The Four Corners

October 2, 2020

This week we’re heading to an area commonly known as the Four Corners. A former village in the heart of the Annex between New Haven and East Haven, which today is comprised of little more than a city block on Forbes Ave. between Woodward and Townsend Avenues.

Forbes Ave. runs from Water St. to East Haven connecting the two cities that were originally all part of the New Haven Colony lands acquired from the Quinnipiac tribe in 1638. The road was the original connecting point through the countryside (and at one point through the Quinnipiac lands, the first Native American reservation in North America) running to the Forbes family shipyards at the base of the Tomlinson Bridge. The ancestral Forbes family home still stands today at 153 Forbes Ave. The sturdy stone house, a former Episcopal parish house and biker club, has survived being burned in the British invasion of 1779, and the construction of 2 Q Bridges.

Forbes Ave. today still follows the same route that was laid out in the 1700s. Shortly after the British invasion, East Haven split off in 1784 and became its own town. The areas compromising the East Shore, the Annex, and much of Fair Haven Heights remained and developed as the western part of East Haven until the lands were literally annexed by New Haven in 1882.

The Four Corners developed as a small roadside village set out in the country. Through the 1800s, the area was still sparsely populated and was influenced by the large farms and estates owned by a small group of families. The Townsends and the Woodwards were two of theses clans and the respective avenues are named for them.

At the corner of Forbes and Townsend, the St. Andrew’s Methodist Church stands today on land that was originally a colonial roadhouse tavern. Starting in 1865, there was a local movement to establish a place of religious congregation in the Corners. The first church was constructed across the street from the current location. It was small and non-denominational. The laws of the time prohibited taverns to operate within 200 feet of churches, so in 1883 the tavern was closed and shortly after burned to the ground. The church acquired the empty lot and moved their building across the street to sit on the old tavern location. In 1892, the present stone church was opened and dedicated as St. Andrew’s. In 1907, the Woodward School opened across the street.

Through the start of the 20th century the Four Corners grew, and in addition to the church and school was home to local markets, a pharmacy and a trolley depot. At this point the Annex was part of New Haven but as part of the 1882 acquisition agreement, ran their own public services apart from the rest of the city and had a lower tax rate. They were more or less independent and local decisions of governance were made by the Fairmount Association, which constituted local neighbors and residents as members.

During and after World War II, the harbor area became more industrialized and the farmlands surrounding the Four Corners were subdivided and built up as inexpensive suburbs. The rise of cars transformed the landscape and directly connected the Corners to downtown New Haven. In the 1950s, the first Q Bridge and Connecticut Turnpike were built. Homes and businesses were demolished and the highway split the Four Corners and Annex in half. A campaign for the Annex to secede and become an independent town known as South Haven failed and on June 1, 1959, New Haven took over public services for the neighborhood. The local mill rate instantly jumped overnight. The higher taxes and newly completed highway forced many long standing families out.

In 2003, the Connecticut Turnpike was expanded and the Woodward School was closed and demolished. Most of the remaining vestiges of the original Four Corners are now gone, replaced with empty spaces and convenience stores as cars drive quickly pass through.

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

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