Historic Wooster Square Association, Inc.

Working to keep the neighborhood strong & vibrant

Historic Tidbits About the Square


The Wooster Square neighborhood and surrounding area played a pivotal part in the development of our state and young nation. For those new to the community or those of you with inquiring minds that need to know, we heartily recommend the archives, bookshop, and historians of the New Haven Museum located at 114 Whitney Avenue. The New Haven Free Public Library on the Green also has a special Local History Room filled with wonderful surprises.

 

Who was Gen.David Wooster and why is the park named for him?

Hero and highest ranking officer to die in the Revolutionary War

Born in Stratford, CT, graduated from Yale; long distinguished military career
New Haven merchant who lived on Olive Street 

Led successful campaigns during the Revolution; was felled in the Battle of Ridgefield and taken to a home in Danbury where he died in the spring of 1777

Buried on Mt. Moriah in what is now the Wooster Cemetery in Danbury, CT

 

Did you know… ?   Wooster Street in SOHO (NYC) and Wooster, Ohio were also named for our hero.

 

Who was Capt. Daniel Greene and why was a street named for him?

A renowned merchant sea captain and neighbor of yore

Commanded the famous ship Neptune on a three-year voyage around the world to China, 1796-1799

He returned with riches of silk, nankeen cotton, tea, and porcelain dinnerware valued at $280,000!

 

Did you know… ?  The Neptune was a 350-ton, full-rigged sailing ship armed with 20 carriage guns. Built at New Haven's Olive Street shipyard and was the largest vessel ever crafted in our city.

 

So where did Academy Street get its name?

Named for New Township Academy, a school built on that street in 1809

“The New Township” is what the Wooster Square area was called before the park was created.
Academy street also boasts #30, the former Italian Consulate, now a private home and still flying the Italian flag. 

 

Did you know… ? The Italian Consulate was established in in New Haven in 1910 by the Italian government because there were thousands of Italian immigrants here, the largest foreign group to come to New Haven up to that time. 

 

Why is Court Street so named, without a court in sight?

In the 1870’s the prominent Home Insurance Company speculated on the development of row houses, all constructd at the same time. They named the street Home Place.

A down-turned economy led them into bankruptcy, which was settled by a court-appointed agent.

The street was renamed Court Street as an extension of the original street leading to the courthouse on the Green, and appropriate to the court action taken.

In the early 19th century the area that became Court Street was Mix's Museum and the Columbian Gardens – a combination beer house and ice ream parlor, wax museum, and public bath. But after it went out of business the gardens were sold for house sites. These houses were torn down in the 1870's as part of an ambitious project to redevelop the Academy Street side of Wooster Square. 

This housing project sponsored by the Home Insurance Company had a longer life than the first buildings erected in the area. They were among the first to be rehabilitated in Wooster Square. Court Street is attractive as a place. It is a pleasant walkway leading from the park to the heart of the city.

 

Who is William Lanson and why is he important? 

New Haven native who was a descendent of a prestigious family that had been in CT for four generations

Influential and prosperous building engineer / contractor who was known as New Haven’s African King

Transformed old barns into affordable housing for New Haven’s developing African-American community

Sold land he owned in a community east of Wooster Square whose residents were of African descent

Then purchased the old slaughterhouse at the end of Greene Street, which he renovated into the Liberian Hotel

 

Did you know… ? Mr. Lanson is best remembered as the individual responsible for extending New Haven’s Long Wharf to almost ¾ of a mile out to the harbor’s mouth. He accomplished this between 1810-1812, making the wharf the longest in the US.

 

Our predecessors were an industrious bunch!

 

What else were they doing…?

 

  • Minting coins – ”money flows like water” is appropriate for Abel Buell’s mint on Water Street est. 1785 where he perfected a machine that in 2 years minted 29,000 copper coins, eventually producing coins for our Federal Government.
  • Manufacturing hardware – SARGENT factory’s catalog listed some 60,000 different items, making it one of the largest hardware manufacturing plants in the US. It is still in operation today.
  • Building a carriage industry - in 1832 James Brewster moved from downtown to a larger factory on Wooster Street, and “he became to the carriage industry what General Motors would become to the auto industry.
  • Did you know…? He was respected world-wide for beautiful carriages, which were purchased by both Presidents Andrew Jackson and Martin Van Buren.          

 

This “can do” spirit continued to grow Wooster Square into a booming community; we were the cat’s meow (with apologies to the dogs of Wooster Square) during New Haven’s ‘Golden Age’.

 

 Neighborhood “FIRSTS”…

 

  • Pizza – in 1900 Frank Pepe brought his family’s recipe for tomato pie with him when he emigrated from Italy. And from CT’s first pizza cart and original Napoletana recipe developed the pizza we all know and love.
  • Smoothies – corsets, not health drinks! Bavarian Jews Max Adler and Isaac Strouse became leaders of New Haven’s corset industry. In 1866 Strouse established the first corset factory in the United States. This led to the Strouse, Adler Company Corset Factory housed in buildings on Olive Street and later known as Smoothie Foundation Garments.

                

Did you know…? Mr. Adler built a beautiful Queen Anne style family home that stands today on Greene Street at the corner of Hughes Place.  See the photo of 311 Greene St. in the photo gallery.

 

  • Home fire-sprinkler system – Henry Parmalee, co-founder of the Baldwin Piano Company, was granted a patent in 1874 for an automatic fire-sprinkler system, which he called “The Fireman That Never Sleeps.” The impetus for this invention was a severe fire in his Baldwin Piano Factory. He also had it installed in his own home on Chapel Street, making the Historic Mansion Inn the first residence in the world to have its very own fire- sprinkler system.
  • Henry was also the founder of the New Haven Trolley Line. Needless to say, his house conveniently had a trolley stop at its front door.

 

  • Phone exchange – 612 Chapel Street would become home to Herrick Frost, General Manager of the Connecticut Telephone Company. After Alexander Graham Bell won a patent for the first telephone in 1876, Frost helped back New Haven friend George Coy to build an experimental switchboard. Together they opened the world’s first telephone exchange here in 1878 with 22 subscribers.
     
    Did you know…?  1) The first one-page telephone directory was published by their company the following month.   2) New Haven’s only known multi-page Telephone Directory, Volume 1 Number 1, sold at Christie’s Auction in 2008 for $170,000 !           

 

  • Wooster Square Historic District – in 1970 we became New Haven’s first local historic district and were placed on the National Historic Registry in 1971.