July 5: New Haven’s New State House

 

From 1701 through 1878, the Colony (and later State) of Connecticut had not one, but two capital cities: Hartford and New Haven.  During these 177 years of of shared governance, each co-capital built a series of State Houses to host the Connecticut General Assembly, which would meet in Hartford and New Haven on alternating years.

This engraving of the New Haven Green, circa 1800, shows the colonial-era State House building at left.

In 1763, New Haven built a handsome colonial-style brick building on the New Haven Green which housed a chamber for the state legislature, courtrooms, and the New Haven town hall.  Sixty years later, however, Connecticut was in the middle of a period of rapid economic and population expansion, and the state legislature decided it had outgrown New Haven’s colonial-era state house.  In 1827, the General Assembly approved a plan to construct a new (and much larger) State House in Connecticut’s southern capital city.  On July 5th, New Haven town authorities approved the plan, and construction efforts began shortly afterward.

The new State House, built of stone and marble and completed in 1830, resembled an ancient Greek temple.  It was designed by one of early America’s most famous architects, Connecticut native Ithiel Town, whose other notable works included Hartford’s Wadsworth Athaneum, two of the three churches on the New Haven Green, the U.S. Customs House in New York City, the North Carolina State Capitol building, and numerous Greek Revival-style mansions throughout Connecticut.  Located on the corner of Elm and College streets, the Town-designed  State House was an architectural gem and an aesthetic centerpiece of the New Haven Green in the 19th century.

This engraving shows the Ithiel Town-designed State House at right, with the buildings of Yale College at left.

In the early 1870s, the General Assembly decided that the costs and logistical headaches of maintaining government operations in two cities were too high, and declared Hartford to be Connecticut’s sole capital city in 1873. The decision would become effective five years later when the General Assembly finally met in the new (and current) State Capitol building in Hartford for the first time.  The New Haven State House quickly fell into disrepair, and despite protests from many local citizens, the building was razed in 1889 in what many preservationists lament as one of the most regrettable architectural losses in Connecticut history.

Further Reading

Patrick J. Mahoney, “Hartford and New Haven: A Tale of Two Capitals,” connecticuthistory.org

The State Houses,” Connecticut General Assembly, Office of the House Clerk