National Register Historic District
Roughly bounded by Park, North Frontage, Scranton, Sherman, and Elm Streets, the Dwight Street Historic District is an historically and architecturally significant 19th-century residential neighborhood that visibly documents its evolution as a working-class community and its important contribution to the industrial and social development of New Haven.
The district is significant for the quantity and quality of its 19th-century building stock that illustrates a full range of 19th- and early 20th-century architectural styles, including notable examples of the Colonial, Federal, Greek Revival, Italianate, Queen Anne, and Colonial Revival modes. As a rich and varied representation of domestic building types, the Dwight Street Historic District clearly documents the area’s evolution from a light industrial community into an urban neighborhood.
Until the 1820s, the area remained an expanse of flat, undeveloped land on the western edge of the Yale College campus. The Derby Turnpike (now Route 34 and Chapel Street) and Samaritan Street (now Elm Street) led west through the territory, roughly paralleling Whalley Avenue. Samaritan Street, so called because it led to the city almshouse, was marked by a scattered collection of shacks inhabited by a poor African-American population. To the southwest lay the Town Farm, a cluster of barns and outbuildings surrounded by open farmland.
The gradual transformation of this area into an urban community of grid-patterned streets lined with small houses and shops, came with the rise of New Haven as an industrial city following the War of 1812. The development of the city’s early industries–notably the manufacture of guns, clocks, hardware, and paper–called for increased access to major ports for shipping. In 1825, the Town of New Haven embarked on an ambitious plan to link its port with northern New England, and eventually the St. Lawrence River, by way of a canal up the Farmington River Valley. The construction of the New Haven to Farmington segment of the canal attracted hundreds of laborers to the city, and its completion in 1838 boosted the growth of the city’s industry. The continued growth of the labor population and the local economy were largely responsible for the development of the Dwight Street area. As the population swelled and the value of the land around the center of town increased, speculators rushed to develop much needed housing, purchasing tracts in outlying areas, laying out streets, and subdividing blocks.
During the 1830s, speculators bought up large parcels of land west of York Street and laid new roads to attract a working population interested in building homes near their places of employment. One of these speculators was Sydney Hull, a retired New Haven tailor who, in 1831, proceeded to extend Crown and George Streets as far as Park and Howe. Lots on Park, Howe, and Martin (now Edgewood) Streets, selling for $5 to $10 a foot, drew the first wave of settlers. Several frame dwellings remain from this era, typically featuring Federal and Greek Revival-style entrance porches. William P. Greene was another investor who acquired large tracts in the southern part of the district, opening George and West Chapel Streets. By 1840, all the present cross streets in the area had been opened. Development proceeded slowly during the 1840s and 1850s, concentrating around the areas east of Orchard Street and south of Elm Street.
One of the houses that survives from this period, at 234-236 Park Street (c. 1815), is an unusually early example of a multiple-family residence, a type that set the trend for much of the area’s subsequent residential construction. Displaying the symmetry and proportion characteristic of vernacular, early Federal domestic architecture this house was adapted to a vertically-stacked, two-family house plan by doubling the traditional central entrance. As in many Dwight Street-area houses built later in the century, such a scheme made for more affordable, owner-occupied housing that drew more people to the neighborhood.
By 1860, the Dwight Street community was composed principally of resident artisans and laborers, of which approximately one-third were employed by one of the several carriage firms in the district. The remaining two-thirds consisted largely of builders, blacksmiths, painters, and general laborers.
Two of the transportation industry’s largest factories, the Hooker & Osborne Co., and the Stephen M. Weir Co., operated here in the area from the 1850s to the 1880s, as did several smaller carriage factories and supporting industries. Of the industrial sites remaining in the Dwight Street District, the best preserved are utilitarian structures dating from the 1870s and 1880s that were associated with the Weir carriage factory and the F.H. Russell & Company Lumber Yard. These buildings include a long, single-story frame structure used for the display of carriages for sale by the Weir factory, and to the east, a two-story brick building with a gable roof and cupola, also associated with the carriage trade. Toward the middle of the block, and directly north of these buildings, are another frame shed and a two-and-one-half-story brick structure, both originally part of the Russell Lumber Yard.
Several more carriage factories were established during the late 1860s. By 1870, the number of area shops had increased to 11, accounting for approximately one-quarter of the total number of carriage factories in New Haven. Standing among the carriage factories on Park Street was the Matusheck Piano Manufacturing Company, housed in a large four-story brick structure at 216-220 Park Street (1868). From 1878 to 1888, the J. Newman Company used the building for the manufacture of corsets.
Between 1860 and 1880, post-war growth added 23,000 to the city’s population, encouraging the construction of many multi-family houses in areas beyond the city’s original nine squares. Rows of duplex and triplex dwellings remain on Elm, Kensington, Day, and Orchard Streets from this period. One of the district’s major developers was Thomas N. Hotchkiss, a local contractor with a workforce of 70, who built 25 houses on Edgewood Avenue and Kensington Street between 1850 and 1875. These new houses were typically rented to workers and their families.
