Center Church, New Haven, Connecticut

Center Church on the New Haven Green, around 1900-1915. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Detroit Publishing Company Collection.

The church in 2018:

Center Church has been featured in several previous posts, which show the building along with the neighboring churches. However, this particular view provides the best look at its design, which was the work of noted architects Asher Benjamin and Ithiel Town. It was completed in 1814, but the congregation itself is considerably older, dating back to 1639, just a year after New Haven was settled. The first two meeting houses were located near the center of the eastern part of the Green, at approximately the spot where these two photos were taken. A third meeting house, built of brick, was completed in 1757, and stood a little further to the west, probably in the middle foreground of this scene.

This third meeting house remained in use until the early 19th century, when it was replaced by the current church, which stands even further to the west than its predecessors. This site was not without controversy, though, because the western part of the green had long been used as New Haven’s burial ground. An estimated 4,000 to 5,000 people had been buried here during the 17th and 18th centuries, before the opening of the Grove Street Cemetery in 1797. The burials on the Green had largely ceased by the turn of the 19th century, and around 1812 the church decided to construct its new building on a portion on the burial ground.

This action caused considerable controversy in New Haven, with many objecting to the perceived desecration of their ancestors’ graves. The book Chronicles of New Haven Green, published in 1898, provides the following description:

A public meeting was held at the County House, in March, 1813, at which a protest was adopted, signed by one hundred and seventy-eight subscribers, and resolutions passed vigorously denouncing the proposed location of the building. The construction was nevertheless commenced, but when the workmen began to excavate the trenches, a number of persons assembled with shovels and began to throw back the earth as fast as it was thrown out.

The work went on, though, and few of the graves were ultimately disturbed. Instead of removing the remains or the headstones, the church was built over a part of the existing burial ground, which became the floor of the basement. This created an unusual sort of crypt, with all of the headstones left standing in the same position that they had been in prior to the construction of the church. As it turned out, these graves would be better preserved than the ones outside of the church. In 1821, those stones would be moved to the Grove Street Cemetery, but the remains were not disinterred, leaving several thousand unmarked graves that are still located beneath the New Haven Green today.

Aside from its unconventional basement, the design of the church was typical of many New England churches of this era. It was built of brick, and featured Federal-style elements such as rounded arches over the windows, a balustrade along the roofline, and a classically-inspired columned portico at the front entrance, with modillions around the pediment and an ornate carving in the middle of it. Asher Benjamin, who at this point was a well-established architect, provided the original plans for the church, which was evidently based on St. Martin-in-the-Fields in London. However, the design was modified by his former protege Ithiel Town, who was at the beginning of a long and successful career as an architect.

The completed church was dedicated on December 27, 1814, with a ceremony that included a closing prayer by Timothy Dwight, the eminent theologian and author who served as president of Yale from 1795 until his death in 1817. At the time, the pastor of the church was Nathaniel W. Taylor, a young Yale graduate who had studied under Dwight. Like his mentor, he went on to become a prominent theologian. He served as pastor of the church until 1822, when he left to accept a position as a professor at Yale. He was also one of the founders of what later became the Yale Divinity School, and he continued to teach didactic theology at Yale until his death in 1858.

Reverend Taylor’s successor, Leonard Bacon, was installed as pastor in 1825, at the age 23, and he served for more than 50 years until his death in 1881, although he retired from active ministry in 1866. He was also a Yale graduate, of the class of 1820, and in 1823 he had graduated from Andover Theological Seminary. Like his predecessor, he would go on to become a prominent clergyman, but during this time he also achieved fame as an author and editor. He was the editor of the Christian Spectator, which was a literary journal that later became the Yale Review, and he was also a founder and the longtime editor of The Independent. In addition, he published several books, including Slavery Discussed in Occasional Essays from 1833 to 1846. This abolitionist book helped to influence, among others, Abraham Lincoln, whose famous statement, “If slavery is not wrong, nothing is wrong,” is actually a paraphrase of Bacon’s assertion in the book that “if those laws of the Southern States, by virtue of which slavery exists there, and is what it is, are not wrong — nothing is wrong.”

The first photo was taken only a few decades after Reverend Bacon’s death, and by this point the church building was already nearly a century old. Very little changed on the exterior during this time, and although another century has passed since this photo was taken, the church has remained well-preserved today. Along with the two other nearby historic churches, it is now a contributing property in the New Haven Green Historic District, which was designated as a National Historic Landmark in 1970. Underneath the church, the crypt has been unaltered since the building was completed, and 137 headstones still mark the graves. It is the only visible remnant of the large colonial cemetery on the Green, and it is seasonally open to the public for tours.

