The early settlers would have had a hard time recognizing New Haven in 1900. Their dream of a great harbor was not realized but the town had developed into a fine commercial center. The community still supported its religious foundations now varied due to the many groups of immigrants living here. The oyster industry was active as it had been in the earliest years of the colony. The railroad had replaced ships as the major carrier of guns, hardware and rubber goods which were sold nationally.
The long tradition of interest in civic improvement was continued when the public demanded that the jungle of overhead telegraph wires be buried in 1912. The public wells on the Green were covered over in 1913. The area was surrounded by Victorian style buildings in brownstone, limestone, brick and iron. A new library and courthouse would soon be built on the Green.
Monuments to famous people and important events were erected. Several beautiful new banks were built in the business area around the Green. Yale’s Peabody Museum, Art Gallery and Woolsey Hall were opened to the public in an effort to promote better relations between the University and the town. A campaign was begun to save the elm trees, in danger from disease. The battle was lost in the end, today there are no elms in New Haven. New parks were created on the edges of town. East Rock, Edgewood and West Rock parks reflected the persistent emphasis on beauty for New Haven. An amusement park was developed at Savin Rock, once the landing site of the British. Trolley cars and split hot dogs became a trademark of the town.
The population of New Haven stood at about 100,000. In recent years many people had come from Italy, Russia and Ireland.
These Pre World War I years were marked by concerns for local improvement, politics and leisure time.
World War I, 1917-18, was fought on two fronts—in Europe and at home. While 10,000 men went to fight on another continent, the Home Guard was active protecting the Elm City from possible danger to its arms plants, now at full production for the war. An anti-aircraft gun was placed on East Rock although it was unlikely the enemy could ever reach the US. The town and Yale cooperated to provide services to the community during the crisis.
Unfortunately, an incident occurred when the soldiers returned home in 1919 to scar the good relations between the town and Yale. A riot broke out between veterans from the town and students. Some felt the students hadn’t done their part in the war, but many students had served. Two years later New Haven and Yale united to honor the war heroes, and to forget the ugly incident which was probably the result of a difficult time for all.
The 1920’s brought the Jazz Age, Prohibition, cars, women’s suffrage and more technology and industry. The Ku Klux Klan was extremely active during this period, even today they are a force to be reckoned with. Fads came and went as people sought excitement in their leisure time. The five and ten cent stores and supermarkets replaced small “mom & pop” businesses. Radio and movies opened the world up to everyone with fantasies and scenes of life elsewhere. Then came the Great Depression of 1929-1933. Hunger, and despair gripped the nation.
The American mood was changed when Franklin D. Roosevelt became President in 1933. He created new programs to help the country recover. He used the radio to speak to the nation, to give people faith. It worked. The country and New Haven returned to normal, factories hummed and people again had the means to live normal lives.
Yale University expanded rapidly during 1931-41. New buildings such as the Law School and Payne Whitney Gymnasium were built.
This period of production and peace was to end soon. Adolf Hitler had begun his reign of terror in Germany.
In 1938 New Haven celebrated the 300 years of its existence. The city looked back with pride on its accomplishments and contributions to American life. More than 160,000 people lived here in 1938, many more lived in suburban areas and depended on New Haven for schools, work, shopping and entertainment. The old dream of a major seaport continued to elude the-city but other equally important ideals did not. New Haven continues, to this day, to consider education, religion, business and civic matters its highest priorities.
The 1940’s brought World War II, men and women from New Haven fought with other Americans in Europe and the South Pacific. At wars end came the ‘baby boom’, assembly lines, wealth and television.
The 1950’s saw the Korean Conflict, McCarthyism which contributed to a period of conservatism, President Eisenhower, hero of World War II and sprawling suburbs as the ‘baby boom’ continued. As new technology, developed during World War II, demanded more education, more average Americans went to college. The Space Age began when Russia sent the first rocket into a dimension unexplored. The US. and Russia had become competitors in every field since World War II when we were allies. Space would become the new arena for competition between the two countries. Communist Russia and Democratic America were in direct conflict. Approximately 165,000 people now lived in New Haven.
The 60’s saw the Viet Nam Conflict and a new perspective of war for our country. As in all wars, New Haveners served their country, and along with many Americans, began to doubt and finally openly oppose our part in the struggle. Dr. Martin Luther King led Blacks in the struggle for equality, long denied in America. Some of our greatest leaders were assassinated, President Kennedy, Dr. King, Malcom X and Robert Kennedy. New Haven was the scene of the controversial Black Panthers trial.
Widespread drug use and rising crime became new problems seeking solutions. As New Haven and the nation settled down from a stormy decade, the 70’s brought new issues to our attention. The threat of Nuclear War, the computer age, megabusiness, the environment, Watergate and the energy crisis have demanded discussion and solution.
New Haven today is a city of varied ethnic and racial influences. The rise in the Hispanic population has brought another new sound to our streets—the Spanish language. Another period of economic difficulty seems to be passing, to the great relief of the community. New problems bring new solutions. New Haven will continue to meet the challenges of the present and future as it has done in the 345 years of its proud past.