up businesses. Among the companies that operated on the site after 1900 were Sentinal Stove (a self-regulating gas stove) and Acme Wire -- a speciality wire company which later moved to "Chimney Square" at the corner of Dixwell and Putnam avenues. For much of the twentieth century, J. Alan Heany, an inventor, maintained a research laboratory and speciality ceramics manufacturing firm on the Whitney site.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Eli Whitney III sold his father's estate to investment banker Frederick Brewster, who demolished it and built his own mansion -- Edgerton -- on the site. (When the Brewsters died in the 1960s, the estate was given to the city as a park).

Whitney named and laid out Edgehill Road and subdivided his father's and grandfather's estates into building lots. By 1911, as this image shows, many new houses had been built.

This map shows the St Francis Orphan Asylum and surrounding properties. Suburban Street, which ran along the north (or right hand) side of the Orphanage property had by this point been abandoned and a new street -- Huntington -- now ran between Whitney and Prospect. Still, the one block stretch between St. Ronan Street and the newly-laid out Edgehill Road retained the name "St. Francis Avenue."

A major factor in the development of the neighborhood was the double-tracked streetcar line shown running up Whitney Avenue. Eli Whitney III sat on the boards of the street car company and the firm that absorbed it -- the New York, New Haven & Hartford Railroad.

The Whitneys influence did not end with the death of Eli Whitney III in 1924. His son-in-law, Gurdon Gaillard - a resident of the neighborhood - succeeded him as president of the New Haven Water Company and as a participant in his development of neighborhood real estate. (Gaillard lived at 19 Edgehill Road, which he built in 1909. In the 1920s, he moved to a palatial establishment at 560 Prospect).

Much of the land comprising the Eli Whitney III estate remained undeveloped until the 1940s (the houses on lower Odgen and Cliff Street are far newer than most of those in the neighborhood).

Among the earliest buyers of Whitney land was St. Thomas Epscopal Church. Founded in 1848, the church had been located at the corner of Orange and Elm streets. By the 1920s, the commercial development of downtown and the adverse impact of the automobile on the urban quality of life was driving New Haven's upper middle class to surburbs like Ronan-Edgehill. It was only natural for their congregations to follow them. Church of the Redeemer built a parish house at the corner of Whitney and Cold Spring before the first World War -- though the congregation would not abandon its downtown sanctuary until 1949.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

St. Thomas built a parish house on Whitney between Ogden and Cliff in 1930. In the 1939, a generous bequest by a St. Ronan Street parishioner permitted construction of the church. This view shows the architect's elevation of the church and parish house.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Ronan-Edgehill in 1879

Bailey & Hazen's 1879 birds-eye view map of New Haven shows the neighborhood in the heyday of the great estates. The mansion on the right side of Cliff Street is Eli Whitney, Jr's. Across Cliff street is the home of his son, Eli Whitney III. The large structure to the left of the reservoir between Highland and the now-vanished Suburban Street is the St. Francis Orphan Asylum. The mansion between Lawrence, Canner, Whitney, and St. Ronan belonged to liquor dealer and real estate developer Messena Clark. (The carriage house at 315 St. Ronan served the Foote School for many years, before being converted into condos in the early 1980s). On the opposite side of Whitney Avenue from Messena Clark is Belmont, the estate of Stephen Whitney. The proud mansions of Oliver Winchester and John Davies stand at the top of Prospect Hill. (The picture to the left shows the Winchester mansion as viewed from the roof of the Davies house). Of these, only the Davies Mansion still remains. At the extreme left of the map is Sachem's Wood, the Hillhouse family's Greek Revival gem that was torn down in 1942. The maps shows that horse car tracks extended down Whitney Avenue to the Whitney Armory. The area was also served by the New Haven Water Company, whose main works occupied part of the Armory site. These urban amenities encouraged New Haveners to move from center city into this early suburb.

 

The Break-up of the Great Estates and the Rise of New Industrial Wealth

 

In the 1870s, large properties in the area began to be subdivided, as newly wealthy industrialists like Oliver Winchester and his partner John Davies sought spacious and scenic locales for their mansions. Once considered impossibly rural and remote, the blocks north of Trumbull Street began to be fashionable. Always entrepreneurial, the Hillhouse family began to sell off lots along Lawrence and St. Ronan Streets.

