Bay View Park

June 12, 2020

Have you ever wondered about the small strip of land with a basketball court on Sargent Drive heading toward Howard Ave.? Why is there a park on the other side of the highway? These are the remnants of Bay View Park, once one of New Haven’s premier waterside public spaces and a former training camp for Union troops during the Civil War.

Take a left and go over the highway bridge and you’ll see a memorial statue tucked back on the left side of Howard Ave. The statue, dating back to 1903, is dedicated to the memory of the 9th Regiment, a Civil War volunteer army regiment comprised of mostly Irishmen from Connecticut. The 9th mustered here in 1861 on land owned by New York City media magnate, Gerald Hallock.

Hallock owned most of City Point or as it was more commonly referred to at the time Oyster Point. His estate “Hallock’s Castle” was a known landmark, visible from the harbor and tucked into what was then a rural countryside by the ocean. Hallock was a controversial figure at the time, known for being anti-slavery while at the same time a staunch supporter of states’ rights. He was an outspoken critic of President Abraham Lincoln in the early days of the war and consequently was purged from his own newspaper, retiring full time to New Haven. Despite his professed pacifism he opened his land up for use as an army training camp.

In 1890, New Haven acquired the land for $60,000 to build a park. It was elegantly designed by Donald Grant Mitchell, featuring coastal walkways and tidal duck ponds complete with islands and connecting bridges. While it was very popular it was also a gentrifying force used to change the growing neighborhood’s working class connections to the oystering and railroad industries, and attract more upscale suburban residents to the new developments that were being built in City Point at the time.

The heyday of the park was short lived as the double-edge sword of development brought more density and necessary utilities. The first city sewage plant was built adjacent to the park (where the Sound School is located today), and the Hurricane of 1938 caused severe damage to the shoreline. The Great Depression and World War II diverted funding from the maintenance of the park, and in the 1950s the harbor was dredged and the coastline was filled isolating the water frontage of the park to only border a small inlet.

With the complete reconstruction of the coastline the Connecticut Turnpike (I-95) was constructed splitting the remainder of the park. The spilt not only created the small stretch where the basketball courts are located but more symbolically also split the neighborhood in two. What is now recognized only as the local historic district of City Point was then predominately white, while the remainder of the former peninsula stretching to Kimberly Ave. became principally a Black neighborhood. To this day this walled division remains.

Jason Bischoff-Wurstle
Director of Photo Archives, New Haven Museum

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