Church Street Houses, New Haven, Connecticut

A group of houses and other buildings on Church Street, looking north toward the corner of Elm Street in New Haven, probably around 1904. Image courtesy of the Connecticut State Library, Herbert Randall Survey of New Haven and Environs.

The scene in 2018:

The first photo shows a group of mid-19th century buildings that once lined the east side of Church Street, directly opposite the New Haven Green. Starting on the far right, at 179 Church Street, is a three-story building that was known as the Law Chambers. Located directly adjacent to the county courthouse, which stood just out of view to the right, this building housed offices for a number of lawyers. Their names were listed on placards on either side of the front door, and some are legible in the photo, including Frederick L. Averill, William L. Bennett, John A. Doolittle, Hobart L. Hotchkiss, and Charles F. Mitchell. These names help to provide the likely date of the first photo; according to city directories, 1904 appears to be the only year that all five of these men had offices here.

To the left of the Law Chambers, in the center of the photo, is an elegant Italianate-style home at 185 Church Street. By the turn of the 20th century, New Haven was undergoing rapid population growth, and most of the old mansions along the Green were giving way to new commercial and governmental buildings. However, this house was still standing when the first photo was taken. Based on its architecture, it was probably built sometime around the 1850s, as it features many Italianate details that were common during this era, including brackets under the eaves, quoins on the corners, and a tower with tall, narrow windows on the top floor. By the time the first photo was taken, it was the home of James English, a businessman who served for many years as president of the United Illuminating Company. The 1900 census shows him living here with his wife Clementina, along with a lodger and three servants.

Further to the left is a group of attached rowhouses. Only two are visible in the photo, but there were a total of four, which extended as far as the corner of Elm Street. The one closer to the camera was 187 Church Street, and during the 1900 census it was the home of Dr. Henry W. Ring, a physician who lived here with his wife Maud and two servants. To the left of his house was another physician, Dr. William G. Daggett, who lived in 189 Church Street and also had his medical practice there. Curiously, this house is missing the exterior wall of the top two floors in the first photo. This may have been renovation work, as later photographs suggest that the building’s facade was rebuilt at some point in the early 20th century.

Daggett, Ring, and English were all still living here on Church Street during the 1910 census, but this would soon change. Daggett died later in the year, and by 1911 his widow was living on Orange Street. English also moved out of his house by 1911, and was living in a house on St. Ronan Street. His house was demolished soon after, because by 1913 the 10-story Chamber of Commerce building had been constructed on the site. Ring was the last to relocate; the 1913 city directory shows him living here and practicing medicine out of the house, but by 1914 he had moved to the Hotel Taft, although he continued to have his office here in his former house.

Today, all of the buildings from the first photo have since been demolished, along with the Chamber of Commerce building that had replaced the English house. Much of the scene is now occupied by the northern part of City Hall, which was constructed in the 1980s. Its alternating pattern of light and dark bands was designed to match the exterior of the old City Hall building, which had been mostly demolished except for its brownstone facade. On the left side of the present-day scene is an 18-story office building that had originally been constructed in the mid-1970s, as the home of the New Haven Savings Bank.

Third Congregational Church, New Haven, Connecticut (2)

The former Third Congregational Church, on Church Street in New Haven, in 1903. Image courtesy of the Connecticut State Library, Herbert Randall Survey of New Haven and Environs.

The Second National Bank of New Haven on the same site, around 1918. Image from A Modern History of New Haven and Eastern New Haven County (1918).

The scene in 2018:

As discussed in the previous post, the Third Congregational Church was established in 1826, and was located in several different buildings over the next three decades. In 1856, the church moved into this new building on Church Street, opposite the New Haven Green. It was designed by architect Sidney Mason Stone, and the exterior featured a Romanesque-style design that would become popular for churches during the second half of the 19th century. The congregation worshiped here until 1884, when the church merged with the nearby United Church, which still stands on the Green.

In 1890, the vacant church was purchased by the city, and the interior was converted into the first long-term home of the New Haven Free Public Library. At some point before the first photo was taken, a new, much shorter steeple was also added to the building, although it does not seem clear whether this happened before of after it became a library. Because it was designed as a church, though, it proved inadequate as a library. At the time, most libraries had closed stacks, which required patrons to specifically request materials at the circulation desk. However, the limitations of this building resulted in open stacks. This allowed the general public to browse all of the collections, but it also meant that a number of books went missing during the two decades that this building was in use.

