F or years, residents of East Rock’s Goatville section, along with brunch crowds at The Pantry and dinner crowds at Mezcal, have had a derelict, boarded-up warehouse in their midst. A ghostly reminder of an industrious, blue-collar heyday that feels long gone from the city, the brick, arch-windowed complex at the intersection of Lawrence, State and Mechanic Streets stood silently, no one coming and no one going.

But if you were standing at that intersection about 130 years ago, you’d have had to watch out for horse-drawn carriages making deliveries of clothes, carpets and drapery to be dyed or cleaned. A steam-billowing chimney would have risen overhead. A roof sign would have proclaimed “Elm City Dye Works & Steam Laundry,” while another sign displayed the name of the company’s owner, Thomas Forsyth.

If you were standing at that intersection some years later, in 1892, you’d have seen an added second story and an amended sign across the top: “Dyeing, Laundrying and Bleaching,” with the business operating below it now called the Forsyth Dyeing, Laundrying and Bleaching Company. You’d have seen a trolley line following the curve of State Street off to the right, its rattling cars carrying New Haveners to Fair Haven’s northern end.

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And if you were standing there in the late 1960s, you’d have seen the new home of the Star Supply Company, a heating, air conditioning and ventilation equipment wholesaler. Still based in New Haven, located on the other side of Interstate 91, Star stayed inside the building at State, Lawrence and Mechanic until 2006.

Then, silence.

But not anymore. Now workers are coming and going again. Instead of petticoats like the textile workers who used to labor there, they wear the hard hats and brightly colored vests of modern-day construction workers.

They’re coming, and they’re going, and they’re building State Street Lofts, an apartment complex with more than 230 units tentatively scheduled to open in March 2016. Though most of the old Elm City Dye Works plant has been demolished, the stretch of the factory rounding from State to Lawrence to Mechanic has been retained. That, I’m told, is where the nicest and priciest apartments of the lot will be.

After extensive conversations between neighborhood residents and developer Post Road Residential, based in Fairfield and owned by Andrew Montelli, the parties were able to come together over a plan that allayed fears about changing the essential feel and character of the neighborhood. Part of the apartment building, for instance, won’t exceed three floors, according to a report in the New Haven Register, in order to avoid eclipsing nearby homes.

It also helps that Ron Garner, a manager at the current building site, is a history buff. Garner says his team researched the history of the site over a period of about 8 or 9 months before breaking ground. Referencing 19th-century photos kept within the New Haven Museum’s collections, he says they might even try to replicate the old Elm City Dye Works sign atop the Lawrence Street frontage.

Among the curiosities Garner and his workers have saved from the wrecking ball is a set of six Works Progress Administration-era, art deco-style sandstone reliefs that graced the front of a now-demolished building at 1060 State Street. He says they may even be incorporated into the lobby, or maybe a recreation area, of the new complex.

In a tour of the building site, Garner pointed out numerous architectural features of the original construction that’d been covered up by sheetrock installed by past owners. Signaling a different tack, he says the finished construction will retain charming elements of the old work space, like original wooden beams revealed after workers tore away the first-floor ceiling, and which present-day passersby can spy through arched-brick windows. The old carriageway arches that once saw horses pass through them might now make way for customers visiting retailers and a restaurant on the ground floor.

Behind the historic portion of the building, along State Street, the building will peak at five stories, Garner says, with four floors of residences atop a story’s worth of parking space at street level. But it’s the oldest parts of the project that Garner seems most excited about. Of Post Road’s approach, he says, “We don’t forget where we came from.”

Written by Michael Lee-Murphy. Photos 1 and 4 by Michael Lee-Murphy. Photo 2 by Dan Mims. Images 1 and 3 depict items held by the New Haven Museum.

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Michael Lee-Murphy is an Irish-born, Connecticut-raised, and Montreal-schooled reporter and writer. He blogs at A Furious Return to Basics.

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