National Register Historic District

Edgewood Park

Elmer E. Smith House, 531 Edgewood Avenue, 1909.

Elmer E. Smith House, 531 Edgewood Avenue, 1909.

The Edgewood Park Historic District is one of New Haven’s best preserved residential neighborhoods. Its initial development was actively fostered by the City and guided in its overall deign by the planning tenets of the late 19th-century City Beautiful movement.

The district is roughly bounded by Boulevard, Derby, Sherman, West Park, Whalley and Yale Avenues, and Elm Street.

Like many of the areas located along the fringe of New Haven’s urban core, most of the district known today as Edgewood was thinly settled and semi-rural prior to the end of the Civil War. Maps dating from the 19th century indicate that most of the area’s settlement had taken place in the area by the early 1870s. The building stock consisted of approximately three dozen houses plus associated outbuildings, located along the southern, northern, and eastern fringes of the Edgewood area.

One of the principal reasons for the sparse settlement in Edgewood throughout the 19th century was the existence of New Haven’s large Old Alms House Farm complex in the heart of the district. New Haven first erected buildings for use as an alms/work house at the eastern end of the modern Edgewood Park district in 1800. The farmland originally associated with these buildings, known as the Second Alms House, was extensive. It covered more than 250 acres of land between Sherman Avenue and the West River.

In the 1850s, New Haven erected a new (Third) Alms House facility near the western end of Martin Street (now Edgewood Avenue). The move resulted from pressure on the town to open up land along the eastern fringe of Edgewood for residential development. This demand for new housing sites was fostered by the population growth associated with the developing carriage manufacturing industry in the area known today as the Dwight Street Historic District, the western side of which abutted the Alms House farmlands.

Following the opening of the Third Alms House facility, the town sub-divided and offered for sale roughly 50 acres of Alms House farmland abutting the western side of the modern Dwight district (between Winthrop and Sherman Avenues, south of Maple Street) for housing development. The bulk of the remaining acreage associated with the Alms House, however, was retained by New Haven until 1874. In a town meeting that year, it was voted to purchase a farm in Westville and move the entire complex out of the Edgewood area. It was also decided to subdivide the remaining land for sale to individuals as building lots. Despite this decision, the relocation of the Alms House to Springside Avenue in Westville did not take place until 1888-89. After 1889, the area experienced a virtual explosion in lot sales and house construction.

As in many American communities, the tenets of urban planning and design embodied in the City Beautiful movement made a significant impact on New Haven during the late 19th and early 20th centuries. City Beautiful projects were designed to achieve an harmonious balance between the natural and built environment in an urban setting, drawing heavily from such precedents as the grand boulevards and linear gardenways built in Paris in the late 1850s and ‘60s under the auspices of George-Eugene Haussman; the large public parks designed and built under the supervision of Frederick Law Olmstead and Calvert Vaux in New York City (Central Park, 1858) and Brooklyn (Prospect Park, 1867); as well as such classical Renaissance themes as rhythmic architectural continuity in streetscape design.

The influence of City Beautiful in New Haven is nowhere better demonstrated than in the approach that the City took in fostering the development of its expansive Alms House Farm holdings as a residential subdivision in 1889. Working in conjunction with Donald Grant Mitchell, the designer of East Rock Park (1880), one of the New Haven’s most prominent landscape architects and a leading advocate of the City Beautiful movement, the City reserved land along both sides of the West River for a large park based on the East Rock model. The central east-west artery leading through the district to this new park, Martin Street, was totally redesigned, emerging as a broad avenue featuring a large central esplanade. In recognition of Mitchell’s design efforts, as well as his donation of a substantial portion of his own land along the western side of the West River for the new park, both Martin Street and the park were renamed for Mitchell’s nearby farm, “Edgewood.” The newly christened Edgewood Avenue led directly to Mitchell’s estate, which was the next tract of land to be developed as a residential suburb in the early years of the 20th century. The building of Edgewood Park, established in 1889, was key to the development of the neighborhood.

The City of New Haven’s efforts to develop the post-1889 Old Alms House Farm into a showpiece of modern urban planning and design was not limited to the creation of a new park and avenue. The City’s intention that the subdivision be developed as a residential district featuring substantial, well-designed houses is reflected by the fact that the vast majority of the deeds granted to individuals for property in the subdivision carried restrictive covenants ensuring that each house cost at least $3,000 to construct, and would house no more than two families.

Residential development throughout the Old Alms House Farm property was largely complete by the end of the 1920s. Most of the occupants were prosperous professional people or middle management workers employed by the city’s many factories. Today, virtually all of the houses built during this period still stand, and retain much of their original architectural detailing.

The residences of the district are homogenous in terms of use, style, form, and size. The dominant house type is a single-family, frame structure set on a narrow city lot. The district includes examples of the work of several talented local architects, notably C.E. Jay, and the Bridgeport firm of Meloy and Beckwith.

The Edgewood Park Historic District remains one of the largest and most intact late 19th-century residential areas in New Haven. It displays numerous variations on the Queen Anne and Colonial Revival home styles, most of which have been changed very little since their construction. A remarkable richness of late 19th- and early 20th-century architectural detail is evident in the district. These features are elegant, crisp, and well-executed. Substantial examples of the Queen Anne style exist throughout the district. The Nathaniel B. Stone House (7 West Park Avenue, 1908), with its polygonal corner turret and wraparound porch, and the Steven B. Warren House (24 Maple Street, 1893-94), with its Art Glass window in the stairwell, each illustrate the fine details typical of the period. Excellent examples of the full-blown Colonial Revival style are evident in the three houses at 742-48 Elm Street (1909), with their symmetrical proportions and pedimented dormers. Another form of the Colonial Revival style found in the district is represented by the John M. and Adella Marvin House (384 Edgewood Avenue, 1907). This hipped-roof structure has a three-bay façade, and a central hipped dormer, with a large one-story porch. Few houses in the district have suffered from unsympathetic additions or alterations, although more than 40 have been sheathed in aluminum, asbestos, or vinyl siding, or have lost all or part of their original porches.

The Edgewood Park Historic District was listed in the National Register of Historic Place on September 9, 1986.


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