Temple Street, New Haven, Connecticut

The view looking north on Temple Street from near the corner of Chapel Street in New Haven, around 1900-1910. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Detroit Publishing Company Collection.

The scene in 2018:

This block of Temple Street passes through the New Haven Green, and in front of three historic churches that stand on the Green. The southernmost of these, the 1816 Trinity Church, is just out of view on the far left side of the scene, but the 1814 Center Church, along with the more distant 1815 United Church, are both visible on the left side of the street. The latter two churches have very similar designs, with each one featuring a brick exterior and Federal-style architecture. Both of these photos also show the eastern portion of the Green, with a number of people walking across it or sitting on benches. The longer exposure time of the first photo is shown by the blurred images of several people walking on the right side, while the people seated on the left remain sharp and clear.

Today, more than a century after the first photo was taken, much of this scene has remained largely unchanged, particularly in the foreground and on the left. All three churches are still standing and in active use by their congregations, and they are contributing properties in the New Haven Green Historic District, which is a National Historic Landmark. However, there have been some significant changes to this scene, particularly in the distance on the right side. This block of Elm Street was once known as Quality Row, and had a number of elegant early 19th century mansions that are visible in the first photo. These included the Nathan Smith House, which stood second from the right. It was built around 1815, and was once the home of U. S. Senator Nathan Smith, but it was demolished – along with the rest of Quality Row- by the 1910s, soon after the first photo was taken. The block is now occupied by the 1911 New Haven Free Public Library on the left, and the 1914 New Haven County Courthouse on the right.

Center Church and United Church, New Haven, Connecticut

Center Church and United Church, as seen looking west on the New Haven Green, around 1900-1915. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Detroit Publishing Company Collection.

The scene in 2018:

This view shows two of the three historic churches that were built on the New Haven Green in the 1810s. The oldest of these, on the left side of the scene, is Center Church, which was completed in 1814. It was built of brick, and featured a Federal-style that was designed by Asher Benjamin and Ithiel Town, two Connecticut-born architects who were among the leading American architects of the early 19th century. Like many New England churches of this period, it featured a columned portico, along with a tall, multi-stage steeple that rose above it.

Although not readily apparent in this view, one of the more unusual features of Center Church is its basement. Throughout the colonial era, this section of the Green served as New Haven’s burial ground, and an estimated 4,000 to 5,000 bodies were interred here. Center Church was built in the midst of this cemetery, but rather than removing the remains or the headstones, the church was simply built above them. The ground became the floor of the basement, but otherwise the graves were not disturbed, and the headstones are still well-preserved today. However, this was only a small portion of the entire cemetery. The rest of the headstones, which are once located around the outside of the church, were moved to Grove Street Cemetery in 1821. The remains themselves were not disinterred, though, and they are still buried here under the Green.

In the meantime, Center Church was joined by two other churches in the mid-1810s. To the right of it, at the corner of Temple and Elm Streets, is the United Church, which was completed in 1815. It was, along with the neighboring Center Church, a Congregationalist church, and it likewise had very similar architecture. There is some disagreement among historic sources over who the architect was, but it appears to have been Ebenezer Johnson, Jr. His design was likely influenced by Center Church, but the United Church does have some differences, such as a lack of a portico, and it featured a shorter steeple with a rounded top, instead of a tall pointed spire.

The third church to be built here on the Green was Trinity Church, completes a year after United Church in 1816. Although not visible in these photos, it featured Gothic-style architecture that sharply contrasted with its Federal-style neighbors, and was one of the first Gothic churches to be built in the country. Today, all three of these church buildings are still here, and they are all contributing properties in the New Haven Green Historic District, which was designated as a National Historic Landmark in 1970. Overall, very little has changed in this scene, and even many of the buildings in the distance have remained. These include another historic church, the First and Summerfield United Methodist Church, which can be seen in the background just beyond and to the left of the United Church. It was built in 1849, with a design similar to these other two churches, and it still stands at the corner of Elm and College Streets.

Trinity Church and Center Church, New Haven, Connecticut

Trinity Church on the Green (left) and Center Church (right), seen from across the New Haven Green, around 1900-1912. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Detroit Publishing Company Collection.

