Old Campus, New Haven, Connecticut

The Old Campus of Yale University, seen looking west from the New Haven Green, around 1900-1915. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Detroit Publishing Company Collection.

The scene in 2018:

This scene has hardly changed in more than a century since the first photo was taken, yet it would have looked very different just a couple decades earlier, when the Old Brick Row still stood here. Constructed between 1752 and 1824, this group of seven building comprised the bulk of the Yale campus until the late 19th century, when they were steadily replaced by more modern Gothic-style buildings, as seen in the first photo. This transition also marked a dramatic shift in the layout of the campus. Unlike the Old Brick Row, which had been built in a single line that was set back from the street, these new buildings were constructed right up against the street, along the entire perimeter of the block, with a large quadrangle in the center.

These two photos show the east side of the Old Campus, which consists of a group of five buildings along College Street. The oldest of these is Farnam Hall, which stands second from the right. It is somewhat difficult to distinguish from the other buildings, but it is identifiable by its somewhat lower roof line. It was completed in 1870, and was the first of the dormitories to be built under the new campus plan. Immediately to the right of it, on the far right side of the scene, is the Battell Chapel, which was completed in 1876, and to the left of Farnam Hall is Lawrance Hall, a dormitory that was completed in 1886. All three of these buildings, along with nearby Durfee Hall, were designed by noted architect Russell Sturgis, and they all feature the High Victorian Gothic style of architecture that was popular during this period.

The two buildings on the left side of the scene were built a few years later. They were architecturally similar, although their style could perhaps best be described as English Gothic. As explained in a previous post, these were also designed by prominent architects. To the left is Welch Hall, a dormitory that was completed in 1891 and was designed by Bruce Price. The final link in this row of buildings, Phelps Hall, was built five years later. It was designed by Charles C. Haight, who gave it the appearance of a medieval gatehouse. On the ground floor is the Phelps Gate, which serves as the main entrance to the Old Campus from the east, and the upper floors were built with recitation rooms.

Several more buildings would be added to the Old Campus after the first photo was taken, but otherwise the quadrangle was largely complete by the time Phelps Hall was constructed. This particular view has hardly changed at all. The buildings have seen only minor exterior alterations, and the only new building visible in the present-day scene is the Harkness Tower, which was completed a block away from here in 1922, and can be seen in the distance just to the left of Phelps Hall. Another building of interest, which appears in both photos, is Connecticut Hall. Visible in the distance on the far left side of the scene, it is the only surviving building from the Old Brick Row. It was built in 1752, and although threatened with demolition at the turn of the century, it was ultimately restored, and it now stands as the oldest building on the Yale campus.

State House, New Haven, Connecticut

The Connecticut State House on the New Haven Green, seen from the south side of the building, sometime around the 1870s or 1880s. Image from The Connecticut Quarterly (1895).

The scene in 2018:

During the early colonial period, the modern-day state of Connecticut actually contained two separate colonies. In the northern part of the state was Connecticut Colony, which was centered around Hartford on the Connecticut River. To the south, along the shores of Long Island Sound, was New Haven Colony, which was centered around its namesake town. These two colonies were ultimately merged in 1664, but the divide between Hartford and New Haven persisted for many years. In 1701, the two towns were designated as co-capitals of the Connecticut Colony, and legislative sessions altered between them, with the May session being held in Hartford each year, and the October session here in New Haven.

Two capital cities also meant two capitol buildings, and New Haven had a series of different state houses that were all located here on the New Haven Green. The last of these, which is seen in the first photo, was completed in 1831, replacing an earlier brick state house that had been in use since 1763. Its design was the work of Ithiel Town, a prominent Connecticut architect whose earlier New Haven works had included Trinity Church and Center Church, both of which are still standing nearby on the Green. Together, these three buildings demonstrated Town’s wide range of abilities, between the Federal-style Center Church, the Gothic-style Trinity Church, and the Greek Revival-style State House.

Town’s imposing design for the State House gave the building the exterior appearance of an Ancient Greek temple. It was built of stone, and had porticoes on both the north and south sides of the building, with classically-inspired columns, entablatures, and pediments. On the interior, the building included space for both the state and county governments. The basement and the first floor housed county offices, along with the county courtroom, a jury room, and various committee rooms. The upper floor had the two legislative chambers, with the House of Representatives at one end of the building and the Senate at the other, and there was also a room for the secretary and two rooms for the governor.

