Vanderbilt Hall, New Haven, Connecticut

Vanderbilt Hall, seen from Chapel Street on the campus of Yale University in New Haven, around 1901. Image taken by William Henry Jackson, courtesy of the Library of Congress, Detroit Publishing Company Collection.

The scene in 2018:

Vanderbilt Hall was completed in 1894, and is named for William H. Vanderbilt II, who died of typhoid fever in 1892, while he was a student here at Yale. He had been the oldest son of Cornelius Vanderbilt II, who donated this four-story dormitory to the school in honor of his son. At the time, it was one of several expensive building projects that Vanderbilt was undertaking, which included a massive expansion of his Fifth Avenue home in New York City, and the construction of The Breakers in Newport. As was the case in these other two projects, Vanderbilt spared no expense in this dormitory. It was built at a cost of about a million dollars – nearly $30 million today – and was designed by noted architect Charles C. Haight, who designed many buildings at Yale and in New York City.

Upon its completion, it was hailed by the Springfield Republican as “The costliest and most magnificent college dormitory in America,” and the newspaper provided a glowing description of the building’s interior:

The halls are spacious, circular in plan, and the staircases are of iron and marble. On entering the hallways, one finds the walls lined with white enameled brick, while the iron stairs have marble footsteps and an artistic railing with wooden top. The floors are paved with tines, some in mosaic work. On each floor are washstands set in a recess, with hot and cold water. In the further part of the entries are the bath-rooms, each of which has a porcelain tub and is lined throughout with handsome gray marble. There are also in each entry trunk elevators running from the top to the bottom of the building. The rooms are wainscoted to a hight [sic] of four feet in paneled oak. The fireplaces are large and constructed with handsome brick, surrounded by wood-work, which extends up over the mantel to a hight of bout [sic] eight feet. A feature of each suite of rooms is the window seat. These seats are made of fine grained oak, and the lower part of each contains two sets of drawers and two closets. The suites will consist in general of a study, 18 by 14 feet, and two bedrooms, each 16 by 8 feet. Most of the sitting-rooms face the court and are lightel [sic] by three windows. A number of the rooms facing the quadrangle have oriel windows, and private vestibules are provided for each apartment where it is practicable. The bedrooms are large, and each is provided with a closet and a small cupboard with shelves.

The construction of Vanderbilt Hall was part of a dramatic shift in Yale’s campus plan. For much of the 19th century, the school consisted of a group of seven brick buildings known as the Old Brick Row. These buildings were constructed between 1752 and 1824, but by the late 19th century they had begun to be surrounded by newer, more ornate Gothic-style buildings. The first to go were South College and the Atheneum, both of which stood on the site of Vanderbilt Hall. They were demolished in 1893, and most of the other buildings in the Old Brick Row soon followed. By the time the first photo was taken less than a decade later, all were gone except for Connecticut Hall, which stands directly behind Vanderbilt Hall and has been preserved as the oldest surviving building on the Yale campus.

Vanderbilt Hall was designed to house about 130 students, and in its early years these included Cornelius “Neily” Vanderbilt III and Alfred Vanderbilt, two of the younger brothers of the building’s namesake. Neily would become estranged from his parents in 1896, when he eloped with Grace Wilson. She had been secretly engaged to William before his death, and Neily subsequently fell in love with her, over his parents’ strenuous objections. As a result, 21-year-old Alfred inherited the bulk of his father’s estate upon his death in 1899. However, like his eldest brother, Alfred also died young. He drowned in the 1915 sinking of the Lusitania, and he is regarded as a hero of the disaster for giving his life jacket to a woman and then attempting to tie life jackets to babies as the ship sank.

Today, Vanderbilt Hall continues to be used as a dormitory. The interior has been renovated several times, but very little has changed in its exterior appearance since the first photo was taken at the turn of the 20th century. Even the fence is still here, and the only significant difference between the two photos is the loss of the massive elm tree in the courtyard. In 1969, when Yale became coeducational, Vanderbilt Hall was used to house the school’s first freshman class of women. It now houses both men and women, with the freshmen of Branford College on one side of the building, and those of Saybrook College on the other side.

