National Register Historic District

Howard Avenue

264 Howard Avenue, c. 1900.

264 Howard Avenue, c. 1900.

The Howard Avenue Historic District is architecturally significant for the quality and variety of its building stock, which forms the most intact and well-preserved array of late nineteenth- and early twentieth-century vernacular architecture currently standing in the southwestern portion of New Haven. Howard Avenue Historic District buildings include some important examples of the work of prominent local architects of this period, such as Rufus G. Russell and Leoni Robinson, as well as a number of buildings known to have been erected by master builders, such as Luzerne Thomas and the firm G.A. Baldwin and Sons. The Howard Avenue Historic District is also significant because its buildings continue to effectively illustrate the historic development of Howard Avenue as one of the city's principal late nineteenth/early twentieth century middle-class residential thoroughfares. It was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1985.

Most houses built in the Howard Avenue Historic District prior to the 1880s were originally designed for use as single-family residences. While the construction of one-family houses in the district continued through the early years of the twentieth century, by the 1880s, multi-family residential forms, such as duplexes, row buildings, and two- and three-family houses were also becoming prevalent. Like other major avenues in the city which developed as middle-class residential "strips" during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, Howard Avenue also includes a few scattered structures originally designed for mixed commercial-residential and institutional uses, as well as several neighborhood churches.

The majority of Howard Avenue Historic District buildings are wood-frame structures; however, significant examples of structures built of brick are also extant. Most wood-frame structures continue to retain original exterior detail features, such as bracketed cornices, gable-rake bargeboards, window moldings, finials and/or porch fabric. Particularly notable original exterior details retained by brick structures include corbelled brick courses, and cut-stone, terra-cotta and polychromatic brick trim. Buildings generally retain all or the bulk of their original massing characteristics. Significant exterior alterations to most buildings tend to be limited to the application of later twentieth-century siding materials, such as aluminum, asbestos or asphalt, over original clapboard and/or wood-shingle sidings or front porch modifications.

Howard Avenue is one of New Haven's oldest roads. Land records indicate that the street, originally known as the Second Quarter Road, was probably laid out in the mid-1640s in conjunction with the First Division of the community's Common Lands established by the city's original Proprietors. Despite the street's early date, most of the land which lay along both its sides remained minimally developed through the first half of the nineteenth century; throughout this period it was utilized primarily as outlying farmland. Prior to the 1850s, Howard Avenue's principal function was as a public access corridor between the city's developing core downtown area and a small village populated by oystermen and their families which developed at the southern end of the road on the point of land formed by the confluence of the West River and New Haven Harbor.

Initial residential development along Howard Avenue, as well as along most of the side streets which lay immediately to its east and west, was greatly facilitated by the construction of a horsecar railway line from the city's downtown district out to and down along the northern half of the avenue during the 1860s. However, while the existence of the street railway improved the accessibility of the area, residential development along Howard Avenue accelerated only slightly through the 1870s; by the end of this decade less than two-dozen scattered houses had been built. However, the 1880s saw the beginning of a building boom along the street which was to continue into the first decades of the twentieth century. During this era a number of local builders and developers, reacting to a rapidly increasing demand for housing in this portion of the city, began erecting residential structures along the street and adjacent areas like Trowbridge Square at an increasing pace. One of the principal factors accounting for the increasing demand for new housing in the area and the subsequent increase in construction activity along Howard Avenue during this era was the concurrent construction and/or expansion of major repair and terminal facilities along the harbor front nearby to the east by the New York, New Haven and Hartford Railroad.

The New York-New Haven railroad line was laid out through the southwestern portion of New Haven during the 1850s, crossing Howard Avenue just north of its intersection with Lamberton Street. In 1866, the railroad company purchased a large tract of land just south of this right-of-way about one block east of Howard Avenue, as well as substantial portions of the adjacent harbor mud flats. At this location the company immediately began to erect a repair complex composed of a roundhouse and a group of small repair shops. In the mid-1870s, the company erected a large new depot at the northern end of its property along Union Avenue. As the railroad prospered and the scope of its activities and services continued to expand during the remaining decades of the century, the size of the labor force employed at these facilities increased dramatically: by the early years of the twentieth century, the railroad had emerged as the largest single employer in southwestern New Haven.

The continuing growth in the size of the railroad's labor force during the final third of the nineteenth century fostered a dramatic increase in the demand for new housing throughout southwestern New Haven during this same era. New Haven city directories from this period indicate that unlike the streets which lay to its east and west, which developed as low-income neighborhoods like the Trowbridge Square district, populated predominantly by unskilled and semi-skilled railroad workers, Howard Avenue developed throughout this era as a fashionable middle-class thoroughfare. Between the 1880s and 1920s, roughly 50 percent of the street's population was made up of small businessmen, independent shopkeepers, and professionals, such as doctors, dentists and lawyers, while the remaining 50 percent were employed at the nearby rail yards as clerks, supervisors, engineers, and skilled upper-level blue collar workers, such as machinists and carpenters.

 

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