Following its completion in 1831, New Haven’s State House served, along with the older Hartford State House, as one of the state’s seats of government for more than 40 years. However, by the 1860s it was clear that maintaining two separate capitol buildings was both expensive and redundant. Railroads had significantly shortened the travel time between the two cities, which are a mere 35 miles apart, and the practice of having two capital cities apparently had more to do with each city’s sense of prestige than with any major convenience. Both cities lobbied hard to become the sole capital, and even Meriden threw its hat into the ring as a sort of compromise candidate. In the end, though, the question was settled by the voters of Connecticut, who chose Hartford as the capital, perhaps in part because of that city’s promise to contribute land and $500,000 toward the construction of a new State House.

The final legislative session at the New Haven State House was held here in 1874, and the following year Hartford took over as the state’s only capital. The new State House was completed in 1878, and still stands in Hartford’s Bushnell Park. In the meantime, the old 1797 State House was used as Hartford City Hall for many years, and it has since been preserved as a museum. However, here in New Haven the public sentiment was strongly divided over the fate of the city’s former State House. Having been vacated by both the state government and the county courts, the building was in need of a new use, and many argued in favor of preserving it and converting it into a public library. Perhaps with this proposal in mind, city voters approved an 1887 referendum to spend $30,000 on repairs to the building. However, the city council overruled this decision, and determined to demolish the iconic structure instead.

Even in the 1880s, long before the modern historic preservation movement gained widespread appeal, this was a highly controversial decision, with many praising the building’s architecture and its symbolic significance to the city of New Haven. Among the outside voices calling for its preservation was the Boston Advertiser, which published an editorial to that effect in 1889. In it, the newspaper argued:

That old State House is a priceless memento of a glorious past. It is a perpetual reminder that New Haven was originally an independent colony, and that, for nearly two centuries and a half it shared with Hartford the honor of being a state capital. Within those walls were uttered words whose echoes reached the continent and beyond the sea. Its style of architecture suggests the classic learning which, from the beginning, has been more faithfully taught in that locality than anywhere else in the world. . . . To tear down that building would be to obliterate one of the chief milestones on the path of time.

Not everyone in New Haven saw the State House in such a light, though. Apparently still embittered at losing the capital contest to Hartford some 15 years earlier, the New Haven Register responded to the Advertiser with an editorial of its own, arguing:

It will be news to most New Haveners to be told that the State House is a “priceless memento of the glorious past.” It is not, nor has it ever been priceless. It is a memento of New Haven’s folly in allowing Hartford to gobble up the capital. It is a perpetual reminder that New Haven in the past has shown a deplorable lack of public spirit in important crises. It is not a “chief milestone on the path of time.” Rather it is an encumbrance, a public nuisance, a bone of contention, an eyesore, a laughing stock, a hideous pile of brick and mortar, a blot on the fair surface of the Green. The Boston paper doesn’t know what it is talking about.

Both of these excerpts are quoted from The New Haven State House, a book that was published in 1889 shortly after the building was demolished. Interspersed within this history of the building were a number of advertisements, several of which attempted to use the demolition as a marketing strategy. One such ad declared “Two Great Mistakes! The greatest mistake ever made by New Haven people is shown by the destruction of the State House. The Second Mistake is in supposing that B. Booth has only second hand and auction goods at 388, 390 and 392 State St.” Another simply stated “The State House Gone. The City Market Remains,” and a third was for a photographic studio that promised “the Best Views of the Old State House that were made.”

Following the demolition of the State House, the area was cleared and reverted to open park land, as part of the New Haven Green. However, this western portion of the Green, known as the Upper Green, was also the city’s colonial-era burial ground, where an estimated 4,000 to 5,000 people were buried. The headstones have long since been removed – aside from a small portion of the graveyard that is located in the basement of Center Church – but the remains themselves are still interred here under the Green. Today, though, there is little here to suggest the presence of a burial ground, or the former presence of a state capitol building. However, the New Haven Green is not without historic buildings, as three early 19th century churches still stand on the far right side of this scene, including the two designed by Ithiel Town.