Ira Atwater House, New Haven, Connecticut

The building at 218-224 College Street, at the corner of Crown Street in New Haven, around 1935-1942. Image courtesy of the Connecticut State Library.

The building in 2018:

This large Federal-style house was built around 1817 as the home of Ira Atwater, a local architect, builder, and carpenter. He evidently built the house himself, and its completion coincided with his marriage to Roanna Buckingham. The couple would go on to have ten children, and Ira had a successful career as a builder, which included constructing the historic First Congregational Church in nearby Guilford. However, he died in 1849 from injuries he sustained after falling from the roof of his house. Historical records do not specify whether he was living at this same house at the time, although it seems likely that he was.

At some point around the early 20th century, the house was converted into commercial use, and the ground floor was altered with the addition of two storefronts. By the time the first photo was taken, the building was occupied by Phillips Restaurant on the left and Star Shoe Repair on the right, and a sign above the front door advertises for “Rooms,” suggesting that the upper floors were used as a boarding house. Many of these rooms were likely occupied by Yale students, as the campus lies just a block north of here.

Today, not much has changed in this scene since the first photo was taken. Despite the ground floor alterations, the Federal-style architecture of the house is still easily recognizable, and it is one of the oldest surviving homes in this part of downtown New Haven. It stands adjacent to another historic home, the Thomas Merwin House, which was built around 1840 on the right side of the scene. Its ground floor has likewise been altered over the years, but the two upper floors have survived intact. Both of these houses are now contributing properties in the Chapel Street Historic District, which was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1984.

United Illuminating Company Building, New Haven, Connecticut

The United Illuminating Company Building, at the northwest corner of Temple and Crown Streets in New Haven, around 1910-1916. Image courtesy of the Connecticut State Library, Randall Photographic Survey of New Haven and Environs.

The building in 2018:

The history of the United Illuminating Company dates back to 1881, when the New Haven Electric Lighting Company was established, in the early years of electricity in America. Two years later, it was reorganized as as the New Haven Electric Company, and then in 1899 it became the United Illuminating Company, with a name that reflected the increasingly regional scope of the company. Around 1910, the company moved into this new headquarters, which was designed by the New Haven architectural firm of Foote & Townsend. The exterior features a distinctive Renaissance Revival-style design, and makes extensive use of marble and terra cotta.

The building was originally only two stories in height, as shown in the first photo. However, it was expanded around 1916, with the addition of a third floor and a wing on the right side. These additions maintained the same architectural style, although the third floor gave it a somewhat unusual appearance, since the old cornice above the second floor is significantly larger than the 1916 cornice at the top of the building. The United Illuminating Company would remain here for several more decades, but in 1940 it relocated its offices to a much larger, newly-completed building just a block south of here at 80 Temple Street. This building was subsequently converted into a bank, and was the home of several different banks throughout much of the second half of the 20th century.

Today, much of the surrounding area has changed in the century since the first photo was taken, but this building has remained well-preserved. The only significant difference in its appearance is the 1916 addition, and this was added only a few years after the first photo was taken. As a result, it stands as an important architectural landmark in downtown New Haven, where its highly ornate exterior provides a sharp contrast to the modernist buildings and parking garages that now surround it. In addition, it is a contributing property in the Chapel Street Historic District, which was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1984.

New Haven County Courthouse, New Haven, Connecticut

The New Haven County Courthouse, at the corner of Elm and Church Streets in New Haven, around 1918. Image from A Modern History of New Haven and Eastern New Haven County (1918).

