Strong School

July 31, 2020

As you make your way west towards downtown along Grand Ave. from Front St. in Fair Haven, there sits a relic from the past glories of both the neighborhood, and the New Haven Public School system. On the right-hand side at the crest of the hill is the abandoned Strong School, which has stood (fairly) still since 2010.

The Collegiate Tudor designed building, which was once New Haven’s premier public school building, dates back to 1915. This however was the third school built on this location between Clinton Ave. and Perkins St.

In 1830, the Grand Ave. Congregational Church was completed on this site. At the time, Fair Haven was nothing more than a small oystering village bordering the banks of the Quinnipiac River. Located approximately two miles from the New Haven Green, the church was a new organized center for the community and marked the village’s border of development as the surrounding farmland was just beginning to fill in with houses and businesses.

In 1871, a year after Fair Haven officially rejoined New Haven, the congregation moved to their new home, located a few blocks away in front of the gates of Union Cemetery. At the time that building featured the tallest spire in the state.  The former church at Clinton Ave. and Perkins St. became the Grand Ave. School. This was the first centralized public school along the western shore of the Quinnipiac. In 1895, the school was torn down, rebuilt and named the Strong Grammar School.

The Strong School was named for Major Henry H. Strong. Strong was a former member of the Connecticut Governor’s Horse Guard, a Connecticut General Assembly representative, a member of the New Haven Board of Education, and a partner in the Strong, Barnes and Hart beef merchant company that was located on Long Wharf. As a prominent Fair Haven resident with deep business and political ties, the growing local school district was also named after him. The Strong School was the center hub of the district. This building was renowned throughout Connecticut as the state’s best public grammar school. The courses and accommodations were considered state-of-the-art for the evolving educational practices of the late 1800s.

On January 27, 1914, in an eventful early morning blaze, the Strong School burned down. Students and faculty were all safe and immediate parceled out to the Clinton Ave. and Benjamin Jepson Schools, two of the other nearby grammar schools. In a quick turn of events, the new Strong School was constructed and opened for use in the fall of 1915. The new building was the most ornate and palatial public school built in the city during this period. It was a veritable temple of learning proudly designed for the rapidly expanding neighborhood around it.

The Strong School was in regular operation as a New Haven educational facility until 2010. For the last 10 years the building has remained empty and on the city tax roll under the supervision of the Board of Education. There have been a series of different plans proposed and contested for the future usage of the site. Proposals have included renovation and use as a non-profit arts center, by members of the local Chatham Square Neighborhood Association, and the conversion to market-rate apartments by a private developer. On March 31, 2020 the deteriorating building caught fire due to a break-in. While suffering mild damage in comparison to the fire of 1914, the Strong School continues to remain unoccupied and quiet amidst an increasingly convoluted world outside.

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

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