This picture shows a view of the Winchester estate, taken from the roof the the Davies Mansion. It was located on the present site of the Yale Divinity School. Although the house is gone, the Winchesters' magnificent wrought iron fence at the bottom of the hill along St. Ronan Street is a reminder of vanished grandeur.

The windmill, visible to the right of the mansion, was needed to provide water pressure in the Winchester establishment. The New Haven Water Company's distribution reservoir (later relocated to the top of Mill Rock) was not high enough to supply the Winchester

 

Here is another view of the Winchester establishment with an inset of its owner, Oliver Winchester. Judging from the size of the trees, the picture was probably taken shortly after its completion in the early 1870s.

Born in Massachusetts in 1810, Winchester arrived in New Haven in the 1840s, where, in partnership with John Davies, he set up a successful shirt manufacturing business. On the eve of the Civil War, he came into control of the Volcanic Repeating Arms Company, which he reorganized under the name Winchester Repeating Arms in 1866. By the 1880s, the company had more than 600 employees and the interior floor space of the Newhallville factory covered more than five acres.

Winchester was active as a philanthropist and politician, serving as Lieutenant-Governor of Connecticut (1866-67) and making major gifts to Yale.

The Winchester family was devastated by tragedy within a decade of taking possession of 194 Prospect. Winchester himself died in 1880. His son, William Wirt Winchester, died of tuberculosis a year later -- at the age of 43 -- leaving his widow, Sarah L. Pardee, the sole heir to a $20 million fortune. (William and Sarah's only child had died fifteen years earlier).

Mrs. Winchester was a Spiritualist. Persuaded by her spiritual advisors that her husband and child had been victims of the vengeful spirits who had been killed by the guns manufactured by the Winchester company, Mrs Winchester was persuaded that -- to escape their wrath -- she would have to move to another state and engage in a succession of architectural strategems.

Sarah Winchester purchased a 162 acre farm near rural San Jose and began construction of what would eventually become a 24,000 squre foot house with 10,000 windows, 2,000 doors, 40 bedrooms, 6 kitchens, 13 bathrooms, and 47 fireplaces -- all constructed with exquisite workmanship and of the best materials money could buy.

To fool the spirits, Mrs. Winchester not only slept in a different bedroom every night, but had her carpenters build stairways that went nowhere, doorways opening onto blank walls, hidden windows, and a seance room with no windows and skylights in the floor. True to the proverbial spirit of Yankee ingenuity, she was responsible for a host of innovations, including wool insulation, devices for recycling the water used on her indoor plants to water her outdoor plants, and an laundry sink on which she held a patent.

The Winchester "Mystery House" still stands and is a major San Francisco Bay Area tourist attraction.

Despite her eccentricities, Mrs. Winchester was a pace-setting New Haven philanthropist. She gave nearly $2 million to the New Haven Hospital for the establishment of a specialized tuberculosis facility -- the William Wirt Winchester Hospital in West Haven, now the location of the VA Hospital. She also gave money to Yale for the establishment of an astronomical observatory at the top of Prospect Hill -- a portion of which still survives as part of the Celentano School. (It is best viewed from the upper parking lot of the Divinity School).

Links to sites about the Winchester family and Winchester Mystery House include

Watch your step at the Winchester Mystery House

The Story behind the Winchester Clinic and the Winchester Name

The Winchester Mystery House

 

 

 

 

 

 

If the grandest houses lined Prospect Street, looking down into Newhallville's factories and modest working class houses to the west and into the pastures, gardens, and growing middle-class East Rock neighborhood, Whitney Avenue could boast its own impressive residences, as executives and professionals exuded their sense of self-confidence with a series of turretted "painted ladies" in the new "Queen Anne" style. Built in the 1880s and 90s, these commodious houses, though they stood on small lots, featured the latest domestic amenities (hot and cold running water, electricity, gas, central heating), as well as lavish interior and exterior decor -- the latter featuring a variety of materials (sandstone, granite, brick, terra cotta; imbricated shingles, slates in a variety of colors; impressive copper flashing). Unlike the relatively chaste Greek Revival and Italianate villas they replaced, these assertive residences, lined up cheek-by jowl along the east side of Whitney Avenue, portended the transformation of this domain of great estates into the middle and upper-middle class enclave that it is today.