The courthouse in 2018:

This courthouse was built in 1914, and it stands as an excellent example of the Beaux-Arts and Classical Revival styles of architecture that were popular in the early 20th century, particularly for government buildings. It was the work of local architect William H. Allen, and he designed it to resemble an ancient Greek temple, with classically-inspired features such as Ionic columns on the front and sides of the building, and a front portico with a pediment that was decorated with carved figures. These figures are allegorical representations of Justice, Victory, Precedence, Accuracy, Common Law, Statutory Law, Progress, and Commerce, and they were the work of noted sculptor John Massey Rhind.

Around the time that the building opened in March 1914, the Hartford Courant published a lengthy article about it, which included the following description of the interior:

Its lower walls are of marble, as are the stairways and the walls of the court rooms. The highest walls are tinted and are artistic and pleasing to the eye. A great dome of various colored glass adds to the beauty of the rotunda and the offices are all large and well appointed and handsomely furnished. Every piece of furniture in the building is of mahogany and all the trim is of the same wood. The offices of the county commissioners, sheriff, clerks of the court and the common pleas and superior and supreme court are on the first and second floors. The supreme court room on the second floor is a handsome place: the most beautiful by far of all the courtrooms, because of its large and impressive appearance. Each of the judges will have a private room and there will be all of the comforts and conveniences of home, including a modern tub and shower bath upstairs.

Over the years, this courthouse has been the site of several notable cases. These included Griswold v. Connecticut, a landmark Supreme Court decision that originated here in this courthouse in 1961, when Estelle Griswold and C. Lee Buxton were each fined $100 for violating Connecticut’s anti-contraception laws. This case eventually reached the Supreme Court, which overturned the conviction and set a major precedent for the right to privacy. Other important events here included the 1970 Black Panther Trials, which occurred after the arrest of nine Black Panther Party members in connection with the 1969 murder of Alex Rackley. The trials sparked large protests, with tens of thousands of demonstrators gathering on the New Haven Green outside of the courthouse, and most of the high-profile defendants were ultimately either acquitted or had the charges dropped.

The building was threatened by possible demolition in the 1950s, at a time when urban renewal projects were transforming the downtown areas of many cities across the country. However, it ended up being modernized instead, and it continues to be used as a county courthouse. Overall, very little has changed in its exterior appearance since the first photo was taken, and some of the nearby buildings are also still standing, including the Ives Memorial Library on the left side. Because of its historical and architectural significance, the courthouse was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 2003.

Ives Memorial Library, New Haven, Connecticut

The Ives Memorial Library on Elm Street, seen from the New Haven Green, around 1918. Image from A Modern History of New Haven and Eastern New Haven County (1918).

The library in 2018:

The New Haven Free Public Library opened in 1887, and it was originally located in the second floor of a building a few blocks away on Chapel Street. Although most of the major cities in New England already had well-established public libraries by this point, New Haven’s library started strong, with 3,500 books at its opening and a circulation that, by the end of its first year, was the fifth highest in the country. It did not take long for the library to outgrow its initial location, and there were several proposals for a new facility. These included a push to convert the vacant former State House into a library, and in 1887 the voters of New Haven even approved a referendum to spend $30,000 to repair the old building. However, the city council ignored this decision, and ordered the building demolished in 1889.

Ultimately, instead of appropriating $30,000 to repair the State House, the city spent around $71,000 in 1890 to purchase the former Third Congregational Church on Church Street, which was then converted into a library. Once again, though, the building became too small for the library’s growing collections. The former church building was also poorly-suited to be a library, with the Hartford Courant describing it in 1911 as “the dingy library which until now had its home in the old church building,” and noting that “The dim recesses and dark winding ways of that building were mysterious enough to one acquainted with its ins and outs.”

Because of this situation, Mary E. Ives, widow of prominent New Haven businessman Hoadley B. Ives, donated $300,000 to the city in 1906, for the construction of a new library building. She died soon after, and in her will she left an additional bequest of some $90,000, for a total contribution that would be equivalent to about $11 million today. The city purchased this lot here at the northeast corner of Elm and Temple Streets, and construction began on the new building in 1908. It was designed by the prominent architect Cass Gilbert, whose later works included the Woolworth Building and the U. S. Supreme Court Building, and it featured a Colonial Revival-style design that was intended to match the historic character of the New Haven Green.

