The seagulls were making sweeping spirals against the blue sky; it was a quiet summer day along the river in the Fair Haven section of New Haven.
The old man gazed into the distance. “You know,” he said, “Dover Street was named for a famous seaside resort in Dover, England, with its white limestone cliffs. In Fair Haven, the street used to end at the Quinnipiac River. There used to be a sandy beach where swimmers came; it was called Dover Beach. There were bathhouses—not enough for men and women at the same time, so the men would use them one day and the women the next.”
“You went swimming there?” the young boy asked.
“No, that was even before my time, back in the early 1900s. Later, when Clinton Park was built, Dover Street just ended there and a few years later the bathhouses burned down . . . around 1925. People stopped swimming soon after when the river got polluted.”
A moment passed. “What about Chatham Street?” the boy inquired. “That sounds like English, too.”
“Chatham in England was a naval base and ship-building town; most likely, one of the Fair Haven property owners had come from there and Fair Haven being a ship-building center . . . well, what better name!” he replied.
“There must be lots of streets in Fair Haven that have a history to them,” the boy stated.
“Yes, there’s history here. Fair Haven is a special community with an interesting past . . . very interesting,” the old man responded as he looked out over the river . . . and beyond.
Street names, places, events . . . recollections of a neighborhood, an area, a community . . . clear memories of a past often transmitted by stories told by an older generation. For them, there exists a real connection of sight, sound, smell, and feeling for a place that became woven with their human life experience. In time, the young may come to develop this connection with what was before, and it will make their lives richer. But for many of my students, there is no human connection with their present community. For this reason, the unit will focus on their community, Fair Haven, within New Haven.
Within two years of the founding of the New Haven Colony in 1638, farmers were using the arable land in the so-called Neck, a flat area, east of the colony’s center between the Mill and the Quinnipiac rivers, now called Fair Haven.
While Fair Haven is the focal point of this unit, the topic of community is an important concept for students to understand. Wherever people reside, there exists a community in its broadest definition. The richness of any community can be translated by studying its common interests, unique heritage, geographical location, historical development, work, or social interaction. No matter its accident of location, a community shares a spirit of togetherness. Thus the goal of teaching about community can create in students a spark of interest that can ignite a curiosity in a larger world, both past and present.
This unit is designed to be used with eighth grade social studies classes at Fair Haven Middle School in New Haven, Connecticut. The school is located near the center of the community close to the crossroads, Grand Avenue and Ferry Street, about a mile and a half from New Haven’s commercial center. This unit should serve as an introductory activity early in the school year in American history or Western Hemisphere courses. The unit is aimed at low and middle achievers to get them located in place geography and make them aware of the history of their community.
The unit’s objectives are:
1. to understand the concept of community.
2. to become aware of some of Fair Haven’s heritage.
3. to learn place geography through mapping activities.
Because the study of a community can be complex and involved, especially over the course of time, this unit presents three topics that illustrate historical development and change—the role of oystering, the influx of immigrants, and industrial growth. Through teacher discussion, Fair Haven may become more than a place in which to live, work, and recreate; it may become a community with a past. Slices of the past, through the related fictional stories, will provide the needed sense of change over time. The stories which I have written show that stress and change are common in any community. They can be duplicated and read by the students with the follow-up questions used as evaluation. The series of mapping activities will illustrate Fair Haven’s street geography and its place relationship to the area around it. The length of teaching time for this unit may be from five to ten class periods.