OLD SEAPORT TOWN OF NEW HAVEN, by Hildegarde Hawthorne, 1916

“As you set foot on the platform of the station at New Haven the inhabitants do not rush up to you with glad proud cries telling you that it is the largest city in the State, as they would if the city were west of the Rockies instead of considerably east of the Hudson. That is not the New Haven way.

Yet, as you traverse the New Haven streets, so broad, so serene, so shaded with overarching elms, as you linger on the Green or stroll through the college campus, as you pause in admiration before noble architecture or sit at ease in charming parks, you gather that the city is proud of itself, that it is fully conscious of both its size and its importance, not to speak of its beauty, and that its lack of self-advertising flows from a profound conviction that it is totally unnecessary.

‘Here I am. And mighty fortunate you are in that fact,’ is the thought it conveys. A thought to which even the most casual visitor within its limits must heartily subscribe.

Sister and I had begun our journey along the New England coast in the Forest City; we were to end it in the City of Elms, for that is New Haven’s pet name. The Maine town has lost many of the trees that gave it its name, but New Haven has almost as good a reason to-day as yesterday for the description. So many and such magnificent trees we had found nowhere else.

We mentioned them with words of praise to a seller of postcards in a drug store a little distance from the Green.

‘You ought to see these streets after a fall of fresh snow or an ice storm,’ he answered. ‘I guess there isn’t such a sight anywhere else in America.’ It was the only superlative we heard during our stay.

‘I wonder if we could dash out here next time there’s a snowstorm,’ I interrogated Sister, as we strolled away under the leafy canopy. And she replied that she was game.

Everything in New Haven began at the Green, and naturally we began there too. The whole city centres there, and radiates from it in beautiful streets, stopping every five or ten minutes to make a tree-encircled square, a little or big park, a flower-packed garden. Spread out on the level plain that slopes slightly upward from the shores of the bay to the ridge of hills behind, New Haven has plenty of room, and takes it. Practically every house has grounds about it, not a mere yard, but lawns and shrubbery and trees, tennis grounds, shady places sweet with bloom.

But to get back to the Green, on which our hotel faced. A reason, if there were no other, to put up there. But the Taft Hotel has plenty of good reasons for getting you to stay there, and keeping you after you get there. It stands on the site of the old New Haven House, a hostelry of many years and much history, closely identified with Yale, but increasingly old-fashioned and inconvenient. The Taft is everything of the contrary.

A star-like pattern of paths leads away in every direction on the surface of the green from the liberty pole in the centre of the upper portion, the white lines in the green grass very attractive. We walked over to the three churches first, all of them built in 1814. They stretch across the centre of the green, along Temple Street, the North, or United, as it is called now, the Centre, and Trinity, one of if not the oldest Episcopal society in Connecticut. This church is built of a dark brownstone with a square tower ending in corner finials. The other two are true New England architecture, Centre, with its severe simplicity, its blunt topped spire and the fine pilasters that adorn its façade being possibly the handsomer of the two.

Undoubtedly it is the more interesting. It stands on the site of the first meeting house, as the following inscription tells us:

A.D. 1638, A Company
of English Christians led
by John Davenport and
Theophilus Eaton were
the Founders of this city.
Here Their Earliest
House of Worship was
Built A.D. 1639.

Underneath the church the crypt contains the remains and tombstones of the early Puritan fathers and their families, while in the rear is the monument to John Dixwell, one of the regicides who stirred New Haven to its depths in 1661. The Colonel, to be sure, arrived after the excitement was over by a few years, and incognito, announcing himself to be a Mr. James Davids, retired merchant. He was wealthy, and he settled down for the rest of his life in the town, and it was not till some time after his death that the truth came out. He was one of those who had a share in condemning Charles I. to the scaffold, and who had to flee England when Charles II. came to the throne. The monument was raised much later by his descendants.