The new library, shown here in these two photos, was completed in 1911, and was named in honor of Mary Ives. The dedication ceremony, held on May 27, featured speeches by dignitaries such as noted author and Yale professor William Lyon Phelps, and Connecticut governor and New Haven native Simeon E. Baldwin. Cass Gilbert’s design received praise from newspapers such as the Courant, which contrasted the new building with the old. In a June 23 article, published about a month after the dedication, the newspaper declared it to be an “artistic structure, in keeping with historic surroundings,” and remarked on its “Perfection of Interior Decorations and Arrangements.” The article further described:

The whole effect of the exterior with its brick walls and white trimmings of marble and wood and large windows with their many small panes of glass is one of cheerfulness, and on entering the building this is found to be the effect of the interior, which is striking with its white marble floors, stairways, its white walls and light mahogany fittings. . . . The contrast between the library to which New Haven has been used to and the one to which New Haven will get used is striking.

At the time, the library had a collection of some 95,000 books, although only about a third of these were directly accessible to the public. The rest were in the closed stacks, and patrons had to specifically request these materials. Other features of the newly-completed library included a periodical room, an art and technology room, a map room, and several study rooms. It also included a children’s room that, according to the Courant, was among the largest in the country, and a story hour room adjacent to the children’s room. Overall, according to architect Cass Gilbert, the building had a capacity of 256,300 books. In the event, though, that more space was eventually needed, the rear of the building lot was left undeveloped, to allow room for future expansion.

The first photo shows the library only a few years after its completion. More than a century later, it is still standing, although it has undergone some significant changes. The library was nearly relocated to a new building in the 1970s, but these plans ultimately fell through. Instead, the old building was renovated and expanded, with a significant addition to the rear of the building, just as Gilbert had intended. The work began in 1987, and the following year the library moved to a temporary location for the duration of the project. This building reopened in 1990, and it has continued to serve as the main branch of the New Haven Free Public Library. It is also an important architectural landmark in downtown New Haven, and it is one of the many historic buildings that line the New Haven Green.

United Church, New Haven, Connecticut (2)

The United Church, at the corner of Temple and Elm Streets in New Haven, around 1900-1915. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Detroit Publishing Company Collection.

The church in 2018:

As discussed in a previous post, the United Church – also known as the North Church – was completed in 1815. It was the second in a row of three churches that were built along Temple Street on the New Haven Green, and it featured Federal-style architecture that was very similar to the neighboring Center Church, which had been built a year earlier. However, unlike Center Church, which had been designed by two of the most influential early 19th century architects, United Church was evidently designed by Ebenezer Johnson, Jr., a local shoemaker who was a member of the congregation. Noted architect David Hoadley is generally credited with overseeing the construction, though, so he may have had a hand in the final design as well.

The United Church itself predates the construction of this church by nearly 75 years, with the origins of the congregation dating back to 1742. At the time, New England was in the midst of the Great Awakening, causing a rift between the “New Lights,” who were influenced by the preaching of men such as George Whitefield and Jonathan Edwards, and the “Old Lights,” who were wary of the ongoing revival. The New Lights of New Haven ultimately separated from the First Church in 1742, forming the White Haven Church, with a meeting house that was located a block away from here, at southeast corner of Church and Elm Streets.

Probably the most prominent early pastor of the church was Jonathan Edwards the Younger, who was the son of Jonathan Edwards. He was installed in 1769, but this decision proved controversial, and many members left and formed a new church, known as the Fair Haven Church, and constructed a meeting house here at the site of the current church. These two congregations remained separate throughout Reverend Edwards’s tenure, but he left in 1795, and the churches were reunited the following year as the Church of Christ in the United Societies of White Haven and Fair Haven. This rather unwieldy name was eventually simplified, and was variously to as either the United Church or the North Church, given its location at the northern end of the Green.

