The Cloister, New Haven, Connecticut

The Cloister, the residence hall of the Book and Snake society, at the corner of Hillhouse Avenue and Grove Street in New Haven, around 1900-1910. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Detroit Publishing Company Collection.

The scene in 2018:

The Book and Snake is one of the many secret societies at Yale, and it was established in 1863 for students at the Yale-affiliated Sheffield Scientific School. In addition to having a meeting hall, the Book and Snake was one of several societies that also built its own residence hall, which was named the Cloister. This highly-ornate brownstone building was the work of architect H. Edwards Ficken, and it was completed in 1888. It was subsequently expanded in 1915, shortly after the first photo was taken, with a matching addition to the rear.

With the advent of Yale’s residential college system in the first half of the 20th century, privately-run dormitories such as the Cloister and the nearby Colony of the Berzelius society, were phased out, and the property was eventually sold to the college. The Colony was later demolished, but the Cloister is still standing, with few exterior changes aside from the 1915 addition. Today, the building is known as Warner House, and it is used for administrative offices, including the Yale College Dean’s Office.

Alpha Delta Phi House, New Haven, Connecticut

The Alpha Delta Phi house at 15 Hillhouse Avenue, 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 building was designed by local architect William H. Allen, and was completed in 1895 for the Alpha Delta Phi fraternity. The Yale chapter of this fraternity had been established in 1836, but it was disbanded in 1873. However, it was revived in 1888, and in 1895 it became one of the school’s junior societies – as opposed to the senior societies such as the Skull and Bones. It moved into this building around the same time, and remained here until the early 1930s. During this time, notable fraternity members included author Stephen Vincent Benét, University of Chicago president Robert Hutchins, Time magazine and Life magazine publisher Henry Luce, Chicago Tribune editor and publisher Robert R. McCormick, and playwright Thornton Wilder.

Alpha Delta Phi again disbanded in 1935, and at some point around this time the property here on Hillhouse Avenue was sold to Yale. The fraternity would again return to Yale in 1990, although not to this building. Since 1960, it has been the home of the Yale Collection of Musical Instruments, and during this time its exterior has seen few changes from the first photo. However, the surrounding area is very different from the turn of the 20th century, and the old fraternity house is now flanked by much larger academic buildings, birth of which are part of the School of Engineering and Applied Science.

Wolf’s Head Hall, New Haven, Connecticut

Wolf’s Head Hall, at the corner of Prospect and Trumbull Streets in New Haven, around 1901. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Detroit Publishing Company Collection.

The building in 2018:

The Wolf’s Head was established in 1883 as one of Yale’s secret societies. It was intended as an alternative to the more established Skull and Bones and Scroll and Key societies, and it got off to a strong start with the completion of this clubhouse in 1884. The building was an early work by McKim, Mead and White, which would go on to become one of the leading architectural firms in the country during the late 19th and early 20th centuries. The first photo was taken nearly 20 years later, by which point the brownstone exterior was almost completely covered by ivy, obscuring much of its architecture.

This building was used by the Wolf’s Head until 1924, when the society moved to its current location on York Street. This property here on Prospect Street was then sold to Yale, who rented the building to several different organizations over the years. In 1994, it became home of the school’s Institution for Social and Policy Studies, and in 2006 it was joined to two neighboring buildings, with an addition that is partially visible on the left side of the 2018 photo. Today, the building continues to be used by the ISPS, and, despite the addition, its exterior has remained well-preserved, and from this angle the only other significant difference between the two photos is its appearance is the lack of ivy.

Sheffield Scientific School, New Haven, Connecticut

Looking south on Prospect Street toward Grove Street, with the Sheffield Scientific School on the left side of the street, around 1900. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Detroit Publishing Company Collection.

The scene in 2018:

The Sheffield Scientific School was founded in 1847 as the Yale Scientific School, and was intended to provide an alternative to the  traditional liberal arts focus of Yale itself. In 1860, the school moved into the former Yale School of Medicine building, which was located in the distance at the corner of Prospect and Grove Streets. The building had been extensively renovated by railroad executive and philanthropist Joseph E. Sheffield, and the school was subsequently renamed in his honor.

In the following decades, the Sheffield Scientific School steadily expanded, with new buildings that were constructed here along the east side of Prospect Street. The first of these was North Sheffield Hall, which was built in 1873. It stands in the center of the first photo, and it was followed in 1893 by Winchester Hall, which stands just beyond it with the turret on the corner. Two years later, the Sheffield Chemical Laboratory was completed on the other side of North Sheffield, and it stands in the foreground of both photos. All three of these buildings featured similar Romanesque architecture, and they were the work of noted architect J. Cleaveland Cady, who was responsible for designing a number of college and other institutional buildings across the northeast.

New buildings continued to be constructed for the Sheffield Scientific School throughout the early 20th century, including Sheffield-Sterling-Strathcona Hall, which replaced the original school building at the corner of Grove Street in 1932. These three buildings remained in use for many more years, though, even after the school was fully merged with Yale University in 1956. However, both North Sheffield and Winchester Halls were demolished in 1968 in order to make room for the Becton Laboratories, the large Brutalist-syle building in the distant center of the 2018 photo.

Today, only the Sheffield Chemical Laboratory still stands from the first photo. It was significantly renovated in 1986 for use by the computer science department, and it was renamed Arthur K. Watson Hall, in honor of the former IBM president and U. S. Ambassador to France. In 1993, the building was targeted by the Unabomber, and one of his mail bombs detonated here in the office of Professor David Gelertner, badly injuring him. The building itself sustained little damage, though, and it continues to be used as the home of the computer science department, with few noticeable exterior changes from the first photo.

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.