National Register Historic District
The Morris Cove Historic District is located in a compact shoreline neighborhood of late nineteenth-century seasonal cottages and early twentieth-century houses developed as the community transitioned into a streetcar suburb. The Morris Cove Historic District is located in the larger Morris Cove neighborhood and encompasses 61.03 acres. Unlike many other sections of New Haven, Morris Cove has a quieter, more suburban character that is enhanced by the scenic quality of Pardee Seawall Park and its views of New Haven Harbor. The Morris Cove Historic District was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2018.
Land use in the historic district is primarily residential; the few exceptions include the municipally-owned Pardee Seawall Park, New Haven Fire House No. 16, and five commercial buildings along Townsend Avenue at the southern end of the district. The historic district’s street plan and architectural character reflect two periods of historical development associated with the Morris Cove neighborhood. Approximately 40 dwellings were built along or near waterside Townsend Avenue and Morris Cove Road during Morris Cove’s heyday as a seasonal resort from the 1870s to 1915. The majority of the other streets in the district were developed from 1900 to 1948 as Morris Cove expanded as a streetcar and automobile suburb in the City of New Haven. Dwellings built during the second development period reflect the Colonial Revival, Dutch Colonial Revival, Bungalow, and Craftsman styles, as well as vernacular forms. Although many buildings have replacement siding and/or enclosed porches, the Morris Cove Historic District retains its overall historic integrity as a recognizable entity defined by urban plan, land use, building scale, and architectural character.
Although European settlement along and around Morris Cove dates from the seventeenth century, the present street plan of the Morris Cove Historic District clearly relates to the historical development of the community during the late nineteenth century through the first half of the twentieth century. Townsend Avenue is a curvilinear road that generally follows Morris Cove’s coastline in the district boundaries. That avenue is the principal and oldest through street in the district; it connects the Morris Cove community with Interstate 95, U.S. Route 1, and the rest of New Haven to the north. The southern end of Townsend Avenue terminates at Silver Sands Road in East Haven. Townsend Avenue veers slightly west as it enters the district from the north, and it skirts the coastline of Morris Cove before proceeding southeast just south of Kirkham Street.
The historical pattern of development common to summer colonies along Connecticut’s coastline is illustrated in the history of Morris Cove from the l870s through 1915. This pattern is defined by a progression from farmland to summer resorts including the construction of boarding houses and hotels, to the construction of summer colonies of second homes intended as seasonal dwellings that acted as recreational facilities, and commercial establishments.
In Connecticut, the establishment of guest houses, boarding houses, and inns was usually the first phase in the development of fully realized nineteenth-century summer colonies. At least one small seasonal hotel operated in the limits of the Morris Cove Historic District by the late 1860s. Run by husband and wife George D. and Emeline Nettleton, this inn (not extant) was located along Townsend Avenue. In addition to the Nettleton hotel, “accommodations for a limited number can usually be found in several of the other private houses in the [Morris Cove] vicinity,” as noted in a contemporary city directory (Benham 1863:36). Morris Cove resident Samuel C. Thompson, Jr. offered guest rooms to summer visitors in the 1870s at the Pioneer Guesthouse, an enterprise that may have been established by Thompson’s seafaring father, Captain Samuel C. Thompson, Senior. Moved to its current location at 265 Townsend Avenue, the one-and-one half-story frame house is known today as the Captain Chandler Pardee House.
The proliferation of boarding houses and small hotels along Connecticut’s coast during the late nineteenth century capitalized on the economic opportunity presented by tourism. Tourism was supported by the expansion of leisure time in post-Civil War America, and by improvements in regular rail and steamship service throughout the state. By the 1870s, summer residents began to establish themselves among the farmers, oystermen, and mariners who had occupied the Morris Cove area for generations. By the end of the nineteenth century, Morris Cove claimed at least two of the essential elements of a typical summer community: a rail, water, and roadway system that brought visitors, and private homes and hotel accommodations to house them. Local landowners abandoned farming and sold their properties for residential development as agriculture declined throughout coastal Connecticut during the late nineteenth century and after realizing they could earn additional income from catering to summer visitors to Morris Cove.
