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Wooster Square

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In the 1820s, the City of New Haven purchased a six acre pasture from Abraham Bishop and converted it into a public square in the Newtownship area of New Haven. The square was named after David Wooster, a Revolutionary general. The city had spread east during the early 19th century, and the area around Wooster Square became a fashionable neighborhood for city residents. In 1860, an iron fence was built around the square to replace a wooden one erected upon acquisition.

Between 1825 and 1880, the neighborhood thrived. Merchants and sea captains built elegant mansions around the square. By 1850, the area was easily the most fashionable neighborhood in New Haven. The 1860s brought industrialization to New Haven's economy. New businesses began to emerge in the Newtownship region along side of the small residential buildings. These factories managed to stay at least a block away from the neighborhood square.

The amount of smoke, noise, and industrial problems increased with every new factory. The residents of the area were not pleased and many left for newer and more pleasant areas of the city. The homes were immediately filled with factory employees, sometimes to the point of overcrowding. At first, the new residents were primarily Irish, but by 1880, Wooster Square had become predominantly an Italian area. Speculative housing was introduced into the neighborhood.

In 1892, a statue of Christopher Columbus was unveiled in Wooster Square. Five years later, the First Baptist Church, located on the Square, was sold to St. Michael's Roman Catholic Church. This was yet another symbol of the changing character of the neighborhood.

Shops began to spring up in the ground floors of many Wooster Square homes. Soon store fronts were attached to houses, and the first floors along Wooster Street became completely commercial.

In 1929, the Great Depression hit, and it almost finished Wooster Square as a residential neighborhood. The area was reduced to a slum. The carriage industry, a major business in the area, was ruined. Banks forclosed on homes. A positive result was that property prices dropped so low that enterprising Italian-Americans were able to buy some of the fine old estates, finally putting them in the hands of the Italian community.

In 1936, Dr. Paul Russo, a local doctor and founder of the area's Italian newspaper, organized the Wooster Square Civic Association. This group primarily works to protect houses that actually front the square.



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