The scene in 2018:

These two churches were completed only two years apart, and were designed – at least in part – by the same architect, yet they represent two very different architectural styles. On the right is the Federal-style Center Church, which was completed in 1814. It was the work of notes architects Asher Benjamin and Ithiel Town, and it reflects the typical appearance of New England churches during this period. Common features include a columned portico with a triangular pediment above it, a tall, multi-stage steeple, and an exterior of red brick. The United Church, located just out of view to the right, was completed a year later, and in many ways its design was a close imitation of Center Church.

A third church, Trinity Church, was also built on the New Haven Green around the same time. It was completed in 1816, and can be seen in the distance on the left side of the scene. However, while the two earlier churches were Congregationalist, Trinity was an Episcopalian parish, and its members were interested in a design that would set it apart from the new neighboring churches. As discussed in more detail in an earlier post, the result was a stone, Gothic Revival church, perhaps the first church of this style to be built in the United States. Like the neighboring Center Church, it was designed by Ithiel Town, and his work predated the widespread popularity of Gothic Revival architecture by several decades.

The first photo was taken nearly a century later, and shows the view of the Green with both churches still standing. Aside from a partially-reconstructed steeple on Trinity Church, neither building had seen many exterior changes by this point. Today, the churches are more than twice as old as they were when the first photo was taken, yet they have still remained well-preserved. The only noticeable difference is the removal of the pyramidal spire atop Trinity Church, which was not original anyway. The Green itself has also remained largely unchanged, aside from the loss of the elm trees that once gave New Haven its nickname of Elm City. The only other major change to this scene since the early 20th century has been the construction of the Hotel Taft, which was completed in 1912 and can be seen in the distance between the two churches.

Thames and Pelham Streets, Newport, RI (2)

Looking north on Thames Street from the corner of Pelham Street in Newport, in August 1906. Image courtesy of the Providence Public Library.

The scene in 2017:

As with an earlier post, the first photo here shows Thames Street decorates in patriotic bunting for the Newport Carnival, which was held in August 1906. The building on the right side, at the corner of Pelham Street, was the United States Hotel, which had been one of the city’s finest hotels when it was built in 1836. Originally owned by the Townsend family, the hotel had replaced the earlier Townsend’s Coffee House, which was built in 1785 and had been a popular gathering place for Newport’s leading citizens in the late 18th and early 19th centuries. The United States Hotel enjoyed similar success in the mid-19th century, and for many years it was the site of the state legislature’s “‘Lection Day” celebrations. Held on the last Tuesday of May, this was the day when the results of the statewide April elections were announced and the winners were inaugurated, and the occasion was a major holiday here in Newport.

By the time the first photo was taken, the ‘Lection Day festivities were a thing of the past, and the state legislature no longer met here in Newport. The United States Hotel has long since been eclipsed by more fashionable Gilded Age hotels, and it had gone through a succession of ownership changes since the Townsend family sold the property in 1858. In 1896, for example, it was being run by George E. Houghton, who declared in a full-page advertisement in the city directory that the hotel had been “thoroughly renovated and refurnished,” and offered “steam heat, electric bells, and table unsurpassed,” and overall it was “the best $2.50 hotel in New England.” When the first photo was taken less than a decade later, though, the hotel was being run by Wulf Petersen, who advertised that it was “lately renovated and under new management,” and was “open the entire year.”

Aside from the United States Hotel, the other historically-significant building in the first photo was the one just beyond it to the left. Built in 1817, this elegant Federal-style building was the home of the Rhode Island Union Bank, which later became the Union National Bank of Newport. The building was designed by Asher Benjamin, a prominent and influential early 19th century architect whose works can be found across New England. However, despite his prolific career, and Newport’s reputation for outstanding architectural works, this bank was Benjamin’s only known commission in the city. Part of this may be due to the fact that the early 19th century was somewhat of a lull in Newport’s prosperity; the city’s shipping industry had never fully recovered after the American Revolution, and its renaissance as a wealthy resort community would not start for several more decades. Consequently, there was limited demand for new buildings, and little need for Asher Benjamin and other architects of his era.

The Union National Bank was still located here when the first photo was taken, and the building was also the home of the People’s Library, which was located on the right side of the building. When the People’s Library – later renamed the Newport Public Library – was established in 1869, the concept of public libraries was still in its infancy in the United States. Members-only libraries, such as Newport’s own Redwood Library, had existed since the 18th century, but it was not until the mid-19th century that public libraries began to take hold, particularly here in the northeast. The library moved into the storefront on the right side in 1870, and would remain here for more than 40 years, until moving out in 1914.

