W halley (pronounced “WAY-ly”) Avenue is the Rodney Dangerfield of New Haven thoroughfares: it gets no respect. For most of the drivers navigating it, the avenue is simply a means to an end, the quickest route from point A to point B. Even its name is taken from a judge who was headed somewhere else (specifically West Rock); he was on the run in 1661 because he’d called for the death of King Charles I, at a time when the colonists still had reason to fear the monarchy.
Judge Whalley’s the subject of a new book, The Great Escape of Edward Whalley and William Goffe—Smuggled Through Connecticut, by Christopher Pagliuco (The History Press, 2012). Around here, we like to think of the judges as a musketeer-like triumvirate—the Three Judges tag is applied not just to the cave but a local motor inn. But historians are happy to separate out John Dixwell from the group. While Goffe and Whalley fled further and further, ending up in Massachusetts, Dixwell laid low, changed his name and stayed in town. The Great Escape of Edward Whalley and William Goffe gives a brief yet detail-packed and empathetic account of how and why the judges fled, mentioning many other townsfolk who were affected by their actions. There’s even a handy chart, “Early Searches for the Regicides.”
Many have headed out of New Haven toward West Rock in the centuries since the Three Judges. There’s more recent history to extol about the well-traveled and misunderstood Whalley Avenue. You wouldn’t sense it now, but the street was once home to several generations of nightclubs: swing dance ballrooms in the ’40s and ’50s and rock clubs in the ’60s and ’70s. It was on Whalley Avenue in 1991, at the Moon Cafe (now a nondescript suite of offices) that Nirvana played their only Connecticut concert, before what was perhaps the smallest audience the band would have to face for the rest of its career; it was the week the album Nevermind was released.
If Whalley, Goffe and Dixwell were to make their great escape these days, they might well be stopped in their tracks before they’d barely made it downtown, stalled by the terrific traffic at the intersection of the three New Haven streets named in their honor.
On the other hand… there would be that many more places to hide. For starters, the rebel judges could trade the dead-giveaway white curly wigs sported by judges for fresh spiffy haircuts at the barber shop on Whalley across the end of Dwight street. For years, the shop’s been known as Smooth’s, but just last month changed its name to D’s without changing its management or staff.
Just across Whalley, a block up from D’s, there’s a brand new hardware store, part of the regional Harbor Freight chain. There, the judges could get a great deal on wheelbarrow wheels or remote-control model airplanes for their West Rock adventure.
If they got hungry, Whalley is known for its markets. There’s the still-newish Stop & Shop, known for its community consciousness. There’s Minore’s, an old-fashioned family market renowned for its fresh meats. A few blocks further, there’s Edge of the Woods, so named because the business began on Edgewood Avenue (not far from Edgewood Park) and kept its name when it moved to Whalley some 20 years ago now. Instead of a cave in West Rock, the judges might well have taken up residence at the new Belden Brook and Brookside Estate housing complex, part of the West Rock Revitalization Project.
Whalley weaves on, through time and space, with a cemetery and churches and residences and shops, shops, shops, shops, shops. Here’s how the Whalley Special Services District puts it on their website: “Whalley Avenue is one of New Haven’s main arteries. Pick up public transportation to all the important destinations or just head here for your major shopping needs. Whalley Avenue has what you need and will get you where you’re going.”
Whalley’s very highwaily, that’s for sure. It’s tough for pedestrians to cross, and not a favorite of bikers, who have the enviable choice of gliding through Edgewood Park or down the comparatively calmer Dixwell instead. But Whalley has its own warmth, its own comforts, its own numerous reasons to stop and smell the roses—or recall the judges.
Written and photographed by Christopher Arnott.