But there is a more interesting reminder of the link between New Haven and that tragedy of the English Court. It is some way from the Green, but Sister and I walked out to it — The Judges’ Cave, on West Rock. It is more of a pile of huge boulders that make a chamber large enough to enter than a cave, but it is all the more striking in appearance. Here the two regicides, Major-Generals Edward Whalley and his son-in-law William Goffe, spent many weary weeks. The two had been high in Cromwell’s service and confidence; there had even been some talk of making Goffe the great Commoner’s successor. But things befel otherwise; the two gentlemen were obliged to flee for their lives, and sailed for Boston, where at first they lived openly, but finally Charles sent over an order for their arrest, and Governor Endicott set about capturing them.

The Reverend John Davenport, one of the founders of New Haven, had been a friend of Cromwell’s, so that it was to him the fugitives turned for help. They reached New Haven on horseback on March 7, 1661, and for three weeks lay hidden in the house of Davenport or of a friend of his, William Jones, whose father had been executed in England for the same crime.

Officers armed with the royal warrant came from Boston, upon which there followed a game of hide-and-seek in which the regicides, assisted by many New Haven folk, wore out the patience of the officers, who at last went home. But before they went they posted a large reward. That set thrifty souls to the work of hunting themselves, and for two years the two ‘wanted’ men dodged about from one friend to another, hid in a ruined mill outside the city, and made their home in the cave we sat before, as well as in another lower down the side of West Rock. Finally the two went to Hadley, and are lost to the sight of history, as they were to that of those who looked for them so earnestly and ferociously.

Our old friend Whitefield, whose tomb we had seen in Newburyport, had his day on the Green, where he preached, in the open air, to a vast crowd of people on one of his later visits to America.

In the old days when New Haven was a separate Colony and later when she shared the honours of being the capital city with Hartford, she had a State House, indeed, more than one, for it got to be a habit with her to pull down the old and build the new every few years. They all stood on various sites about the Green, the first being erected in 1717, and the last pulled down in 1889.

The pulling down of this final State House, built, it is said, on the general plan of a Doric temple, was the occasion of a good deal of interest. A newspaper in Boston got much worked up on the subject, and printed words to the effect that it would be a shameful thing to destroy this ‘priceless memento of a glorious past, a perpetual reminder that New Haven was originally an independent colony and for nearly two and a half centuries a sharer of the capital honours. Tens of thousands of men and women throughout the land,’ continued this moving recital, ‘who are now in middle or advanced age, remember, with all the pleasure that attaches to youthful impressions, the picture of the Capitol Building at New Haven, which was in so many school books forty or fifty years ago. To tear down that building would be to obliterate a chief milestone on the path of time.’

To this a New Haven paper replied with the following stern rebuke:

‘It will be news to most New Haveners that the State House is ‘a priceless memento of a glorious past.’ It is not. It is a memento of New Haven’s folly in allowing Hartford to gobble the capital… neither is it 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 bricks and mortar, a blot on the fair surface of the Green. The Boston paper doesn’t know what it’s talking about.’

So there! Anyway, it is pretty certain that, to day, the town is perfectly willing to have Hartford bear the burdens and the honour of being the capital. New Haven has quite enough to attend to without that.

The old town pump once stood in the corner of the Green near the college, and there was also a whipping post, last used in 1831, but who was whipped then and why is no longer remembered. And here the County Fair used to be held. One of the old chroniclers gives a picture of this event that Sister discovered and showed me with delight.

‘There have been years when, on the Green, large wagons from Bethany and the towns near New Haven made a very attractive appearance trimmed with evergreens and adorned inside and outside with specimens of golden corn, big squashes, and strings of red peppers and other vegetables, the most charming exhibit of all being the healthy and lively daughters of the people, who rode in the wagons wearing holiday attire. And there were few finer sights of a big fair than the long line of famous red cattle from the Woodbridge hills, the sweet breath of morning in pearly shimmer on their broad, cool noses. What large, intelligent, and lustrous eyes had those cattle of the Connecticut hillsides.’

On this same Green slept the invading British force that had come to burn the town on July 5, 1779. They had landed at old Lighthouse Point, and joined with another attacking force, sweeping the Americans before them. The only thing that saved the place from destruction was that many Tories held property here, and it was impossible not to destroy the goods of the faithful with those of the rebel. Four years later the Green was the scene of a great jubilation in thankfulness for the ending of the Revolution and the triumph of the Americans. New Haven had given her best to the cause, both in men and treasure.

