National Historic Landmark

Connecticut Hall

Connecticut Hall, 344 College Street, 1750-52.

Connecticut Hall, 344 College Street, 1750-52.

Connecticut Hall, built in 1750-52, is an altered example of a conservatively designed Georgian structure. It is also Yale's oldest extant building and only surviving example of an eighteenth century structure. It was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1966.

Connecticut Hall's simple and functional style made it adaptable down through the years to the changing conditions. Its exterior was altered at least three times, its interior more times than are recorded. Apparently it changed color with the changing tastes of the world around it - from red-and-white to cream to allover-drab and back to red-and-white.

It was built in 1750-52 in a style that was even then rather conservative, following in a model at Harvard. By 1790 it was already old-fashioned, and when John Trumbull, exponent of the new classical style of the post-Revolutionary generation, learned that he would have to incorporate the old building into his modern plan for a new Yale campus, he complained to James Hillhouse and said that it would have to go.

Instead Connecticut Hall was given an additional story and a new roof and took its place as part of Trumbull's classical Brick Row, fronting the Green along College Street, completed by 1820. But by the middle of the century the Brick Row was out of style and Connecticut Hall was being described as "dilapidated, scabby and malodorous." After the Civil War Yale decided to raze all its old Georgian architecture and redevelop the West side of the Green with larger and more modern buildings. But by the 90's the Colonial Revival was beginning and before Connecticut Hall could be demolished, a group of alumni organized to save and restore it.

Once again Connecticut Hall received a new roof and became part of a new campus plan. The dark paint was scraped off the window frames and the gambrel roof that Trumbull had removed was replaced. Another major operation followed fifty years later in 1952-54, when the interior was entirely gutted and a new set of modern rooms was built inside the brick shell. The building remains in that form today, housing faculty, seminar and freshman reading rooms.

Connecticut Hall, sometimes called Old South Middle, was the first of Yale's brick buildings, and was built under the direction of Francis Letort of Philadelphia and Thomas Bills of New York. In size and arrangement, Connecticut Hall is a close parallel to Massachusetts Hall at Harvard, which was built in the Early Georgian style in 1718-20.

The erection of Connecticut Hall had its inception in 1748 when the directors who "had concerted and drawn a Lottery whereby they had raised the sum of 5400 Pounds in bills of Old Tenor" ordered that there be "a new College House built with brick of 105 feet in length, 40 in breadth and 3 stories high beside the Garrets, with a cellar under the whole house."

By 1752 the building was almost completed but not entirely so.The first Yale building in New Haven was a "great timber" frame structure, built in 1718 and razed in 1782, which stood upon a two acre plot adjoining the Green. When, in 1750, President Clap planned the construction of Connecticut Hall his first step was to set the foundations of the new building well "back in the yard that there may be a large and handsome area before it and toward the north side of the yard with a view..."

The new building, named after Colony of Connecticut whose legislature had been very generous in the fund for its construction, is said to have been of "elegant appearance" and "the best building in the colony." It was three stories high, with a gambrel roof and "Dormar" windows. It had 124 windows and four "great doors." The caps of the windows and doors are of fine brown sandstone, apparently Portland stone, and have ornamental projecting keystones. There are belt courses of projecting bricks marking the different stories, and the water table is formed of bricks molded in an ogee pattern.

It was some time before the interior was fully completed and there are several entries in the college records showing that students were allowed to finish and occupy rooms on an agreement with the corporation to reimburse them. In general style and interior arrangement the building was a pattern for all the dormitories for a long period. It had two halls on each floor from front to rear, those on the lower floor having doors at either end. There were two principal rooms on each side of each hall on each floor, making thirty-two studies or parlors, each having two sleeping rooms attached, making ninety-six rooms in all besides ample closets. By 1757 the building seems to have been substantially completed.

Since its founding Yale's growth has paralleled the expansion of the country. Elihu Yale's financial contribution to the college in 1718 helped to guarantee its continuance. Located in New Haven by then, after having been twice moved, the college erected Connecticut Hall in 1750-52 and established its first professorship in 1755, a chair in divinity. In 1771, chairs in mathematics, physics, and astronomy were added. Further expansion occurred in the nineteenth century, a School of Medicine being established in 1813, a Divinity School in 1822, a School of Law in 1824, a Graduate School in 1847, and additional schools in later years. The university opened the first college gallery of fine arts in America in 1832, granted the first degree of Doctor of Philosophy in the nation in 1862, and inaugurated the country's first School of Forestry in 1900. The turn of the century witnessed the further growth of the institution, enabling Yale to retain a position of leadership among American universities.

 

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