Welch Hall and Phelps Hall, New Haven, Connecticut

Welch Hall (left) and Phelps Hall (right), on the campus of Yale University, around 1900. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Detroit Publishing Company Collection.

The scene in 2018:

Although at first glance they appear to be part of the same building, these are actually two different buildings, and they form part of the perimeter of the Old Campus at Yale. The older of the two is Welch Hall, the four-story building on the left side. It was completed in 1891 as a dormitory, and was donated by the family the late Harmanus M. Welch, a businessman who had also served as mayor of New Haven from 1861 to 1863. The exterior was constructed of Longmeadow brownstone, a popular building material of the period, and its Gothic-style design was the work of the prominent architect Bruce Price, who had also designed the adjacent Osborn Hall several years earlier.

Just to the right of Welch Hall is Phelps Hall, which was completed in 1896. Its architect was Charles C. Haight, who also designed a number of other buildings on the Yale campus, including several buildings for the Sheffield Scientific School. His design for Phelps Hall filled the narrow gap between Welch and Lawrance Halls, and it was made to resemble a medieval gatehouse, complete with turrets on each corner and crenelations in between them. On the ground floor is the Phelps Gate, the main entrance to the Old Campus from the east. The upper floors were built with recitation rooms, and the building originally housed offices for the campus police as well. Its namesake was the late William Walter Phelps, an 1860 Yale graduate who served as a Congressman and as ambassador to Germany and Austria-Hungary, and it was donated by his family in his honor, following his death in 1894.

Today, nearly 120 years after the first photo was taken, almost nothing has changed about this scene. Both Welch Hall and Phelps Hall are still standing with few noticeable alterations, and even the fence along the New Haven Green is still there. Welch Hall continues to be used as a dormitory, housing the freshmen of Davenport College. From this angle, the only noticeable exterior differences are the addition of skylights on the roof, and the closing of what used to be the front entrance of the building. Next to Welch Hall, the Phelps Gate is still a main entryway into the Old Campus, and the floors above it in Phelps Hall are now the home of the Department of Classics and the Classics Library.

Old Brick Row, New Haven, Connecticut

The Old Brick Row on the Yale campus, seen from the corner of College and Chapel Streets in New Haven, in 1863. Image from Yale University Views (1894).

The scene in 2018:

Today, much of the Yale campus consists of ornate Gothic-style buildings that were constructed during the late 19th and early 20th centuries. However, prior to this time the campus consisted of a group of brick Federal-style buildings that ran parallel to College Street from the corner of Chapel Street. Collectively known as the Old Brick Row, these were built between 1752 and 1824, and they formed the heart of Yale University until the late 19th century, when the old buildings were steadily replaced by more modern ones. Only one building, Connecticut Hall, still survives from the Old Brick Row, although it is now surrounded by newer buildings and is hidden from view in the present-day scene.

The site of the Old Brick Row, now known as the Old Campus, was also the site of the first Yale building in New Haven, which was named the College House. It was completed in 1718, two years after the school moved to New Haven, and was located in the foreground at the corner of College and Chapel Streets. During the early years, it was the only building on campus, but it was later joined by other buildings, including Connecticut Hall, a dormitory that was completed in 1752 and was, in later years, known as South Middle College. Then, in 1763, the First Chapel – later known as the Atheneum – was built to the south of Connecticut Hall. College House was demolished in 1782, but the other two buildings were still standing when the first photo was taken in 1863, with the First Chapel second from the right, and Connecticut Hall just to the right of it.

Following the demolition of the College House, Yale decided upon a campus plan that would involve new buildings to the south of the First Chapel and to the north of Connecticut Hall. This is regarded as the first such campus plan at any college in the country, and it consisted of a single row of buildings that alternated between long dormitories and smaller buildings that were topped with steeples. As part of this plan, Union Hall – later called South College – was built near where the College House had stood, on the far left side of the first photo. This was followed at the turn of the 19th century by the Lyceum, which stood immediately to the right of Connecticut Hall, and Berkeley Hall – later North Middle College – further to the right of it. The last two additions to the Old Brick Row came in the early 1820s, with the construction of North College on the extreme northern end of the row around 1821, and the Second Chapel, which was built between North Middle and North in 1824.

