The Green's legacy as a longstanding historical landmark and functional community space is buttressed by the architectural sampling of historic buildings that border the Green's periphery. Fortunately, the buildings are in use and there are resources available that document the history and function of each. Elizabeth Mills Brown's New Haven A Guide to Architecture and Urban Design gives detailed information on the history of the Green and the architectural significance of 53 buildings that surround the Green or are in the immediate vicinity. Brown provides copious background on New Haven's neighborhoods and historic roads. For each subject of study there is historical background in the form of information on the architect(s), builder(s), and alterations/renovations. Photographs and sketches depicting modern as well as historic portrayals of buildings and spaces are included. The chapter on
The Green and Downtown
includes a roughly three–page historical narrative, map, and descriptions with photographs and sketches of 53 buildings that surround the Green or are in the immediate vicinity. The book has served me well for the information as described above. I also found it extremely useful in visiting the Green and its surrounding buildings.5
Benjamin Gordon's 1983 curriculum unit in the Yale New Haven Teacher's Institute database documents the architecture of buildings that surround the Green. The unit has a lesson on identifying basic architectural features of buildings around the Green.6
Standing on the Green and looking around.
If one stands on the lower Green at the flagpole and looks east through the boughs of trees (a mixture of elm, oak, and maple) and over the wrought iron fence that borders the Green, one can see an interesting contrast on Church Street. The beautifully restored City Hall, designed by Henry Austin, built in 1861, and the center of city government is dwarfed between two of the tallest buildings on the New Haven skyline: the Connecticut Financial Center and the New Alliance Bank Tower. (You are welcome to picture this arrangement and/or visit it yourself and reflect on what this may say about contemporary values related to economics and politics.) Nonetheless, the site provides an interesting contrast of 19th century architecture with modern design. As one looks at the Chapel Street side of the Green, one's gaze is met by the Chapel Square Mall, an ambitious urban renewal project of 1965. Further west on Chapel Street, between Temple and College Streets, one can see various storefronts which when examined closely reveal characteristics of their early 20th century facades. The former Taft Hotel (1911), now luxury apartments, bookends the block. Along College Street, the outer wall of the buildings surrounding Yale's Old campus is visible. On Elm Street, historical links to early New Haven are visible in the Methodist Church on the corner of College and Elm Streets and in some architecturally restored federalist buildings which were once homesteads. Hendrie Hall, the original home of the Yale Law School, a turn of the 20th century brick building, is visible between the church and the old homesteads. The New Haven Public Library and Greco-Roman styled New Haven Courthouse sit side by side on Elm Street between Temple and Church Streets.
One cannot mention the Green without referring to the legacy of the elm trees which once draped the Green's periphery with a canopy of green and brown. This spectacle had elicited the nicknaming of New Haven as the "City of Elms" in the mid 19th century. While most of the elm-planting initiatives of James Hillhouse have succumbed to tragic waves of worm, beetle, and fungus attack, a modern effort has maintained the connection between the Green and elm trees. During the 1980's disease resistant elms were planted on an around the Green. Without this effort, the living and visible connection between the Green and elms, and a broader association with one of the first urban environmental initiatives may have been erased from collective memory. Thomas Campanella in Republic of Shade, offers a published account of how the urban landscaping design in New Haven parallels beautification programs throughout New England. Campanella, describes New Haven as the "apotheosis of urban pastoralism in antebellum New England , and the pinnacle of elm culture in America."7 Campanella describes the industry and foresight of James Hillhouse, New Haven businessman and Connecticut Senator, who planted elms on the lower Green and on the newly constructed Temple Street. Hillhouse personally raised necessary funds to plant elm trees on the lower Green in 1786. In 1792, after Temple Street was completed, he planted elms at 40 foot intervals along the entire road. In 1810, Hillhouse was responsible for overseeing the planting of forty foot elms on the west side of Temple Street.8Thanks to Hillhouse's efforts New Haven earned the praises of citizens and visitors throughout the 19th century. Charles Dickens wrote "Even in wintertime, these groups of well-grown trees, clustering among the busy streets and houses of a thriving city, have a quaint appearance: seeming to bring a kind of compromise between town and country; as if each had met the other half way and shaken hands upon it."9 Author and 1827 Yale graduate Nathaniel Parker Willis said, "It has the appearance of a town roofed with trees…it is commonly said, that, but for the spires, a bird flying over would scarce be aware of its existence…the whole scene, though in the midst of the city, breathes of nature."10
The Lower Green
From the flagpole, one can walk toward any of the surrounding streets along the six paved pathways that reach the Green's perimeter. (The walks are generally arranged as spokes from a hub are, although there are tangential paths that perpendicularly cross these hubs too. A bird's eye view is sketched in figure 1.
(image is available in print form)
Figure 1: A sketch of the Green
The lower Green's paths have the look of two overlapping stars. The flagpole is ornamented by a granite war memorial (1928) and water fountain (2003). The fountain was installed to commemorate the bringing of water to the Green from the Lake Whitney by the New Haven Water Authority, approximately 150 years ago. A plaque commemorating this event has been placed directly east of the flagpole at the Church Street entrance. At the South east entrance to the Green, an Athenian monument of Lysicrates was installed in 1907 to serve as a water fountain.11A Christmas tree is traditionally placed just north of the flagpole during the winter season. During the summer, a large iron framed stage is erected on the North edge of the Green to facilitate holding a schedule of community events that include the summer concerts, performances, and movies. It is also the main stage each June for the International Festival of Arts and Ideas.
The Upper Green
If one were to walk directly west of the flagpole, one would encounter Temple Street, which bisects the Green, and then arrive at three churches; Center Church, or First Congregational Church is flanked to the North by the United Congregational Church (North Church) and by Trinity Episcopal Church, to the south. This portion of the Green is known as the Upper Green.
Behind First Congregational Church remnants of New Haven's original burial ground are visible. Built over the burial grounds, the church houses a crypt in its basement. It has facilitated efforts to maintain the historic grave sights and accompanying headstones. The Church sponsors tours of the crypt weekly or by appointment.
Beyond the churches, the upper Green slopes gently upwards. The most direct westerly path is the widest walkway. This path leads directly to College Street and Phelps' Gate (1819), Yale's College Street entrance to Old Campus. In 1717, Yale's first building faced the Green. Connecticut Hall (1750), Yale's second building faced the Green with other structures in the Brick Row until expansion of the main campus after the Civil War resulted in an outer row of buildings that enclosed the campus.12
Park benches have been placed along walks in the upper Green and large trees have been allowed to grow between the rear of the churches and College Street. On the corner of College and Chapel Streets, a bronze plaque on the walkway-entrance to the Green commemorates the riding of the bicycle to New Haven in April 1865 by Pierre Lallement a French immigrant who was living in Ansonia. Lallement received a patent from the United States' Patent Office for his invention in November 1865.13