‘What a pity that every town or city doesn’t have a fine, convenient, central place like this beautiful Green where all historical events of importance can take place,’ Sister said. ‘Here we sit, on this comparatively comfortable bench, and watch the centuries whirl before our eyes. And, where the Green ends, the college begins. Shall we make for Phelps and enter the campus?’

‘Let’s stick to the town awhile yet. There’s the old Grove Street Burial Ground, and some old houses and fine streets, Hillhouse Avenue among them. Come along, it’s walk and not sit the rest of the morning.’

Hillhouse was near, to the northward, a short but broad and stately street, with grass-plots on either side of the driveway, great trees, and at the end a vista of columns. This end used to be known as Sachem Woods, a real forest not so many years ago. It has been bought by the University, except one part that is laid out in a park. Sheffield Scientific makes a fine effect along one side of Hillhouse and there are charming houses. Here the sense of grave spaciousness that makes so much of New Haven’s charm is at its noblest.

‘Living on a street like this ought to do something for you,’ was my thought, as we walked slowly up and back again to Grove Street. ‘All the advantages of a city and all the attractiveness of an ancestral estate. And just listen to the orioles!’

There must have been a nest to every tree, judging from the flash of brilliant wings along the green avenues of the boughs, while the clear wild notes rang sweetly down upon us. Wise birds to choose a home so lovely and so secure.

‘In many ways,’ said Sister, ‘this big city is less like a city than the little ones we have been seeing. There ought to be a new and special name invented for it.’

We soon found our way to the old graveyard, where so many men of mark are buried. Yale Presidents, inventors, writers, governors. Here Timothy Dwight lies, he who wrote deprecating the presence of the dead on the Green, saying that death was too solemn a thing to have graves lying close to the life of the town. Most of those who, in his time, lay there are now with him in Grove. Another President of Yale, her first titular president, is remembered by a large red sandstone on which this is cut:

‘The Reverend and Learned Mr. Thomas Clap, near 27 Years Laborious and Painfull President of the College.’

Noah Webster, whose house still stands, and Eli Whitney, inventor of the cotton gin which did so much for America, Theodore Winthrop, Jedediah Morse, Admirals and Generals, many other famous sons of New Haven lie here under their headstones, well in the heart of the city. In spite of President Dwight’s objection to this close and familiarising presence of the dead in the very midst of the city’s life, there is a charm, a tenderness, a friendliness about these old burial grounds in New England towns that the modern cemetery neither attempts nor achieves.

When Noah Webster was a lieutenant commanding a company of Yale students General Washington paid the town a visit. The young man was appointed as escort, and ‘on the day and time of it’ he noted in his diary that the General gave him a compliment for the manner in which he performed the service.

There is of course a tremendous lot of New Haven that is just homes. Lovely homes, in fine grounds, street after street of them. And then there is the waterside. For New Haven was a seaport, though she was never identified with the sea to the extent of the other New England sea cities. Her most famous contact with it was when the steamer Fulton sailed into her harbour from New York, in 1815. She has, however, her own particular legend, the Phantom Ship, sung by Bryant:

‘A ship sailed from New Haven;
And the keen and frosty airs,
That filled her sails at parting,
Were heavy with good men’s prayers.’

It was in 1647 that a ship, with Lamberton, Master, set sail in December for England, with a large company on board, among whom were many distinguished citizens of New Haven. Lamberton did not like his new command, for new she was. He remarked of her that she was ‘walty,’ and that he did not doubt but that she would end by being the grave of some ship’s company. The friends of the departing company followed them to the end of the wharf and watched them draw away, while the pastor, no other than the Reverend John Davenport, bade them godspeed with these cheerful words: ‘Lord, if it be thy pleasure to bury these our friends in the bottom of the sea, take them; they are thine.’

And that, so far as any word came, was the last heard of the ship and all her company. But one June evening some watchers on the shore descried a ship full sail coming into port, which was the more remarkable as a stiff offshore breeze was blowing. But in she swept, the sunset on her towering canvas. The town gathered, awed and disturbed. On came the ship, until she was recognised for the one which had sailed away in the dead of the winter, on until friend descried the face of friend on her deck. Then, suddenly, her topmasts went by the board, the rest of her rigging followed, the hull reeled, quivered, sank. A slight mist hung over the sea for a brief space, cleared, and nothing of the vision remained.

