O n April 24, 1638, three hundred and seventy-five years ago today, a bunch of Puritans arrived in boats from Massachusetts, looking for a place to start a new haven where they could worship freely.
A quarter century later, in 1663, New Haven had its first enduring legend. In 1661, three judges—Dixwell, Goffe and Whalley—had to hide out in a cave on West Rock when they suggested that King Charles I be sentenced to death. (Many years later, the judges got downtown streets named after them for their troubles.)
By 1688, New Haven had been joined to the Connecticut colonies for 23 years, and had a vested interest in the Charter Oak independence-themed document-hiding adventure happening in Hartford in 1687. In 1689, Connecticut had its own charter.
New Haven celebrated its 75th anniversary in 1713. There was not yet the laser technology to allow for an electrified public art display in the city’s honor, as we have today. (The public artwork Night Rainbow/Global Rainbow New Haven, atop East Rock will illuminate the skies around the city from dusk to 1 a.m. from tonight through Saturday.) On the other hand you could probably see more stars back then. Within five years of 1713, the city would welcome two landmark buildings: the New Haven State House on the Green and Yale University.
1738, and the city’s still figuring out its boundaries: In 1719 West Haven split off from New Haven for religious-community purposes, though was still technically part of the larger city until becoming its own town in 1822. (Likewise, Hamden stopped being New Haven in 1786.)
It’s 1763—read all about it! New Haven entered the information age with the publication of the colony’s first newspaper, The Connecticut Gazette of New Haven, in 1755. The much longer-lived Journal-Courier came along in 1767.
By 1788, New Haven had been incorporated as a U.S. city for four years, and Roger Sherman was its first mayor. There were a slew of Revolutionary War stories to tell the children. Like how we’d won it. And how British troops had raided New Haven in 1779. And how, on Powder House Day in 1775, at the urging of (then-patriot, later-traitor) Benedict Arnold, the ammunitions stockpile in New Haven was raided so the foot guard could join and support the rebels in Massachusetts.
When New Haven’s 175th anniversary rolled around in 1813, the area had shops along the post road, banks, and a thriving manufacturing trade in muskets, carriages and textiles.
1838 was the year the New Haven/Hartford railroad was completed. Yet another form of transportation would soon take center stage in city history: The slave ship Amistad, whose captives took command of the vessel and docked it here in 1839. The Africans’ legal battle for their freedom took a couple of years. Connecticut ultimately passed legislation abolishing slavery in 1848.
1863. The Civil War figures in here. Abraham Lincoln gave a speech in New Haven on March 6, 1860.
1888: Will you hold please? New Haven created the nation’s first telephone switchboard in 1877.
1913 was of course New Haven’s 275th anniversary. A year later, one of the city’s greatest enduring 20th century landmarks, The Shubert theater on College Street, opened.
New Haven hit the highway starting around 1938, when the first steps were taken towards building the Wilbur Cross Parkway. Construction, delayed by unexpected factors such as World War Two, and New Haven’s stretch didn’t open until 1949.
1963 found New Haven in the throes of urban redevelopment, with considerable federal assistance. We gained a shopping mall (Chapel Square Mall, in 1967), the Veterans Memorial Coliseum (in 1972), a newly navigable downtown, and a Greater New Haven Arts Council (founded in 1964). We lost whole neighborhoods.
By 1988, many cultural institutions which we treasure today were well-established. The Long Wharf Theatre had its first production in 1965, a year before the Yale Rep opened in ’66. The Shubert, which had been shuttered in 1976, was reopened in late 1983. The renovation of the theater building was slated to include a community-run art gallery. When the gallery did not materialize, Artspace was created to fill that void in 1987. Science Park was a renewal of the city’s centuries-old dedication to scientific inventions and innovations.
Which brings us to 2013. The city’s longest-serving mayor, John DeStefano Jr., was first elected to the post in 1989, and has announced that he won’t be running again this fall. So the city’s celebration comes at a time of imminent change and reevaluation.
His legacy includes progressive policies regarding immigrants’ rights and the construction of many new school buildings—initiatives that fit squarely with the city’s 375-year record of living up to its name: a New Haven.
New Haven’s 375th Anniversary Celebration
The New Haven Green (map)
Saturday, April 27, from 1 to 4 p.m.
Written by Christopher Arnott. Photographed by Dan Mims.