Several multi-family dwellings built by Hotchkiss remain. One example stands at 111 Kensington Street (c. 1880), a large, two-family Queen Anne-style house. Often built in rows of three and four, this multiple-family cross-plan house type still predominates in the district. It is uniform in its basic plan and massing, but varies widely in its detailing. Another type of speculative housing in this period is the three-story, three-family railroad-plan frame dwelling.
A few of the area’s wealthier manufacturers and professionals lived within the district, and some of their residences remain on Dwight Place (now lower Dwight Street) and Lynwood Place. Dwight Place developed in the early 1860s, when land on its west side was sold and subdivided into larger house lots. A few leading New Haven professionals built large Queen Anne-style residences in the area. One affluent resident, Frederick P. Newton, built a large house at 128 Dwight Street in 1894. Once part of a row of stately, late-Victorian residences set back from the street on spacious lots, the Newton House is an exceptionally well-preserved and outstanding example of the late Queen Anne style, and is one of the few residences of New Haven’s 19th-century industrialist class remaining in the Dwight area.
Lynwood Place vividly documents the increasingly urban residential scale and character of the district during the 1880s. Opened and developed on land sold by the Hooker and Osbourne Company, Lynwood Place became a fashionable enclave of expensively built brick dwellings and townhouses, designed to comply with new city fire laws. One resident was Walter B. Law, Vice-President and Treasurer of the Booth & Law Company, manufacturers of paint, varnish, and oils. His elegant Italianate townhouse (40 Lynwood Place, 1883) clearly reflects a taste for a sophisticated, urban house type, with its projecting bays and prominent, bracketed cornice. The presence of seven other brick houses built as multiple dwellings contributes to the street’s urban character. Rental units on this street were decidedly middle class, and were often leased to people associated with Yale University. More typical of the area’s development, however, were simpler rowhouse structures containing lower-cost apartments and rental rooms. Built throughout the district in response to the housing shortage after the turn of the century, many were of the bow-front type, such as 98 Scranton Street (c. 1915).
Following the Civil War, the neighborhood’s African-American population steadily increased. City directories from the late 1800s show that black residents lived on nearly every street in the area, revealing a well-integrated neighborhood. It does not appear that the African-American settlement in New Haven was associated with any specific activity in the Dwight Street area. Most factories did not hire black workers until the 1860s, and few were permitted to apprentice as artisans; consequently many worked as laborers, waitresses, barbers, or domestic servants.
Among the newcomers to New Haven during the late 19th century were large groups of Jewish, Italian, and Polish immigrants. Oak Street, now a vacant area bordering the district on the south, was one of the three major Jewish settlements in New Haven in the 1880s. By the 1890s, many of these new immigrants had taken up residence in the two- and three-family dwellings on Gilbert Avenue, Greenwood, Orchard, and Waverly Streets. The southwest section of the Dwight Street neighborhood became a stable Jewish community with its own synagogue, school, and stores. Today Beth Israel Synagogue, founded in 1914 (232 Orchard Street), and the Scranton Street School of 1905, (95 Scranton Street) are institutional landmarks of this period in the neighborhood’s history.
Further influxes of native and immigrant workers were drawn by the area’s arms industry, resulting in a severe housing shortage. During the World War I period, many revival-style apartment buildings and triple-decker structures were built along George, Chapel, and Howe Streets to house this new population.
Waverly, Day, and Scranton Streets remained heavily Jewish until the turn of the 20th century, when Italian and Polish immigrants began moving onto Gilbert Street. The Jewish population in the area began to dwindle in the 1930s and ‘40s, as a more prosperous second generation moved west into the fashionable suburban Sherman Avenue and Edgewood Park neighborhoods.
With the post-World War II migration of upwardly mobile residents, and the conversion of many buildings to multi-residential use, the district gradually evolved into a poorer residential and commercial area. A low owner-occupant ratio and a growing transient population contributed to the area’s decline during the 1940s and ‘50s. Altogether, the movement to the suburbs, the increased commercialization of the district, and the deterioration of the neighborhood’s building stock caused the population to drop by 35 percent between 1940 and 1970.
Various city plans to improve the area developed during the 1950s and ‘60s, resulting in the clearance of large tracts of land, such as the Oak Street neighborhood in the district’s southern border and several blocks located in the center of the district. While the Oak Street area has remained vacant, the interior tracts were developed primarily with low-scale residential housing complexes for low-income families and the elderly. The Timothy Dwight School (130 Edgewood Avenue) was built in 1964, replacing the 100-year-old structure on the site.
Another city project was the re-routing of University Place as a U-shaped street and the relocation and restoration of several late 19th-century houses around its outer edge. Some isolated examples of private rehabilitation and restoration efforts are evident throughout the Dwight Street Historic District; however, the building stock of certain areas, such as Orchard Street and Kensington Streets, remains deteriorated. While decline and demolition have characterized the recent history of the Dwight Street area, benign neglect has preserved many buildings, including block fronts and architectural detailing.
The Dwight Street Historic District was listed in the National Register of Historic Places on September 8, 1983.