We walked along Water Street to Waterside Park, lying between the docks and reaching right out into the bay, with trees, or it wouldn’t belong to New Haven, planted thickly. There were plenty of townsfolk enjoying the fresh wind and the fresher prospect. Boats were busily going in and out, launches chugging. White sails were visible clear down the bay. Along further, where Mill River joins the bay, is the Yale Boathouse. The waterfront is used by the citizens in this wise and happy town, not given up, as in so many of our Americans cities, to dirty tracks and freight yards.

For all its appreciation of beauty, space, and nature New Haven is no sleepy college town with nothing to keep it occupied from Commencement to the Fall opening of the big gates of the campus. It is, next to Bridgeport, the most important manufacturing town in Connecticut. Its docks and wharves are as busy as its streets are broad and green, and probably if some one who was as interested in New Haven’s business energy as I was in its outward charm were to write of the city, there would be an astonishing array of figures, stirring descriptions of first-class factories, heartening records of great accomplishings.

But Sister and I, turning our backs on New Haven’s sources of wealth, engaged an automobile and went whirling through its parks and gardens and shady avenues and up in long loops to the top of East Rock. The hills backing the broad plain on which the city is built, end at either extremity with a bold pile of rock, splendidly precipitous on the sea side, with fine trees clambering up wherever there is a hold. The road up East Point, which is a public park, gives view after view of town and harbour, broad meadows, shining, twisting rivers, the old Light House on the Point, the church spires and the great spread of the University buildings. No one can say he has ‘seen’ New Haven unless he has climbed East Rock and looked down upon her. The Rock is crowned with a monument to the sailors and soldiers of the Civil War.

‘No wonder those old Puritan fathers were glad to go no farther when looking for a home,’ said Sister, as we sat on top of the Rock and let our eyes range the prospect. Quinnipiac it was called then, the Indian name, that still clings to the valley behind. The town was planned during the summer that followed the landing, in April, 1638, by a civil engineer, who had given up a fine career in England for love of a Puritan maid, and followed her into exile. The Green, or Market Square as it was then called, was laid out, with the squares that still exist round about it, perhaps the first rectangularly planned city on the Continent. Houses were built, some mere huts, others almost mansions. Of course the first public building was the church. It was used for other purposes too, being a town-hall, a voting booth, and a place where the grave seniors of the new Colony dispensed the Puritan law. New Haven has inherited a name for extreme blueness. The whipping post was set up as soon as the church, and there was an immense amount of interference in the personal concerns and home behaviour of the villagers. The Reverend Samuel Peters, in his history of the settlement, quotes forty-five ‘blue’ laws as being enforced, but there is a good deal of doubt as to the accuracy of this little history.

‘Married people must live together or be imprisoned,’ was really in force. ‘No woman shall kiss her child on the Sabbath or fasting day’ is not so certainly proved.

Perhaps it was because it had been so enforcedly good in its extreme youth that later it developed into one of the worst smuggling and illicit trading ports on the coast. It carried on a fairly large trade with the West Indies, and built a good many ships at this time, following 1750. But most of these ships had a way of stealing up the river after sundown, mighty dark and mysterious, and of unloading with a good deal less noise and commotion than is customary with jolly tars and stevedores.

We had been told that it was an excellent plan to see the sunset from the Rock if that were to be managed, and found the counsel wise. As the sun drew down after it the last waves of rose and gold and lavender, and the woods showed dark, lights began to spring up in the plain below, rows and groups of them, a fairy pattern of sharp silver. The water also held its illuminations, and chains of pale light marked the streets and roads.

‘I wish I were a boy and coming here for four years of college life,’ Sister murmured, as we began to whirl softly back to the hotel. ‘But it’s good-bye for us to-morrow evening.’

