Dover Beach and Quinnipiac Terrace

June 26, 2020

Fair Haven’s Dover Beach is a small urban oasis that New Haven is fortunate to have in number. The small waterfront park sits at the northernmost point of Front St., where the Quinnipiac River opens up and transitions from the salt water harbor to the estuary tidal marshes of North Haven. The beach was long a local watering hole dating back to the 1800s when the immediate neighborhood was still just a series of roads and empty lots located out in the country.

The small strip of shoreline was colloquially named after Dover St. (which in turn was named after Dover, England) seeing as how Dover St, originally extended all the way to the river’s edge. In 1890, 20 years after the village of Fair Haven merged with New Haven, Clinton Park was established as part of the growing New Haven parks system. The 1,200 acre Clinton Park encompassed the shoreline, the grounds of the current Clinton Ave. School (built in 1911) and the long strip of open space stretching to Ferry St. that was constructed as the Clinton Parkway but became commonly known as the English Mall. The design of the park was meant as a long grand 8 block entrance to the waterfront. Until a fire in 1925 there were bathhouses and light amusements in the park. Dover Beach was at its peak use in those years as a quick way to cool down under the Middletown Turnpike Bridge before the heavy pollution of the Quinnipiac in the early 20th century prohibited safe swimming in the river.

In 1938, the Housing Authority of New Haven (now known as Elm City Communities) was established and in 1940 the hillside above Dover Beach was selected to be the city’s second public housing project, after the recent opening of Farnam Courts on Grand Ave. Local architects Douglas Orr and R.W. Foote designed a campus of modern barrack style buildings that cascaded down towards the waterfront. These barracks were meant to provide inexpensive state of the art housing (a main selling and rental hook was that each unit had a brand new electric refrigerator) for returning World War II veterans and their young families.

In 1941, Quinnipiac Terrace opened, temporarily filling a gap of local affordable safe housing aimed at assisting and growing the middle class. Over the next 30 years an unprecedented confluence of factors including but not limited to population and demographic changes, targeted economic incentives for G.I.s and racially restrictive new housing building covenants in surrounding communities, New Haven’s expansive urban renewal programs and the collapse of local industry led to a precipitous decline in local and national public housing. By the 1980s and 90s, Q Terrace was physically isolated and had slid into irreversible disrepair. The complex had the reputation of being one of the most notorious housing projects not just in the state but the entire country.

  

In 2006, Q Terrace and Dover Beach were renovated extensively. With funding from the federal HOPE VI program the 1940s barracks were demolished and a new community of two to three story wood structures resembling a small seaside village was built. Dover Beach now features updated and very popular playgrounds and splash-pads and on a daily basis refuge is still found for the neighborhood under the billowing willow trees on the Quinnipiac River’s edge.

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

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