Following the reunification, the congregation worshiped in both meeting houses, alternating on a monthly basis. This arrangement continued for some time, but by the early 1810s the church had seen significant growth, and the old buildings were in poor condition. As a result, in 1813 construction began on a new brick church, which was built on the site of the former Fair Haven building. Twenty church members were involved in the actual construction work, and their payment was in the form of the two old buildings,, along with the former property of the White Haven Church. The new church was dedicated in December 1815, although the finishing touches would not be completed for another two years.

During the Antebellum period, this church and its members contributed to the growing Abolitionist movement in New England. Perhaps most significantly, one of its members was Roger Sherman Baldwin, an attorney who represented the African defendants in the Amistad case. Baldwin was successful in the trial, which was held across the Green from here on the present-day site of City Hall, but the outcome was then appealed to the Supreme Court. There, Baldwin again spoke in favor of the kidnapped Africans, as did former president John Quincy Adams, and the Supreme Court affirmed the lower court decision to free the men. Baldwin would subsequently go on to have a successful political career, serving as governor of Connecticut from 1844 to 1846, and as a U. S. senator from 1847 to 1851.

Aside from its connection to the landmark Amistad case, the North Church was also involved in the controversy over whether Kansas should be admitted to the Union as a free state or slave state. Since this issue was to be decided by a vote among its residents, this caused an influx of both pro-slavery and anti-slavery settlers, with each side hoping to tip the balance in their favor. This inevitably resulted in violence between the two sides, and on March 20, 1856 the prominent abolitionist and pastor Henry Ward Beecher spoke here at the church, in support of a group of New Haven residents who were moving to Kansas. As the New York Times recounted several days later,

The object of the meeting was to raise money for the purpose of providing the colonizing party with proper weapons of self-defence against the attacks of the Border Ruffians, and also to give them something with “lock, stock and barrel,” to point at the wolves of the prairie who may encroach upon their camps.

The price of admission was fixed at twenty-five cents, but, notwithstanding the equivocal politeness of inviting a subscription party out of an evening, on such conditions, the Church was filled – floor and galleries – with an audience of the most prominent citizens of New-Haven, including a large number of clergymen of various denominations, and a full quorum of Professors from the Faculty of Yale College.

As the keynote speaker of the event, Reverend Beecher spoke about slavery, its effect on the country, and the current situation in Kansas. Following his speech, the audience sang a hymn, “Song of the Kansas Emigrant,” and then Yale professor Benjamin Silliman came forward and asked the people to purchase Sharps rifles, at a cost of $25 each, for the departing settlers to bring with them. Samuel W. S. Dutton, the pastor of the church, was among the first to pledge money for a rifle, standing and declaring that “One of the deacons of this church, Mr. Harvey Hall, is going out with the Company, and I, as his pastor, desire to present to him a Bible and a Sharpe’s rifle.” This was met with great applause, and at one point Reverend Beecher pledged that his church would give 25 rifles, if the assembly could match the contribution. They eventually reached this number, with some contributing multiple rifles, and finished the meeting with a total of 27 rifle pledges from the assembly. This, combined with the admission fee, resulted in a collection of about a thousand dollars for the Kansas settlers, or about $28,000 in today’s dollars.

The church went through another merger in 1884, when it joined with the Third Congregational Church. The combined congregation continued to worship here in this building, which had seen few exterior changes by the time the first photo was taken in the early 1900s. Two other historic buildings are also visible in the photo, which predate the church. On the far right side of the photo, at 149 Elm Street, is the John Pierpont House, which was built in 1767, and just to the right of it is the Jonathan Mix House, built in 1799. Today, remarkably little has changed in more than a century since the photo was taken. Both of these houses are still standing, with the Pierpont House now serving as the Yale Visitor Center. The church has also remained well-preserved during this time, and it is now a contributing property in the New Haven Historic District, which was designated as a National Historic Landmark in 1970.