Historic Wooster Square Association

Working to keep the 
strong & vibrant

Working to keep the neighborhood strong & vibrant
Working to keep the neighborhood strong & vibrant
Wooster Square Park in the late 1800s
The Wooster Square Historic District, which became a local historic district (New Haven's first!) on June 11, 1970, was listed on the National Register of Historic Places on August 5, 1971. 

Wooster Square is named for Major-General David Wooster, a Yale graduate and successful merchant who maintained a warehouse on Wooster Street prior to the American Revolution. He lost his life in 1777 at the Battle of Ridgefield, while leading his troops against the British. Learn more about the origins of neighborhood place and street names on our Historic Tidbits page.

Until 1825, the square was a field used mainly for ploughing contests. By the 1840s, the neighborhood had become a highly desirable residential area that attracted many of the town's most prominent citizens.  

The development of the square occurred primarily between the years 1830 and 1870. Some of the most notable buildings in the area are the work of the well-known New Haven architect Henry Austin. (Among his important buildings in New Haven are the City Hall and the Egyptian Revival gate at Grove Street Cemetery.) The district still includes a concentration of distinctive 19th-century residential architecture, with fine examples of the Federal, Greek Revival, Islamic Revival, and Italian Villa styles, as well as Late Victorian Italianate row houses and Second Empire and Queen Anne residences. See examples in the slide show, below. Captions are contained in the thumbnail images following the slides.

The Max Adler House (c1880) is an example of Queen Anne style
The Max Adler (311 Greene St.) house today
at left, the Islamic Revival William Bristol House (c 1845)
The Islamic Revival house at 584 Chapel today
Brownstone Row, 552-562 Chapel St. (c1871) today
corner of Court and Academy Streets in the 1950s
corner of Court and Academy Street today
Court Street today
612 Chapel St. was Neighborhood Music School from 1931-69.
20 Academy Street was the Italian Consulate for many years.
The statue of Columbus in the park dates from 1892.
Storefront at 2 Academy, 1961

The Evolution of An Historic District

According to the New Haven Preservation Trust, the growth of industry around the square by the turn of the 20th century made it increasingly less attractive for the socially prominent. Many homes were purchased by Italian-American families, a number of whom made a living by using their homes as stores. Adaptation to commercial uses and the lower incomes of the new owners downgraded the cachet of the neighborhood significantly. Ironically, poverty and absentee landlords preserved the architecture of the brilliant past.

As early as the 1940s renewal plans called for the area's total demolition. At one point, it was seriously proposed that the soon-to-be built I-91 go right through the Square.

None of these things happened, however, due to a fortunate series of circumstances in the 1950s that let to the beginnings of neighborhood renewal. The Wooster Square Project emerged in 1958-60 as a major focus of the New Haven urban rehabilitation program at a time when external events combined to spark a community-wide conviction that the neighborhood was worth saving. 

Some of the events and trends that contributed to this undertaking were:

• projects by architectural students at Yale who created models for a restored Wooster Square
• relatively high earnings during World War II, which had permitted savings, and therefore possible homeownership, by motivated residents, and
• the public endorsement of the architectural potential of the neighborhood by the New Haven Preservation Trust, ultimately resulting in the formation of the Wooster Square Conservancy.

These factors provided vital impetus in a period before low-interest rehabilitation loans and grants became available to help the homeowners. Two of the most important early projects were the construction of the Conte Community School – a first of its kind when it was completed in 1965 – and the rehabilitation of the Court Street tenements, which comprised some of the worst housing in the area.

The New Haven Preservation Trust published two volumes dealing with the history of Wooster Square and its architecture that were circulated to residents and to city officials. The appointment of a Historic District Study Committee followed, and after other legal requirements had been met, a mail ballot revealed that the historic district had the support of a great majority of neighborhood residents.

The Wooster Square Area project was an effort of national importance. Though possibly atypical because of its valuable architecture, the mores of the Italian-American community, and the vitality of Mayor Richard Lee’s urban renewal administration, it nonetheless demonstrated to the nation’s city planners a new potential for the rehabilitation of deteriorated neighborhoods.