A walk down Chapel Street, from downtown to Fair Haven, transports you on a grand, centuries-spanning odyssey from commerce to industry to nature. It involves newness and decay, giant buildings and holes in the ground, major cross streets, tracks and riverways. It’s a straight line clear across town, but one which points in every possible direction.
Chapel Street starts at Forest Road out near the Yale baseball fields and the Yale Bowl, which gives the street a rugged, ready-for-play air. Chapel skirts the equally recreational area of Edgewood Park, passing a community garden and some small park spaces (the delightful triangular Monitor Square Park among them) as it leads you towards an area that is in the midst of change.
The Hospital of St. Raphael recently merged with Yale-New Haven Hospital, and some fixing-up of its facilities is presumed. In any case, the park area across from the hospital, which takes up a quarter of a block at the corner of Chapel and Day Streets behind Amistad School (formerly Dwight School) is being redone by the city this year, with a full-size basketball court and two playground areas.
Chapel-esque change is also afoot at the YMCA building on the corner of Chapel and Howe. The Y has been part of a major renovation effort for months, bringing new apartment dwellers into the area. There are also plans to erect a 136-apartment complex right across Chapel street from the YMCA, where the parking lot is at the corner of Chapel and Howe.
Then the downtown part of Chapel starts, with Rudy’s Bar & Grill and the shops of upper Chapel leading into the thriving eateries and coffee shops around Park Street. Once you’ve hit York, it’s more about boutiques. Then, for a block between York and High, Chapel is resplendent with art museums—the magnificently renovated Yale University Art Gallery and the elegantly modern Yale Center for British Art.
Now you’re nearly in reach of New Haven Green. You’ll be spending a lot of time there this spring and summer, what with New Haven’s 375th anniversary celebration next Saturday and the International Festival of Arts & Ideas June 15-29 and city-sponsored concerts and events in July and August.
Can you remember when the stretch of Chapel from Church to State was dominated with clothing stores? There are still some, plus the useful Foot Locker franchise, but now there’s also the intriguing Project Storefronts site and the healthful Elm City Market Co-op. One place which has been in its location for over a century but is newly energized and being visited by hundreds more people a month than it was just a few years ago, is the Institute Library on the second floor of 847 Chapel Street. The Institute now boasts several regular events series and a year-round art gallery.
When you cross Chapel at State Street and take the small bridge over the train tracks, you can imagine what the railroad—and the canal system before it—once meant to the businesses of downtown New Haven. From the bridge over the tracks you can see several big buildings where thousands of New Haveners once worked—the New Haven Cash Register building on State Street and the Smoothie Foundation Garments factory on Olive Street, both now residential buildings.
St. Paul & St. James Church on Chapel and Olive has become a jazz mecca, with musicians a part of Sunday morning services and special Vespers gigs; earlier this month, the Yale Jazz Collective held a key event of its Yale Jazz Festival there—a free concert by the Vijay Iyer Trio.
Chapel at this point has started to get real neighborly. This is Wooster Square/Criscuolo Park terrain, with its dog walking vibe and its Saturday farmers market and the pleasant aromas of Italian food wafting over from nearby Wooster Street. Stop for a cup of coffee at Fuel at 516 Chapel Street, a friendly hang-out where you read, study or look at the art on the walls whilst you sip.
As you proceed down Chapel Street, you’re passing the private Cold Spring School and a public park, but also the less playful, more work-filled domains of old New Haven’s days as a factory town. One of the cutting-edge businesses, literally so, on lower Chapel Street in the first half of the 20th century was Henry G. Thompson and Sons, which manufactured metal-cutting saw blades. Its building at 277 Chapel remains a historic landmark.
The walk gets a little weird for a mile or so now, as you pass such odd sights as the Alderman-Dow Iron & Metal Company (“New Haven’s oldest scrap yard”) and mountains of white sand used for vague industrial purposes.
But before long you’re passing nice little corner shops again and turning onto Ferry Street to cross over the Quinnipiac River. There’s a lovely riverfront park to rest in and a perpetual breeze blowing.
That’s where Chapel Street peters out, at the waterfront which has defined that end of the city for centuries. You’ve just traversed five miles, and infinite worlds within New Haven, along a single main thoroughfare.
Written by Christopher Arnott.