Redfield & West Streets Historic District
The Redfield & West Streets Historic District is a three-block area in the Hill neighborhood of New Haven. From the mid-19th to the early 20th century, this area was a thriving residential and commercial neighborhood. The district is representative of what much of the surrounding area once looked like, and is significant for having a concentration of surviving historic buildings. It is set apart from the surrounding area by modern in-fill housing, apartments, and institutional buildings, making the district a remnant of its historic context.
The district is comprised of both sides of West and Redfield Streets between Columbus and Congress Avenues, and the north side of Columbus Avenue and the south side of Congress Avenue between Redfield and West Streets.
The district was part of the Suburban Quarter, named by the original proprietors during New Haven’s colonial period. The land was used for agriculture until the mid-19th century. Congress Avenue, laid out in 1810, was one of the area’s first roads leading to West Haven, Milford, and on to New York City. Columbus Avenue, laid out around 1833, was called the “Road to New York” by 1847, and has been designated US Route 1 ever since. West Street was an early ring road to access local farms. Redfield Street was first mentioned in 1868 and was named for John H. Redfield of New York who owned most of the land in the district from 1836 to 1859. A small driveway on the west side of West Street near Columbus Avenue is all that remains of one of the city’s shortest streets, West Lane, formally called Hedge Street. A significant portion of the district was sold to Robert Merritt Burrwell and his wife, Elizabeth, in 1859. Burrwell was a soap manufacturer and was born in Milford.
Many houses in the district were built surrounding a nearby brewery, Fresenius & Sons, which opened on Congress Avenue in 1852. These residences were generally built by German and Irish immigrants, who were some of the earliest residents of the district. Thomas Hackett, a policeman, built two houses on West Street (number 157 in 1873, and number 143 in 1890). James Hart, a sawyer and fireman, lived in two houses on West Street, building number 163 in 1874. John A. Miller, a German butcher, built a brick building at 744-50 Congress Avenue in 1883. He established a meat market and grocery with his wife Clara, and the Eagle Drug Store with his brothers, Frank and Louis, who lived on the upper floors. James Brady, a train brakeman who eventually became a conductor, lived in two houses on West Street, building number 149 in 1887. George Bohn and his sons, George Jr. and Joseph, were masons who built the brick store at 790-98 Congress Avenue in 1890. They lived in a wooden house at the rear of the property.
A long-standing oral tradition claims that the row houses at 11-19 Redfield Street were built to house troops in the Ninth Regiment, Connecticut Irish Volunteers during the Civil War and the wounded after the war. The row houses were used as tenements after 1871, rented at the rate of ten dollars per month. A map of 1868 show two similar rows built on the same block.
From 1890 to 1920, the district’s population grew and every parcel was built upon. Two- and three-family houses were often erected by multi-generational immigrant families. The immigrants into the district included large numbers of Eastern European Jews, southern Italian, and Greek families. Although many lived in the neighborhood to be close to the commercial and industrial areas along the harbor, a number of the residents opened small businesses in their houses and garages.
Beginning in the 1930s, an influx of people from the southern United States and Puerto Rico arrived in the district. From the south came African-Americans, who represented a large portion of the district’s population as the century progressed. Over the last 30 years, the Puerto Rican population in the area has continued to grow. Both groups represent the largest segments of the district’s population today.
Throughout the 1950s and 60s, the district’s population remained diverse and dense. By the time the urban redevelopment program extended into the district in the late 1960s, many families had left their homes through sale, eminent domain, or abandonment. Triggered by the desire for social equality and justice, racial tensions climaxed during the riots of 1967. Afterward, the district’s physical decay became a focus of redevelopment, resulting in the destruction of many of the area’s tenements, apartment houses, commercial buildings, and factories.
Despite the number of buildings that were demolished, many older single- and multi-family houses in the district survived. A smaller percentage of commercial and tenement structures still exist as well. Since 1911, 25 out of 60 street-fronting buildings in the district have been taken down.
About one-quarter of the buildings in the district retain their historic siding, porches, and ornament, a much higher percentage than in the surrounding neighborhoods. The district represents a concentration of historic buildings that is now rare in the Hill neighborhood. West Street has a continuous row of adjacent historic houses, representative of the type that once characterized the streetscape. Due to urban renewal, blight clearance, and abandonment, most of the Hill is marked by vacant lots. West Street retains almost all of its original housing and is a significant remnant of the Hill’s historic fabric.
The district includes two of the few surviving historic commercial buildings (located on Congress Avenue) left in the Hill neighborhood. Streets like Congress Avenue were originally lined with brick and frame mixed-use and commercial buildings. The extant commercial buildings in the district are some of the finest of their type in New Haven.
One of the few remaining brick tenement buildings in the Hill (767 Congress Avenue, 1897) is a particularly distinctive example. Just 15 brick tenement buildings remain in the Hill, the others demolished through urban renewal plans.
The district also contains one of the last groups of row houses in the Hill. The five row houses at 11-19 Redfield Street (c. 1865) are one of four such groupings in the nieghborhood, and one of only two surviving wood frame rows in New Haven. This grouping is the second oldest recorded wood-frame residential row in the city.
The Redfield & West Street Historic District was listed in the State Register of Historic Places on February 2, 2005.