Cultural Heritage Tours

A project of the ETHNIC HERITAGE CENTER

History of the Downtown North Neighborhood

New Haven Arena, c. 1951. Courtesy New Haven Museum.

During the 18th century New Haven’s growth was primarily focused to the south and east around links between the original nine squares and the harbor. Orange Street, which at the time extended north to approximately today’s Humphrey Street, provided access to the mill located on the Mill River. Growth along this northern edge was slower. It occurred in stages and was primarily residential. Larger houses were built along Orange Street and smaller houses filled the side streets forming a neighborhood by the time of the Civil War. A number of the houses on this tour are examples of this era and pattern of development: the townhouses of merchant, entrepreneur and long-serving Board of Education member Maier Zunder; the row house of Dr. Stephen Maher, an 1887 honors graduate of the Yale Medical School and noted expert on the treatment of tuberculosis and the home of Lafayette Mendel, noted Yale professor whose research on nutrition broke new ground (Downtown North #6).

The first known Jews in New Haven were the Sephardic Pinto brothers, Jacob and Solomon. An example of early 19th century housing is the home owned by Solomon’s son William, which still stands on Orange Street.

Postcard of Mishkan Israel Synagogue, c. 1910. Courtesy Joe Taylor.

For almost fifty years the New Haven Arena hosted sporting events, traveling shows such as the Ringling Brothers and Barnum and Bailey Circus and The Ice Capades, and musical concerts by icons of the contemporary era that drew New Haveners of all backgrounds. The Russian-Jewish Podoloff brothers completed construction of the New Haven Arena at Orange and Grove Streets in the 1920s.

The oldest Jewish congregation in the state, Congregation Mishkan Israel, met in private homes and a former Congregational Church until 1897 when their Orange Street Synagogue was built. This pattern of re-use of religious buildings was repeated throughout the city’s history as demographics and community needs shifted over time and other tours in this series include several examples of this recycling.

By the 1840s immigrants were among the student body at Yale. German-Jewish immigrant Sigmund Waterman graduated from Yale in the 1840s, the first Jew to do so. His brother Leopold’s home became an orphanagefor Jewish children in 1905. Native New Havener Edward Bouchet was an early African American graduate of Yale and the first African American to earn a PhD in the United States.

St. Mary Church, c. 1875. Courtesy Knights of Columbus.

Hillhouse Avenue was originally laid out in 1792. Lined with elm trees, it was the private road to James Hillhouse’s farm. By 1861 mansions designed by local architects such as Ithiel Town, Henry Austin and Sidney Stone, defined the Avenue. Many of these mansions, now owned by Yale University, remain today and are occupied by institutional uses. The Gothic Revival St. Mary's Church, the location in 1882 of the founding of the Knights of Columbus, and the Romanesque former Yale fraternity building that now houses the Yale Collection of Musical Instruments, the core of which was donated by avid collector Maurice Steinert, are located here.

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