By the time the first photo was taken in 1863, the campus had also come to include buildings such as a library, laboratory, art gallery, and Alumni Hall, which was used as a lecture hall. The Old Brick Row continued to play a central role on the Yale campus throughout this time, but this would soon begin to change. In 1870, the school adopted a new campus plan, which called for the gradual replacement of the old buildings and the creation of a quadrangle that was surrounded by new Gothic-style buildings. This began at the northwestern corner of the block with the construction of Farnam Hall, Durfee Hall, and the Battell Chapel in the 1870s, although this did not immediately affect the Old Brick Row, which stood here for several more decades.

The first to go were South College and the Atheneum, both of which were demolished in 1893 to make way for Vanderbilt Hall, which was completed a year later. By this time, the rest of the Old Brick Row had found itself essentially surrounded by new buildings, hidden from view from the street and in the midst of a newly-formed quadrangle. These old, plain brick buildings looked increasingly out of place in the midst of the new, ornate Gothic-style brownstone buildings, and most were removed over the next few years. Both North Middle College and the Second Chapel were demolished around 1896, followed by the Lyceum and North College in 1901. South Middle College was also slated for demolition as part of the new campus plan, but it was ultimately saved, and was restored to its original Georgian-style design in 1905.

The present-day photo shows a few of the late 19th and early 20th century buildings of the Old Campus, most of which are now older than much of the Old Brick Row had been when it was demolished. In the distance on the extreme left is Vanderbilt Hall, with Bingham Hall (1928) at the corner, Welch Hall (1891) to the right of it, and Phelps Hall (1896) barely visible beyond the trees on the far right. South Middle College, which is once again known by its historic name of Connecticut Hall, is still standing in the quadrangle behind Bingham Hall, no longer visible from this angle. It is the only surviving remnant from the Old Brick Row, but in 1925 it was joined by McClellan Hall, which stands next to it on the quadrangle with a Colonial Revival design that matches Connecticut Hall and pays tribute to the long-demolished buildings of the Old Brick Row.

College Street from Chapel Street, New Haven, Connecticut

Looking north on College Street from the corner of Chapel Street in New Haven, around 1900-1906. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Detroit Publishing Company Collection.

The scene in 2018:

These photos were taken from about the same spot as the ones in the previous post, just angled a little to the right to show the view up College Street. As mentioned in that post, this site has long been important in Yale’s history, starting with the construction of its first building in New Haven in 1718. Over a century later, a rail fence was built here along the perimeter of the campus, and for many years it was a popular hangout spot for Yale students, who would sit and socialize on the fence. However, by the time the first photo was taken at the turn of the 20th century, the old fence was gone, having been replaced by a group of new buildings.

The most visible of these buildings is Osborn Hall, which was used for recitation rooms. It was completed in 1890, with a Romanesque-style exterior that was designed by noted architect Bruce Price. Just beyond it is Welch Hall, a dormitory that was completed a year later and was also designed by Price. Further in the distance, and mostly obscured by trees in the first photo, is Phelps Hall. This building, with its tower-like design and distinctive gate leading into the Old Campus, was completed in 1896, and it is the newest building in the first photo.

Today, this scene looks significantly different from the first photo, thanks to the loss of the trees and the demolition of Osborn Hall. The trees, which once lined both sides of College Street, appear to have been some of New Haven’s ubiquitous elm tees. However, the trees in Elm City, along with those across the rest of the country, were decimated by Dutch Elm Disease in the mid-20th century. Osborn Hall is also gone, having been demolished in 1926 to construct Bingham Hall, a dormitory that now stands on the site. Further in the distance, though, there are some surviving features from the first photo, including both Welch Hall and Phelps Hall, which still comprise part of the Old Campus at Yale.

Osborn Hall, New Haven, Connecticut

Osborn Hall, at the northwest corner of College and Chapel Streets 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:

This site, at the corner of College and Chapel Streets, was the location of the first building on Yale’s New Haven campus. Established in 1701 as the Collegiate School, it was originally in modern-day Clinton, Connecticut, and it moved several times before eventually coming to New Haven in 1716, where it was subsequently renamed Yale College. The first building, known as the College House, was completed here in 1718. It was the only building on campus during its early years, and it stood here until its demolition in the late 18th century.

