Fairlawn-Nettleton Historic District

The Fairlawn-Nettleton Historic District is a well-preserved residential neighborhood built during the early 20th century. Although it contains some fine early period homes, the district’s strength is in its 20th century-houses. Many of theses residences were the work of leading local architects, including a number from the area’s most prolific designer, Jacob Weinstein.

The boundaries of the district are Goffe Terrace, Ella T. Grasso Boulevard, Whalley Avenue, and Osborn Avenue.

The land that now comprises the district was originally part of a larger quarter referred to by the Colonial Proprietors as the Common Land. Primarily used for pasture and timber, the area remained mostly open space until the early 20th century. In the 18th century, a few homes were built along the first roads in the area. During the 19th century, new roads were opened and a dozen houses were built along Blake Street and Whalley Avenue. In the early 20th century, the area had its peak period of development; it has remains a middle-class residential neighborhood to this day.

The earliest path through the area, called Town Street, allowed access from New Haven to Westville. It ran from the present intersection of Blake Street and Whalley Avenue, where it skirted around Beaver Hill and headed northward, just south of the present day Blake Street. Whalley Avenue, named after Edward Whalley, began as a farm cut and in 1797 was incorporated as part of the Litchfield Turnpike. Goffe Street accessed the crest of Beaver Hill and terminated with Town Street near present day Osborne Avenue.

By the early 18th century, the common land around Beaver Hill was privately owned. Around 1750, the house presently located at 96 Blake Street was built by Captain John White. In 1797, Peter Maverick built a residence (now located at 129 Blake Street) just up the road.

By the mid-19th century, there were a few small developments in the area. Around 1840, Town Street was renamed Blake Street, after the nearby Blake Brothers Manufacturing Company, founded by Eli Whitney’s nephews, Philos, John, and Eli Whitney Blake. By 1850, the Park Cottage, a saloon and brothel, stood at the corner of Blake Street (the present day 533 Whalley Avenue). A half a dozen small homes were built nearby. Along the eastern border of Blake Street were the grounds of the Oak Hill Estate, built by John G. North.

During the remainder of the 19th century, the area remained sparsely populated, with one new road opening and a half a dozen homes built. In 1875, Osborne Avenue, named after local landowners, was opened from Whalley Avenue, intersecting with Blake and Goffe Streets, and in 1890, the Connecticut Company began operating a street car route along Whalley Avenue.

The early 20th century marked the period of greatest growth in the area, with three new streets opened and land parceled into building lots. In 1907, Edward L. Nettleton, president of the brokerage firm Lomas & Nettleton, opened Whittlesey Avenue and Young Streets. In partnership with Frederick Shumway, Nettleton parceled the resulting three blocks into 41 building lots. Construction began in 1909 and continued for the next 17 years, until every lot had been built upon. Just to the east, John J. Linskey began to develop the land from Whalley Avenue north to Goffe Street, along Blake Street, and to the newly opened Boulevard. The development, called The Lots at Fairlawn Manor, included 49 building lots and was under construction from 1914 to 1929.

Both developments were built for a rising class of people who represented a number of occupations and cultural backgrounds. Most of the new residents had moved from more congested areas of New Haven such as the Hill neighborhood, and enjoyed the area’s county-like setting. In general, these new residents were first and second generation immigrants of Italian, Irish, German and eastern European Jewish background, representing many occupations.

By the 1920s, Whalley Avenue’s commercial character had begun to evolve. In 1922, the estate of John Lyon on the corner of Blake Street, the site of the Park Cottage, was developed into the Atlantic Refining Company filling station. Ten years later, a storefront addition was added to the garage and leased to the New Haven division of the State Highway Department. By this time, the commercial strip had grown to include a baker, a market, a cleaner, a garage, and a barber.

Throughout the second half of the 20th century, changes to the area’s transportation system, population density, and cultural make-up had occurred. The Connecticut Company’s streetcar system ceased running in 1948, having been converted to diesel buses. Most of the two-family flats began utilizing 3rd floors as additional residential units, increasing the area’s population density by almost a third. In 1969, the Federal Arms Apartments at 119 Blake Street was constructed, adding 13 additional units. The area evolved into an area with a high rental ratio. Further market, ownership, and social changes brought a significant change in the ethnic and racial composition of the area. In 1981, the Boulevard was renamed Ella T. Grasso Boulevard after Connecticut’s first female governor.

The district’s 18th-century row houses are rare surviving examples from that period in New Haven. The Deacon John White Jr./Thomas Bills House at 96 Blake Street (c. 1750) is a one-and-a-half-story wood-frame structure that has been enlarged and changed over the years. The Peter Maverick/Leaveritt Bradley House (c. 1797) was built in the Federal style with later alterations in the Greek Revival style.

The district’s six 19th-century houses illustrate four popular Victorian styles. The oldest house is the Griswold Gilbert House at 21 Young Street (1859). It is one of five surviving Italianate Villa style-houses in the western section of New Haven. The Marcus Shumway House at 114 Blake Street (c. 1870) is a rare example of the Second Empire style in this part of the city, and one of the few two-story Mansard roof houses in New Haven. The Sereno Gilbert House at 115 Blake Street (1880) is notable for retaining much of its original Eastlake Stick-style ornamentation. The Charles Bunnell Development Houses at 120-24, 130, and 134-36 Blake Street (1899) are intact examples of the Queen Anne style.

The majority of the district’s buildings, built in the early 20th century, are significant for being part of two seperate residential developments: begun five years apart, their lot sizes, scale, and architectural styles are very similar. The developers often employed the same architects and contractors, which had the effect of creating a visually contiguous residential area.

Some of the houses were designed with a tower on the exterior, two-story columns, decorative brackets and rails. Two outstanding examples of the early 20th-century houses have distinguished architectural features. The Mary Pohlman House at 593-95 Whalley Avenue (1908-09) is a Colonial Revival-style house featuring a two-story front porch with four full-spanning, round, fluted Ionic columns on square paneled bases. Another Colonial Revival house, the Albert Penney House at 589-91 Whalley Avenue (1912), is one of two towered houses in the district.

Many of the district’s early 20th-century residences were designed and built by prominent local architects, builders, and developers. Several of these professionals were also real estate speculators, including Charles Bunnell (130 Blake Street, 1899), William Kintzel (1514 Ella T. Grasso Boulevard, 1922), Paul Swole (1528 Ella T. Grasso Boulevard, 1919), Nathan Drutman (1558 Ella T. Grasso Boulevard, 1921), Luciano Petrillo (1588 Ella T. Grasso Boulevard, 1924), Mario Salvo (491 Whalley Avenue, 1920), Albert Penney (589 Whalley Avenue, c. 1912), and James Minor (609 Whalley Avenue, 1915). New Haven architects who designed buildings in the district include Jacob Weinstein, C. Jerome Bailey, Frank Elmwood Brown, Robert Fabian, Charles Shultz, Rocco Alfredo D’Avino, and the firms of Brown & Von Beren and Della Valle & Vece.

The Fairlawn-Nettleton Historic District was listed in the State Register of Historic Places on April 6, 2005.