Yes I know, you are surprised! Finally an article on that blog that is ACTUALLY about New Haven… Taking actions in my own hand, I am here to bring back the NHV content while our lovely editor Josh uses any excuses to talk about non-New Haven related stuff, like his cool comic life in New York, or some other TRIVIAL subjects like mopeds or his crippling depression.
I want to bring you on an aerial tour of my favourite abandoned buildings of New Haven. What are my qualifications? Well… I have a drone and a lot of time to kill…
The city had a vibrant industrial past (New Haven was world famous for their clocks and Winchester firearms; told you had time to kill) but consolidation and modernization of industries, delocalization, and the building of I-95 highway through New Haven cut off entire industrial blocks and lead to the departure of many company and you can nowadays see buildings slowly deteriorating if you go for a walk down Chapel Street past Wooster Square and the overpass.
Saving the buildings, or at least recording the history of these building, is becoming a strong concern of a lot of people like Film Director Gorman Bechard who is making a crowd-sourced documentary on the Hamilton Building, New Haven Museum Curator Jason Bishoff-Wurtle who made an exhibition called Factory about the industrial past of New Haven, or Professor of Urbanism Elihu Rubin who runs community-based and student-driven research projects like New Haven Industrial Heritage Trails, the New Haven Building Archive or the Yale Urban Media Project. If you want to hear about their work, two of them were guests on the Between Two Rocks podcast (Bechard on Episode 31, Bishoff-Wurtle on Episode 35). Look at me, making synergistic blog posts!
But after all, this article is mostly an excuse to justify to my friends that living under a highway bridge near the Mill District River is rather cool, and I hope all the fancy drone footage I took will be enough to make them stop calling me a “bridge troll”.
The New Haven Clock Company Factory building
133 Hamilton St
When you talk about factory buildings, the royalty of all factory buildings is the New Haven Clock Company building on Hamilton Street! This building had many many lives. It was built in 1866 to host the clock factory where 1,500 workers, mostly immigrants made clock which were exported all over the world.
Fun fact, I grew up near the clock given by New Haven to her sister city Avignon in France (Place de l’Horloge, town hall building) before moving next to the factory that made it. Yes, you are right, I managed to turn an article about old buildings in a foreign country all about myself. It’s called talent!
The New Haven’s plans for the urban renewal of Wooster Square were enacted in 1958 and marked the end of the clock factory. While the plan did not include the destruction of the building, the factory closed a few years later.
Since, the building was used as a rave site where the Yale School of Architecture students hosted Sex Balls in the 1980s, multiples clubs that changed with the musical areas (punk and then R&B), an indoor skate park (it was basically Jordan’s without the ugly furniture), and in the 1990s, it became the largest LGBTQ club of the State with hot tubes in the courtyard! Nowadays the best you can do it get a covid igloo in a back alley… And finally, it was a strip club/steakhouse (meat on display at Score I guess) which was more or less squatting the factory and was forced to vacate the building in 2019 with $57,000 in back rent, that the eviction lawsuit stipulates, must be paid in singles. Make it rain baby!
Currently, the building is plan to undergo a massive clean up (bye-bye radium!) and will be turned, thanks to a $4M+ brownfield state investment, into a mixed-used building. For those not aware of this concept, a mixed building is a term used by investors when they want State or Federal grants and cannot really tell them they want to just build luxury condos for profit. So they say mixed and add to their renovation plans a coffee shop and an artist studio between the 500+ new $3000/m studio rentals, and highlight the one and only tiny affordable residential unit tucked in the back by the garbage chute (if possible with a separate entrance!).
A documentary about the building is currently getting filmed and should be release in late 2022.
The English Station
510 Grand Avenue
The English Station, sitting silently on Ball Island (a former lumberyard in the early 1800s) on the Mill River is probably one of the most prominent industrial building, visible from the Q Bridge when you enter New Haven. It was named after James Edward English, Governor of CT in the mid-19th century and prolific industrial who retired from the lumber business and purchased a bankrupt clock factory in 1853, re-established the business, and turned it into the biggest clock company of the world (hint hint).
Built in 1929, the United Illuminating power plant burnt coal and later oil, until the Harbor Station built in 1974 on the East Shore made it obsolete. It ran as a reserve power plant during period of high energy demand until the 1990s, and got sold in 2000. After a fail attempt to reboot the power plant in the early 2000s, an environment study highlighted an incredible amount of pollutants and UI kindly and generously offered to clean the site after the State sued them (bye-bye PCBs!). Any respectable abandoned building ought to be sued at some point, otherwise, you’re not really a New Haven building!