By the 1830s, the perimeter of the Yale campus was marked by a rail fence that ran along the streets. Aside from serving as both a literal and symbolic boundary between Yale and the rest of New Haven, the fence also became a popular spot for socializing, where up to several hundred students could be found seated on the rails at any given time. At the time, the fence encircled the Old Brick Row, a collection of late 18th and early 19th century buildings that were set back from the streets. By the late 19th century, though, the school had adopted a new campus plan, consisting of new buildings on the edges of the streets, with a quadrangle where the Old Brick Row had once stood.

As a result, the old fence was steadily replaced by these new buildings, which were constructed over a period of several decades. The last surviving section of the fence was here on this corner, and it remained a popular gathering place into the 1880s. However, this busy intersection was too prominent a space to have occupied by just a rustic rail fence, especially when the school was in the midst of dramatically transforming its appearance. The fence was ultimately removed in 1888, in order to make room for Osborn Hall, which was built on the site.

Osborn Hall was a gift of Miriam Osborn, who gave $150,000 to construct a recitation hall in memory of her husband, Charles J. Osborn. The building was designed by prominent architect Bruce Price, whose subsequent works include the adjacent Welch Hall, and its exterior was an excellent example of Romanesque-style architecture. Even Yale’s rival school praised the design, with the Harvard Crimson declaring, shortly before its completion, that “when finished will be one of the finest buildings belonging to the college, as well as the best equipped building of the kind in the country,” and that “In every way the building is to be as near perfection as it can possible be made.”

The building was largely completed by the end of 1889, and was formally dedicated on January 7, 1890, with college president Timothy Dwight V delivering the keynote address. However, despite its architectural grandeur, the construction of Osborn Hall was highly controversial, especially since it replaced the humble yet much-beloved rail fence. Among the many critics was Isham Henderson, who wrote about it less than a decade later in the February 1899 issue of the Yale Literary Magazine. He viewed the loss of the fence as a sign of the times, epitomizing the Gilded Age emphasis on money, progress, and ostentation. Henderson believed that tradition, such as fence sitting, was more important than a grand new building, writing:

It is by these class customs that college spirit is fostered, and it is in them that a large part of the college training, by many considered larger and more valuable than all the curriculum of the recitation room is acquired. . . . Osborn Hall set a precedent for displacing the old Yale for the new. . . . It lies with the next president to decide whether internal arrangement is to be sacrificed to external show, whether traditions and customs and ‘spirit’ are to go down before the demand for luxuries – or whether the old Yale is to be made into the new by rearranging the interior instead of decorating the exterior, and the old spirit preserved in defiance of wealth and aristocracy.

Regardless of nostalgia for tradition, though, Osborn Hall proved to be further from perfection than the Crimson had predicted. Its location at a busy intersection made it a prominent landmark on the Yale campus, yet this same intersection also made it difficult to hold classes here, because of the unceasing traffic noise just outside the windows. As the first photo shows, this included pedestrians, horse-drawn carriages, and trolleys, and within a few years automobiles would also be added into this mix. This problem was mentioned in the 1915 Reports of the President and Secretary of Yale University, which noted:

There are numerous requests from members of the Faculty for better recitation rooms. Osborn Hall grows more and more unpopular and this building is used under protest. During the year the route of the Winchester Avenue cars has been changed, and this heavy traffic now passes along College Street directly beneath the windows of Osborn, rendering it almost useless for lecture purposes. In order to meet the very reasonable requests of the instructors assigned to these noisy recitation rooms, a large hall on the second floor of the University building on High Street is being fitted up for lecture purposes and will be used for certain classes now held in Osborn Hall.

Osborn Hall was ultimately demolished in 1926, just 36 years after its completion. Its much larger replacement was Bingham Hall, an eight-story dormitory that was named in honor of Cleveland businessman, philanthropist, and Yale graduate Charles W. Bingham, whose children provided funds to construct it. The new building was completed in 1928, with a Gothic-style exterior that blended in with the rest of the campus much better than the Romanesque-style Osborn Hall had managed to do. Bingham Hall is still standing today, as are the neighboring Vanderbilt and Welch Halls, which are barely visible on the far left and far right sides of the first photo.