Beginning in the early 1900s, Morris Cove began a transition from an exclusively seasonal colony to a community of year-round residents with economic, commercial, and social ties to New Haven. Extension of a trolley line from central New Haven to Morris Cove via Townsend Avenue in 1893 was an incentive for the development of the area as a suburban locale. The transition of the neighborhood from resort to commuter neighborhood was facilitated by the arrival of the trolley, which made it possible for workers to live year-round in Morris Cove and get to the employment hubs in downtown New Haven to the northwest. Most of Morris Cove’s clubhouses and seasonal hotels burned in the 1890s and 1900s, and they were not rebuilt. The Pequot Association’s clubhouse on Townsend Avenue burned in 1896, and although rebuilt the year after, the club disbanded in 1905. The 1912 Business Directory for New Haven lists four hotels in Morris Cove: the Morris Cove, Union Grove, the Shoreham Hotels, and the Tabard Inn. The area’s leading hotel, the Shoreham Hotel, located on the waterside of Townsend Avenue, burned in 1919 and was not replaced. By 1920, only the Morris Cove Hotel and Tabard Inn remained. The small lots on the western side of Townsend Avenue, occupied by bathhouses and open space before 1911, were developed with additional dwellings for year-round residents by 1924. During the early 1920s, the waterfront lots along Townsend Avenue north of Florence Avenue were sold or willed by their owners to the City of New Haven to form the municipally-owned Pardee Seawall Park.
Unlike the summer resort period, most residential development in Morris Cove after 1900 was removed from Townsend Avenue and no longer was oriented to the beach or the Morris Cove shoreline due to the large amount of development occupying the streetscape. In contrast to the irregular siting of the older nineteenth-century houses, newer houses were built on uniform lots in a gridded street system. Concord Street and its streetcar line served as the “spine” for suburban residential development in Morris Cove. Dean Street, a third north-south road, was established along the New Haven-East Haven town line; it ran as far south as Parker Place. Eight short east-west streets and an extension of Parker Place were created east of Concord Street. Land was subdivided into roughly uniform building lots measuring 35 and 45 feet wide, and between 100 and 125 feet long. Lots were subdivided east to Dean Street, when the latter street was extended south to Morris Causeway around 1950. Only nine dwellings were built on these newly created streets between 1893 and 1911, although owners of undeveloped lots, including the Willkenden Land Company, are recorded.
Residential development in Morris Cove, which was rapid in the 1920s, slowed during the Depression of the 1930s and came to a halt during World War II. Postwar suburban expansion was less dramatic in Morris Cove than other parts of the city, owing to the density of initial development and to physical constraints on the neighborhood. The construction of the Connecticut Turnpike (Interstate 95) north of the Morris Cove area in the 1950s funneled suburban development east and west of New Haven, as well as to undeveloped areas south of the city. Development in Morris Cove during this period focused on infill construction on previously undeveloped tracts, including lots on the western side of Dean Street facing the airport that initially were considered less desirable building sites. Although postwar suburban expansion in Morris Cove increased the neighborhood’s density and population, the limited scale of additional residential development did not appreciably alter Morris Cove’s early twentieth-century suburban appearance. The postwar suburban development in the neighborhood is excluded from the district.
The Morris Cove Historic District retains integrity of location, setting, workmanship, design, feeling, association, and materials necessary to convey its significance as a late nineteenth-century summer resort community that transitioned to a twentieth-century commuter neighborhood beginning around 1900. It remains a primarily residential neighborhood located in southeastern New Haven, Connecticut. The district exhibits characteristic architectural and development patterns extending through two distinct developmental periods from the 1870s into the 1940s. Several of the early boarding houses and hotels have burned or were demolished, but loss of other dwellings in the historic district and modern infill has been rare. The majority of alterations to extant historic buildings are minor, including the use of non-historic siding and the enclosure of porches. These changes reflect a response to the marine environment and the historical evolution of Morris Cove from a seasonal to a year-round community.
The resources, as a collection, have undergone limited modification and the buildings retain their overall form, mass, and scale. Alternations generally include porch enclosures and the installation of replacement windows and siding. As a whole, the district retains integrity of workmanship, design, and materials. Largescale new construction has not occurred and the district retains its direct access to the water. Because of these factors, the neighborhood retains integrity of association, feeling, and setting.