The city finally completed a new library building in 1911, which is still standing today at the corner of Elm and Temple Streets. Around the same time, the old building here on Church Street was purchased by the Second National Bank of New Haven, and was subsequently demolished. The bank then constructed an eight-story office building on the site, which was designed by the architectural firm of Starrett & van Vleck and completed in 1913. The first photo was taken a few years later, and was published in A Modern History of New Haven and Eastern New Haven County. According to this book, it was the second-largest of New Haven’s ten banks, with a headquarters here on Church Street that was described as “the finest banking and office building in the city.”

The Second National Bank had its offices here in this building throughout much of the 20th century, but in 1978 it was renamed Colonial Bank and moved to Waterbury. The company would subsequently go through a series of mergers, eventually becoming part of BankBoston, Fleet Bank, and finally Bank of America. In the meantime, though, the former Second National building is still standing here on Church Street, with few changes since the second photo was taken. It remains in use as an office building, and its current tenants include the New Haven newsroom of NBC Connecticut.

Exchange Building, New Haven, Connecticut

The Exchange Building, at the northeast corner of Church and Chapel Streets in New Haven, around 1900-1912. Image courtesy of the Connecticut State Library, Herbert Randall Survey of New Haven and Environs.

The building in 2018:

The Exchange Building was completed in 1832, as one of the first major commercial blocks in downtown New Haven. The brick, Greek Revival-style building stands four stories tall, and it is topped with a large cupola. It has a roughly square footprint, with 18 window bays here along Church Street, plus 17 window bays around the corner along Chapel Street. Over the years, it has housed a variety of businesses and offices. Perhaps most notably, attorney Roger Sherman Baldwin had his law offices here during his work on the 1841 Amistad case. Baldwin successfully defended the Africans who had been illegally sold into slavery, and he subsequently became governor of Connecticut from 1844 to 1846, and a U. S. Senator from 1847 to 1851.

By the time the first photo was taken around the turn of the 20th century, the ground floor tenants included the F. S. Butterworth & Co. investment broker, the O’Neill-Shortell millinery shop, Alfred T. Ostermann’s florist shop, and Riker’s Wholesale Drug Store, which occupied the corner storefront on the right side of the building. Many of the upper floor windows are lettered with the names of the professional offices that were located there, although most of these are not legible in this photo. On the far left side of the photo, the Exchange Building abutted the 1856 Third Congregational Church, which had been converted into the New Haven Free Public Library in 1890.

At some point during the 20th century, the distinctive cupola was removed, and the building featured a large billboard that overlooked the corner of Church and Chapel Streets. However, the exterior was renovated in the early 1990s, including the addition of a new cupola and a restoration of the storefronts, and today the Exchange Building looks much the same as it did over a century ago when the first photo was taken. As a result, the only significant difference between the two photos – aside from the skyscraper in the distance, is on the left side, where the church-turned-library once stood. It was demolished around 1912, and was replaced by the eight-story Second National Bank of New Haven building, which still stands on the left side of the scene today.

New Haven Green, New Haven, Connecticut (3)

Looking east on the New Haven Green, from near the corner of Temple and Chapel Streets in New Haven, around 1900-1910. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Detroit Publishing Company Collection.

The scene in 2018:

The first photo was taken from about the same spot – and presumably on the same day – as the one in the previous post, although this one shows the view looking toward Church Street on the eastern edge of the New Haven Green. Like the scene in the previous post, this view underwent dramatic changes within about a decade after the first photo was taken. The city saw rapid growth at the turn of the 20th century, with the population more than doubling between 1880 and 1910, and this helped to spur several major redevelopment projects that replaced older buildings here along the Green.

Beginning on the left side of the first photo is City Hall, an ornate High Victorian Gothic-style building that was completed in 1861. To the right of it, at the corner of Court Street, was a three-story building that housed Heublein’s Cafe. This restaurant was owned by Gilbert Heublein, a prominent food and beverage distributor who later built the Heublein Tower in Simsbury. Further to the right, in the center of the photo, was the Tontine Hotel, which was built in the 1820s, and on the far right side was the former Third Congregational Church. Built in 1856, it served as a church until 1884, when its congregation merged with the United Church. In 1890, it became the home of the New Haven Free Public Library, and it was used until the current library building opened in 1911.

The most significant change to this scene came soon after the first photo was taken. In the early 1910s, both the Tontine Hotel and the former Third Congregational Church were demolished to make way for two new buildings. On the left side, the Tontine Hotel was replaced with a new post office and federal courthouse, which was constructed between 1913 and 1919. Just to the right of it, the site of the church became the Second National Bank of New Haven, with an eight-story building that was completed in 1913. Today, both of these are still standing, but the only surviving buildings from the first photo are City Hall on the far left, and the Exchange Building, which is partially visible on the extreme right side of both photos.

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.