Fair St.

New Development is moving fast these days on Fair St. in New Haven. The short dead end road at the corner of Union Street on the edges of Downtown and Wooster Square is rapidly filling in with new apartment housing. This week we’re going to look back on the little street’s long history

During the time of the European settlement of the New Haven Colony in the 1630s, the area that would become known as Fair St. was immediately adjacent to the East Creek (which in the 1800s was altered into the Farmington Canal, and in the early 1900s was filled and covered over with the railroad tracks becoming better known as the Cut as we know it today). Fair St. was originally a dumping ground for oyster shells and the backend of several residential harbor side manors. In 1784, the New Township area across the creek from the original Nine Squares was expanding and on September 22nd of that year Fair St. was officially named. At the time it was designated as being the street that ran the distance from Major William Munson’s to Captain Solomon Phipps’ residences.

Fair St. in the 1800s became a desired residential and what we’d term mixed-use neighborhood. It was known for its particular congregation of American Revolution veterans, former Connecticut Governors, a brewery, carriage making, and the Fair St. School, ran by Mrs. Joanna Bonticou, who was an early American practitioner of the Kindergarten philosophy of public education. Captain Solomon Phipps was an early hero of the U.S. Navy, and was joined on Fair St. by other naval and military veterans such as Captain John Miles and Commodore Elisha Peck. Isaac Mix lived with his family and built carriages in the former barn of Benedict Arnold on the corner of Fair and Olive Streets until his death in 1866. Ex-Connecticut Governors James E. English and Henry B. Harrison both took up residence with their families on the street.

Fair St.’s location was optimal for life in 1800s New Haven. It was close enough to the central city, along with the proximity to Long Wharf and the U.S. Custom House. The street was just around the corner from the original railroad station and later city market, along with the prestigious hotels, theaters and taverns of Union St. To the west was the burgeoning State St. dry goods district.

By 1911, the residential character of the street was diminished. The original Colonial homes were being replaced by larger mixed use buildings, and with expansion of the Cut and the west side demolition of Union St. and it’s hotels and theaters, the railroad and the harbor side lumber yards encroached closer and closer on the old Colonial era orchards and gardens of Fair St. At the time the Fair St. School remained the primary landmark on the street. Industrialization and massive immigration to Wooster Square of primarily Italians in the late 1800s transformed the neighborhood. By 1938, Fair St. was known as an Italian quarter and was home to a prominent Sicilian run banana wholesale company, which partly led to the street’s future in the 1956 Wooster Square Project redevelopment plan as being designated a warehouse district and ultimately being closed as through road until now as Fair St. once more will be both residential and connected from State St. through to Olive St. again.

Jason Bischoff-Wurstle
Director of Photo Archives

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