We found that the ideal way to spend the evening in New Haven was to sit out on the Green. There were other things to do, of course, and we noted that moving pictures appeared to be patronized here as elsewhere. But it was the Green for us, and for many more. The fragrant June night had collected a few early fireflies, and was tossing them idly about over the grass, as an Egyptian queen might play with diamonds. The chimes from Trinity sounded, very sweet. Young lovers passed, arm linked close in arm, head to head. A buzzing of motor cars gave the emphasis of a city to the country vision of shadowy trees and open grassy spaces.

The story of how New Haven got the college that is so integral a part of it has a spice of adventure. It is told in these words by that same Reverend Sam. Peters whose remarks on the blue laws Sister and I had read in the library, and which I have quoted. His history was written in 1781.

A slight introduction before we allow the parson to speak. In 1701 it was proposed to establish a Collegiate School in Saybrook, Connecticut, for the proper training of the youth of the land. Harvard was already an actuality in Massachusetts, but it seemed bad policy to let Connecticut send all her sons to another Colony for their education.

A number of Connecticut parsons met, therefore, in Branford, each giving some of his cherished books as a nucleus for a college library, making forty volumes in all, the beginning of the University library of to-day. At the same time a citizen of Saybrook, on the mouth of the Connecticut River, donated to the service of the college a house and lot. It was a very small house, but as for the first six months the President and a single student divided it between them it was sufficient. For fifteen years, during which time 55 students were graduated, the future Yale remained at Saybrook. Then fate began to act.

‘A vote,’ says our historian, ‘was passed at Hartford, to remove the college to Weathersfield; and another at Newhaven, that it should be removed to that town. Hartford prepared teams, boats, and a mob, and privately set off for Saybrook and seized upon the College apparatus, library, and students and carried all to Weathersfield. This redoubled the jealousy of the saints of Newhaven, who accordingly collected a mob sufficient for the enterprise, and set out for Weathersfield. There they seized upon the students, library, etc., etc. But on the road to Newhaven they were overtaken by the Hartford mob, who, however, after an unhappy battle, were obliged to retire with only a part of the library and part of the students.’

The war for the college raged bitterly for some time, and it was only when Massachusetts entered as a mediator that peace arrived. As the parson historian bitterly says, she was, ‘as ever,’ looking out for her own advantage, and desired that a rival college should be as far from her own as might be. Weathersfield, but a few miles south of Hartford, was far too close for comfort. So New Haven beat Hartford in this contest, at least. Though the rage of the Hartford and Weathersfield saints was such that they sent all their young men to Harvard for many years.

Two years later the college was given the name of Yale, after its greatest benefactor, Elihu Yale.

The picture of that struggling mob, with the poor distraught students being snatched back and forth, brother torn from brother, first and second volumes of important works separated by the frantic fighters, who cared not what sorrow or confusion they wrought so long as the other fellow didn’t get the college, this picture is so little like the usual conception of the founding of a seat of learning that it has a special appeal. Possibly the well-known pugnacious spirit of the University had its birth at the same moment.

Phelps Hall is the gate by which you enter the college campus from the Green. It is a square tower, heavy and solid, built over an archway, very deep and finely curved, looking through which you see iron gates and beyond the greenery of the campus. Gone are most of the fine elms that used to stand here, the elm beetle and other causes working against them. At one time the trees within the college walls were as fine as those outside. Now they are young and small in comparison. But the great quadrangle is a magnificent and effective sight. Yale has an old and grave look, for all that so many of her buildings are comparatively new. The Old Brick Row has gone, leaving Connecticut Hall to the left, built in 1750, Old South as it used to be called, as the oldest portion of the University. This has been restored to its original pure Colonial style, from which it had lapsed.

Vanderbilt Hall lies just behind, and we were told that it was the best college dormitory anywhere on earth. On one side the ivy-covered Art School, on the other handsome Osborne Hall. Opposite were the Library, Dwight Hall, and Alumni Hall. Beyond these High Street, and beyond that other buildings, Peabody Hall Museum among them. Behind us, as we stood after entering through Phelps, one building adjoined another, a making a great parapet between the college and the town.

