National Register Historic District
The Beaver Hills Historic District is architecturally significant as a neighborhood for its impressive collection of early 20th-century suburban residences. While a number of popular building styles are represented in the district, the area is particularly notable for its of Tudor Revival single-family houses. It also has one of the city’s largest concentrations of pre-1945 Colonial Revival houses. Many of the homes represent the work of locally prominent architects and builders of the era. One of New Haven’s earliest examples of a subdivision thoroughly planned, promoted, and developed under the auspices of a speculative real estate development corporation, it is also among the first residential neighborhoods in the city to acknowledge the arrival of the automobile.
The Beaver Hills Historic District is roughly bounded by Crescent Street, Geoffe Terrace and Boulevard. It was listed in the National Register of Historic Places on July 31, 1986.
The rise of land where the district lies was named “Beaver Hills” during the Colonial era due to its close proximity to several small ponds where beavers gathered in great numbers. Prior to the turn of the 20thc entury, the district remained dominated by patches of dense woods and open fields associated with farms owned by George Mead, Seldon Osborn, and William Farnham. The Mead farm encompassed the southern third of the district. The Osborn and Farnham farms dominated the central and northern portions, respectively. Between 1908 and the early years of World War II, the district emerged as one of New Haven’s most popular and densely populated middle and upper-middle class suburban residential neighborhoods, a transformation planned, promoted, and regulated by the children of George Mead and William Farnham.
Following George Mead’s death in 1906, ownership of his farm passed to his numerous heirs. Led by Mead’s eldest son, D. Irving Mead, these heirs decided to subdivide the farm and develop the land for residential use. They pooled their resources in 1908 to form the Beaver Hills Company, a speculative real estate development corporation chartered by the State of New York. The company soon acquired an additional nine acres of land from the abutting Osborn farm to the north. Extending northward to and, in the western portion of the district, beyond Dyer Street, this additional acreage was incorporated into the company’s overall subdivision plans.
Following the completion of its subdivision plan, the Beaver Hills Company began to promote the area as a preferred residential locale for businessmen, professionals, and other middle- to upper-middle class residents. In its sales brochure, the firm’s marketing approach and goals were summarized as follows: “Beaver Hills offers a novel opportunity to those who would live in the homes, designed with reference to their own needs and surroundings, with all that gives one pride in location.”
Services and restrictions established by the Beaver Hills Company to regulate the subdivision’s development were numerous and varied. Working in conjunction with the City, the company laid out new, carefully landscaped streets with curbs and broad tree-lined sidewalks throughout the subdivision and the land that abutted it to the north. In order to “avoid undesirable cheapness of design” to potential residences an “approved” group of professional architects was called upon for consultation purposes. While not required, the company was also willing to act as the general contractor supervising the construction of a client’s new house. The company also attached restrictions to every deed for lots purchased in the subdivision. Stipulations in the covenant required new owners to build single-family houses costing a minimum of $3,500, with construction to take place within two years of lot purchase.
From an architectural standpoint, the Beaver Hills Company’s goal was “the ideal of the House Beautiful and the House Useful combined for the man of average income.” While the firm did not require homebuilders to use its staff of architects, all plans for houses in the subdivision were subject to the company’s approval prior to construction. Organized primarily as a sales and regulatory organization, the firm did not initially intend to become involved in building houses on speculation (although as the years progressed it did so with increasing regularity), but rather to act as the agent/overseer in the “proper development of the area.”
To help emphasize the area’s identity as a self-contained residential community, the Beaver Hills Company erected brick and concrete gateway piers along Goffe Terrace flanking each of the streets leading into the district from the southwest. (Most are still standing.) To bolster the area’s sense of community spirit, the company constructed 390 Norton Parkway in 1909 for use as a neighborhood clubhouse. The company also maintained a field office in this building. In the company’s promotional brochure, this clubhouse is described as a “…Bungalow modeled after the characteristic structures of southern California, with Mission furniture”. The building’s clubhouse functions were transferred to the Bungalow-style Beaver Hills Tennis Club building at 591 Winthrop Avenue, following its completion in 1913.
In retrospect, the Beaver Hills Company’s approach was not only highly successful, it was, at least from a local standpoint, also novel and highly significant. An early New Haven Register article refers to the company’s work in the area as “…absolutely unique in the history of American cities.” While journalistic license may have prompted a bit of overstatement, the article accurately conveys that planned residential communities of this type were not the norm in the area during this era.
The Beaver Hills Company continued to promote and oversee development in the neighborhood through the 1930s. On July 22, 1938, following the sale of the last remaining lots in the subdivision, the company ceased operations.
Following William Farnham’s death, subdivision of the abutting land in the northern portion of the district for residential development was initiated by William’s heirs, led by his son Arthur. The Farnhams did not organize their holdings under a speculative corporate umbrella along the lines of the Mead family’s Beaver Hills Company. Functioning as individuals or in loosely organized partnerships, they retained no staff architects, nor did they offer consultative services in design or construction. However, virtually all deeds of sale from the Farnhams included restrictive covenants nearly identical to those established by the Beaver Hills Company. The only notable difference was an increased minimum construction cost of $7,000. As a result of these covenants, the Farnham subdivision essentially emerged as a de facto architectural and social extension of the Beaver Hills Company subdivision. The Farnham family continued to sell lots in the district, as well as in the area immediately abutting the district to the west, through the mid-1940s.
With its numerous well-preserved examples of large and moderately sized houses (designed and built in a variety of popular early 20th-century architectural styles) the Beaver Hills Historic District is one of New Haven’s most substantially intact collections of suburban residential architecture erected prior to the Second World War. The district is dominated by houses designed and built by locally prominent early 20th-century builders and construction firms, such as Nathan Drutman, B.H. Stove, Lund and Lohne, the Emerson Construction Company, the Willard Home Building Company, and the Rosette Building Company, as well as the Beaver Hills Company itself. The neighborhood also includes a number of houses designed by locally prominent architects of the period, such as R. W. Foote, J. Frederick Kelly, and Brown and Von Beren, as well as the largest known collection of houses designed by C. Frederick Townsend and the architectural firm, Townsend and Norton.
The district also includes one of the city’s best collections of early 20th-century garages, both attached and freestanding. Most of these garages were built at the same time or within a year of the construction of the house with which they are associated. As a group they form an early and important tangible reflection of the influential role played by the privately owned automobile in the development of the city’s early 20th-century suburban residential neighborhoods.