In the years after the first photo was taken, this scene underwent significant changes. The United States Hotel closed in 1918, and remained vacant for many years. Badly deteriorated, it was finally demolished in 1933, leaving only the first floor. This surviving section appears to still be standing, having been incorporated into the present-day commercial building, but all traces of the original hotel building are long gone. In the meantime, bank building to the left was demolished in the 1950s, but like its neighbor it appears part of the first floor survived, and still stands in the present-day scene. However, despite these dramatic changes in the foreground, the two buildings in the distance on the left have survived relatively unchanged, and today they form part of the Newport Historic District, which was designated as a National Historic Landmark in 1968.

Phelps-Hatheway House, Suffield Connecticut (2)

The Phelps-Hatheway House on South Main Street in Suffield, around 1935-1942. Image courtesy of the Connecticut State Library.

The house in 2017:


This elegant Georgian-style home is a prominent architectural landmark in the Connecticut River Valley, and is one of the finest 18th century homes in the entire region. As mentioned in an earlier post, it was built sometime between the 1730s and 1761 for Abraham Burbank, and the house was later inherited by his son Shem. At the time, the house was much smaller, consisting of just the central portion. It had a gabled roof, and lacked the ornamentation that was later added. Shem was a merchant, as well as a captain in the state militia prior to the American Revolution. However, like many other wealthy merchants in the area, he was also a Tory, and sided with the British during the war. As a result, his business suffered, and in 1788 he had to sell the house.

The next owner of the house was Oliver Phelps, who, like Burbank, had been a merchant. However, unlike Burbank, he had been on the winning side of the American Revolution, serving as a deputy commissary for the Continental Army. He was originally from Granville, Massachusetts, and served in both houses of the Massachusetts legislature. He was also a delegate to the state’s constitutional convention in 1779-1780, and served on the Governor’s Council in 1786. At this point he was a wealthy man, and in 1788 he formed a partnership with Nathaniel Gorham, who had been one of the delegates to the US Constitutional Convention the year before. Together, they purchased six million acres of land in western New York for one million dollars, and that same year Phelps purchased this house from Shem Burbank.

Around 1794 set about expanding the house with a new wing on the right side, as well as adding ornamentation to the exterior. This brought the house up to architectural tastes of the late 18th century, and it also reflected his considerable wealth and social standing. Some of the remodeling was done by a young local architect, Asher Benjamin. About 21 years old at the time, he would go on to become one of the nation’s leading architects, and this house is his earliest known work. Phelps also had the interior decorated lavishly, including with imported French wallpaper that still covers the walls of the house today.

During this time, Phelps also continued his land speculation, purchasing vast tracts of land in present-day Ohio, Georgia, West Virginia, and northern Maine. By 1800, he was, according to some sources, the largest private landowner in the country, but this ultimately led to his downfall when land values dropped. Deeply in debt, he sold his house in 1802 and moved to Canandaigua, New York, which had been part of his initial land purchase in 1788. He served a term in Congress from 1803 to 1805, but his financial troubles continued, and he died in debtor’s prison in 1809.

Apparently undeterred by the financial ruin of its two previous owners, Asahel Hatheway purchased the house from Phelps in 1802. He had grown up at his parents’ house just a little south of here, and studied theology at Yale. After graduation, he briefly worked as a pastor, but then returned to Suffield, where he became a farmer and a merchant, along with serving as a church deacon and a justice of the peace. He married his wife Anna in 1778, and they had six children together. Anna died in 1807, only about five years after moving into this house, but Asahel continued living here until his death in 1828, at the age of 89.

The house was inherited by his son, Asahel, Jr. Like his father, the younger Asahel had graduated from Yale, and became a merchant in New York City before returning to Suffield in 1812. He and his wife Nancy had six children, and he died in 1829 at the age of 49, just a year after his father’s death. His daughter Louise, who was only a few years old when he died, became the third generation of Hatheways to own the house. She never married, and lived here for the rest of her life, until her death in 1910. The 250th anniversary book of Suffield, published a decade later, describes how “her stately dignity and gracious but firm refusal to open her home to any but a few intimates imparted to the old mansion an air of mystery.”

Louise was the last living descendant of Asahel Hatheway, Sr., and after her death many of the family heirlooms were donated to the Wadsworth Atheneum in Hartford. The house is now owned by Connecticut Landmarks, a preservation organization that maintains several historic houses in the state. Both the exterior and interior have been remarkably well-preserved, and the house is open to the public for tours. Even older than the house itself, though, is the massive sycamore tree on the left side of both photos. It is approximately 300 years old, predating the house by several decades, and aside from the loss of a large limb it has not changed much in the 80 years since the first photo was taken.