W hen the wind is blowing in just the right direction in Morris Cove, you can smell the saltwater in the air.
And on those days in particular—when residents boast that thanks to the breeze it’s ten degrees cooler there than everywhere else, true or not—it’s hard to believe that you’re technically in New Haven city limits.
“The Cove,” as it’s affectionately called, is definitively separated from downtown by the Pearl Harbor Memorial Bridge (informally, “the Q”), with most homes located only minutes from East Haven center. But, yes, technically the neighborhood, which runs along the water, nestled snugly between the Long Island Sound and the humming private and commuter planes at Tweed Airport, belongs to New Haven.
Not that anyone’s actively fighting to change the situation; as the story goes, the area, along with other nearby regions, was sold by East Haven to New Haven back in the 1800s to solve a budget crisis. Ancient history.
But it can be a little confusing.
Telling a relative newcomer to New Haven that you live in the neighborhood often yields a, “Now, where is that?” In a city comprised of so many university students, visiting scholars and tourists—many without cars—the neighborhood has a somewhat undiscovered quality.
That has a lot to do with its geography. While there aren’t technically defined boundaries, the neighborhood begins along Townsend Avenue as you leave “The Annex,” and runs all the way out to Lighthouse Point Park, where a sandy beach beckons.
With no traffic, the Cove is only five minutes from downtown, yet it feels isolated. And that’s part of the attraction.
Although largely residential—with colonials and capes sitting close enough to one another that neighbors talking from one front porch to the next is no problem—there are certain landmarks that keep it lively, particularly in the summer, when weddings and other events are an almost constant feature at venues like Anthony’s Ocean View, Amarante’s Sea Cliff and the historic carousel at Lighthouse Point.
Visitors are plentiful when the sunset out beyond Pardee Seawall is particularly enticing. Wedding parties and groups of giddy prom-goers stand with their backs to the water while a photographer shouts, “SMILE!” and cars just passing through stop on side streets to snap a picture.
But the beachy enclave’s status as a party locale is paired perfectly with the understated peacefulness cherished by those who live there; on a Friday night, the sounds of a live band performing at Amarante’s float across the Sound to the seawall, where couples quietly walking their dogs and children riding bikes can just hear the muted melodies.
The Top 40 music blaring from car windows as people make their way down Townsend towards Lighthouse Point on weekend mornings herald crowded days at the beach, complete with daylong barbecues, the smell of sunscreen and screaming children with melted ice cream. But head out for a jog on that very same beach on a weekday morning and your only company is the seagulls and others out for exercise, enjoying the pristine expanse of empty sand.
The winter is cold and quiet in Morris Cove, the very antithesis of the lively summer, although the undeterred still make their way through the snow for frigid treks along the water. Without too much in the way of commercial businesses that cater to the lunch crowd, except for the beloved Krauser’s and Delmonaco’s deli, Cove dwellers aren’t necessarily walking to meet for a meal as people do in other New Haven neighborhoods.
Sometimes residents complain about that fact, suggesting that things would be so much better with a neighborhood coffee shop. But they’re also quick to list a host of reasons they think the Cove is the very best neighborhood New Haven has to offer.
There are the practical attributes, like affordable houses—many in the mid 200s—that, hopefully, even in this economy, will retain value due to their proximity to the water, and thanks to Nathan Hale, a highly rated neighborhood school.
There are also the details that complete the unique feel of the place, like the annual Halloween parade and the accompanying fact that no one ever buys enough candy to appease the massive crowds of costumed kids; the traditionally Italian American demographic; the families who have lived in the Cove for generations; the seawall packed with blankets and beach chairs when everyone gathers to watch the Fourth of July fireworks display; the children running up and down the streets from house to house in a frenzied pack, leaving the television behind.
Perhaps one day Morris Cove will read higher on New Haven’s radar. Perhaps someone will build that coffee shop. But for now, the salty air still seems a secret, shared happily among the people who call this neighborhood “home.”
Written by Cara McDonough.