 

 

 

 

 

Becoming a Neighborhood, 1890-1930

At the turn of the century, Ronan-Edgehill was regarded as a rural area. As Norman Corwin wrote of his family's move to 247 St. Ronan Street in 1902,

for some years [my mother] had had a desirous eye on St. Ronan Street. It had not been cut through to Edward's Street, nor extended to Highland Street, but it was secluded and country like and otherwise attractive. On learnng of our leaning toward that part of town, Professor Mather urged us to look at 247 built in part by him and his two sons, and the last home of his father-in-law, William Linton, the wood-engraver. Two days later we bought it and in early summer, 1902, moved in. The forty intervening years [Corwin wrote in 1945] have brought many changes to our neighborhood. None of our first neighbors now survive, but others have surrounded us more closely. The residential tide has surged far beyond us to the North. Business is now invading Whitney Avenue just below us, where cows pastured when we first came. A new city of apartment houses now cover the vacant lots "way out" Whitney Avenue, where the Sheffield Scientific School Freshman-Junior rushes used to be fought in the good old days.

 

This 1912 photograph of the newly completed William S. Wells house at 339 St. Ronan Street shows conditions in the neighborhood early in the century. The house stands by itself surrounded by sparsely forested open land. The magificent shade trees that today line the street were saplings. To the rear stand the mansion and carriage house of Messena Clark, whose estate -- carved out of the Hillhouse's larger holdings in the 1860s -- was in the process of being subdivided into small (usually 60'x100') building lots.

 

The Messena Clark carriage house (315 St. Ronan Street) still stands -- converted into condominiums during the 1980s. From 1923 to 1957, it housed the Foote School -- now located on Loomis Place.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This picture, also taken in 1912, shows St. Francis Avenue -- the one block long stretch linking St. Ronan Street and Edgehill Road that ran in front of the St. Francis Orphan Asylum. To the left is Wilbur Cross's newly completed house (24 Edgehill Road). Cross, then Dean of Yale's Graduate School, would later serve as governor of Connecticut. To the right is 7 Edgehill, originally built as a worker's cottage for the Eli Whitney, Jr. estate. In the far distance, on the right, can be glimpsed the home of Gurdon Gaillard -- Eli Whitney III's son-in-law and his successor as head of the Water Company -- at 19 Edgehill.

 

 

 

 

 

 

The St. Francis Orphanage, built in the 1870s on land donated by the Whitneys, houses more than 200 children in what was originally a rural setting. The building -- which stood until the 1960s -- was located on the present Foote School soccer fields. The orphanage's magnificent sandstone wall still runs along Edgehill Road and up Highland, with mysterious stairways to nowhere and cobbled driveways to the now vanished institution. The orphanage's corporate descendant, the St. Francis Home, still occupies the western part of the property on Prospect Street.

 

 

 

The expansion of the city's service infrastructure made the once-remote neighborhood attractive. Paved streets and sidewalks, electric and telephone service, and -- most of all -- the introduction of fast, efficient, clean electric street cars. (For the history of New Haven's street railways, click this link: New Haven Trolleys)

This picture shows the Connecticut Company's open car fleet being rolled out of the James Street carbarn in preparation for a Yale football game.

 

 

 

 

This photograph, taken c. 1900, shows Lawrence Street, looking westward towards Whitney Avenue and to the street's continuation between Whitney and St. Ronan. Neither the New Haven Medical Society (built as the Tilton residence and completed in March of 1901) nor 297 Lawrence (built in 1903) had been constructed -- but one can catch sight of 305 and 307 Lawrence -- as well as a now-demolished structure that stood on the site of 190 St. Ronan.

It is noon on a quiet summer day. Not an automobile is in sight (there were very few of them in fin de siecle New Haven). A horse stands in the traces of a delivery wagon (note the hitching posts in front of every house).

Along Whitney Avenue, the Connecticut Company's big yellow 15-bench open cars are carrying passengers to and from downtown. The occasional clang of their bells is probably the only sound breaking the silence of this magical scene.

As Robert Lowell reminded us in one of his last poems:

Pray for the grace of accuracy

Vermeer gave to the sun's illumination

stealing like a tide across a map

to his girl solid with yearning.

We are poor passing facts,

warned by that to give

each figure in the photograph

his living name.