And for the last 20+ years now, UI is trying to clean the site to the bare legally-required minimum possible (the building would be safe if you stay less than 6.7 hours a week inside, so maybe not that safe?) while the current owner who, you guessed it, wants to renovate the power plan into a mixed building (*cough* luxury flats with a coffee shop *cough*). UI, the current owner, and the State are in a deadlock arguing during environment meetings how much to clean and who will pay (probably us…). More info can be found in the New Haven Independent article of May 2021.
I am not sure what they are going to do with this beautiful building, but trying to make a place you can only stay a few hours a week profitable is going to be a challenge… Maybe some “health” guru can invent the new craze and open a polychlorinated biphenyl spa!
The English station remains one of my favourite spots in town (what can I say, I like toxic relationships) and you feel so small when you kayak on the Mill River around Ball Island and this silent giant. Silent but deadly.
Special mention: New Haven Armory
290 Goffe Street
Sorry no drone footage of the New Haven Armory, it is located too close to the New Haven Correctional Center and I was rather scared the guard would shoot my drone down (thinking I was filming policy brutality…?).
Located on Goffe St, this former gun factory was turned once a year into an art exhibition space thanks to Art Space’s City Wide Open Studio in October before the building became too decrepit to be safe for public. Bummer, it was a very cool space!
Outside, you can still see the 2017 art installation Pool Noodles by mathematicians/artists Dan Gries and Dan Bernier, and the students of the Common Ground School who used pool noodles to create a mosaic made of cut pool noodles. It’s always fun to walk by the building and look at the windows.
Tidal Marsh and the abandoned part of Cedar Hill Train Yard
200 Universal Dr, North Haven
On Sundays, you go to Target (Don’t lie, I see the lines out the door!)
On Sundays, I go behind the Target parking lot. (Not helping my Troll status…)
Located at the intersection of New Haven, North Haven and Hamden, if you follow the markers of the Tidal Marsh Trail, you will find hidden in the outgrown vegetation an extensive network of decommissioned train tracks, overhead lines, light poles, and switch towers. Built in the early 1890s, Cedar Hill Yard was a classification yard at the intersection of the New York, Hartford, and Boston train lines, to dispatch the freight onto their correct tracks. The Yard was expended and extensively used during the two World Wars (nothing like a good global war to boost the local economy, Shop Small might consider starting a major conflict, just saying).
History footnote, on August 29, 1928, the Yard was the stage of an attempted sabotage on an express train to steal the $2M worth ($30M with inflation today) of gold with spiked on the tracks. A yard employee stopped the train in time at only 30 feet from the spike. New Haven was like the Far-West with renegades attacking trains for gold! I feel the need to start wearing boots with spurs and chew tobacco!
And like the rest of New Haven industrial buildings, in the 1970s, the yard started to be successively sold to companies trying to make it work with the dwindling demand, the shift to road transport, and the deindustrialization of the region. A large chunk of the yard was left abandoned for nature to take the track over in a very Blair Witchy vibe, with only a small section left used for freight classification (and therefore you’ll be stuck behind a snail-paced Metro North for hours in your fancy Acela!).
Exploring the overgrown yard is an amazing experience: you can experience first hand an apocalyptic world where human gone instinct and nature took over once more. It’s incredible to see how much 50+ years of nature does damage to human built structures. Bricks are eroded, metal is eaten by rust, and gigantic steal towers are toppled to the ground. Make sure you have your Tdap and go play in the industrial ruins. If you explore deep enough, you will find the only inhabitant of the yard: a massive polar bear made out of freight containers.
Bonus, the marsh is next to the last standing frozen yogurt place nearby New Haven so you HAVE to get one each time to go visit the Yard. Frozen yogurt was basically the next wave of the industrial past of New Haven. And like its predecessor, the Frozendustry closed in the late 2010s and delocalized when the Pokédustry took all their storefronts. What a shame!
The images and videos in this article were taken with a DJI Mavic Pro drone with pre-approval of the FAA thorough the Low Altitude Authorization and Notification Capability (LAANC) to access the airspace under Section 44809.
Thank you to my brother-in-law Gregory and my sister Pauline for letting me use their drone (don’t tell them I crashed it into the goal post of the Yale Bowl…)