There is a superb quality to a fine University that no other group of buildings can ever equal. Dedicated to the mind of man, they touch the imagination with particular force. There is a certain compactness about Yale that heightens the effect. Wherever we looked, one splendid building belonging to the college touched or almost touched another. Behind these lay more, so that we seemed to be in a town given up to learning and to beauty.

We walked its streets with joy, passing through the exquisite Whitman Gate, taking turns that gave unexpected and thrillingly lovely vistas, watching the hurrying students and the more stately progress of a professor as they went about their business. The shadows of trees fell on stone walls and grassy places, towers rose, arched and battlemented gates opened in the walls or accentuated the strength of the iron fence.

We saw many of the fraternity houses, and famous Skull and Bones; we passed the Gym and swung around by White Hall and the Lyceum, where the college plays are given. It was all a long enchantment, as it should be.

‘Don’t let’s miss the Yale Bowl,’ Sister urged.

We didn’t, in its empty serenity. But the time to see that is when the football battles are on, every tier a solid row of excited humanity aflutter with flags, the air shaken by yells and cheers, the contesting teams swaying below there. Yet, in its calmness, it gained beauty.

‘Being a college boy has many desirable aspects,’ we decided, as we came out on the Green again. ‘But being a professor, and settling down here for keeps—’

‘Incomparably more delightful than the job of being President,’ was our conclusion, as we returned to the Taft Hotel.

We still had a perfectly good afternoon, and planned to use it in seeing Donald G. Mitchell’s old place, the Edgewood Farm, two miles to the west of the city, where Ik Marvel had lived more than fifty years, devoted to the enduring pleasures of gardening and authorship. ‘My Farm at Edgewood’ is a book that can be reread just about as often as haymaking comes round, while the whimsical sentiments of ‘Dream Life’ and ‘Reveries of a Bachelor’ lose nothing of their fresh appeal as the years pile up on them.

We asked permission to wander about the grounds, which are beautifully laid out. Mitchell was an artist with trees and shrubs, curving paths and bosky slopes, quite as much as with words. His writing, indeed, was simply an avocation. It was agriculture and gardening that were the passion and the labour of his life. The comfortable but rather fussy house was full of large windows that looked out on every side. Little did Ik Marvel care as to the architecture of the house that sheltered him, so long as he might be permitted to see every change in the seasons, to study the coming and going of summer and winter, from those broad verandas and those commanding windows, what time the severity of the weather kept him from going out.

Oddly enough, Mitchell appears to be the only distinctively literary man who has made New Haven his home. And he was more amateur than professional.

We drove back to the station, where our bags were waiting to be checked to New York. We dreaded them no longer. Even here, in the large purlieus of the Union Station, they held no peril, for porters were to be had without the asking.

We settled ourselves comfortably, but sadly, for the short return trip. Our little holiday was over.

‘It will all seem like a dream to-morrow,’ I said. ‘New York grabs you again so quickly, swamps you, stifles anything but itself out of you. The lilacs over the rocks above the sea, the murmuring pines, the little, twisted, up and down streets, the old, old houses, the distant prospects, the bells of Sunday morning, the drying fish, the lobster boats and ancient wharves, all that was yesterday and is to-day, all will seem the insubstantial fabric of a dream.’

‘Cease those complaints,’ Sister retorted. ‘It doesn’t do any harm to have things seem a dream, quite the contrary. And we’ll never forget our New England spring, not a jot of it. What’s more, you know, we’re going back.’

I brightened.

‘Of course we are! That’s settled.’

And the train rolled swiftly onward to the immensities of New York from the immensities of rock-bound coast and sea and sky. Nor did any brakeman or conductor come through, shouting that we must move out of the car we were in and into some other if we wished to get to the metropolis. There are some things in which New York does not insist that you shall step lively.

The train, as though definitely closing our coast town journey, swung away from the seaboard far enough to close the view. Having nothing better to do, we went forward to the dining car.”
-Excerpt and images courtesy of the HathiTrust Digital Library, University of California, “Old seaport towns of New England,” by Hildegarde Hawthorne, 1916. (top) Image courtesy of The New York Public Library, The Miriam and Ira D. Wallach Division of Art, Prints and Photographs Print Collection, “Hildegarde Hawthorne,” copyright undetermined

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s