In 1638, Puritans left the Massachusetts Bay Colony to establish a theocratic community. They founded New Haven Connecticut. The separate colony became part of the neighboring Connecticut Colony in 1664 and became a co-capital in 1701 (until 1873).
New Haven was one of the country’s first planned cities. It was laid out in nine squares, each with a central green that is reserved for public use (similar, as discussed in our 2022 post, to Savannah Georgia). The center square of the nine squares, the New Haven Green, is now a National Historic Landmark.
The central city has more than its share of historic buildings, particularly in and around Yale University. Yale is the city’s largest employer. Yale’s predecessor, the Collegiate School was founded in 1701 to educate Congregational ministers. It moved to New Haven in 1716. It was renamed Yale College in 1718 in honor of a large benefactor. The country’s third oldest university began adding graduate programs in the late 18th century and became a university in 1887.
We explored parts of the town including the downtown area and the Italian restaurants along Wooster Street. We also went to Long Wharf which is a narrow strip of land along the shore. It was filled with people eating lunches from the more than two dozen food trucks (mostly Mexican) food trucks lining the park.
However, we spent most of our time walking the Yale campus. Unfortunately, virtually none of the campus buildings were open and no tours were being offered on the Sunday after graduation when we visited. The old campus quad, in fact, was still filled with chairs from the previous day’s commencement ceremony. All under the watchful eye of the statue of a former university professor and president Theodorus Woolsey.
The campus, meanwhile, is largely neo-Gothic although it does contain buildings of dozens of architectural styles from Beaux Arts to Georgian and neo-Classical.
Then there are the austere. privately-designed and owned “tombs” of the University’s secret societies including Mace and Chain, Scroll and Key, and of course, Skull and Bones. These range from vaguely representing styles from Classical Greek and Gothic, to Colonial and Victorian through Moorish and Egyptian.
Yale Art University Gallery
The incredible Yale University Art Gallery, however, was open. Although we planned only a brief stop at this free gallery, we ended up spending several hours exploring the incredible, wonderfully well-curated selection which spans two millennia of the world’s art. We began on the fourth floor exploring:
- Its collection of drawings (including several Rembrandt and Picassos);
- Prints (including the Jacob Lawrence series that profiles the Legend of John Brown, comparing his mission and hanging with the preaching and crucifixion of Christ);
- Photographs (including an Edward Muybridge pre-movie representation of juggling); and
- A small rooftop sculpture garden.
The floor also housed a special exhibition that examined Mid-Century Abstraction from its beginning. It traced how many of its practitioners began their transition from figuration to abstraction gradually. Rarely seen early works by artists including Franz Kline, Jackson Pollock, and Mark Rothko were exhibited, combined with the later, fully abstracted works with which we were more familiar.
It also contained a 70-piece exhibition, Gold in America. The exhibit traces the country’s early use of gold coins and especially jewelry and decorative objects. It talked about the fewer than 200 remaining items that were signed or marked by the goldsmiths who created them. Most of these early pieces were almost exclusively reserved for the wealthy whose money came from some aspect of the slave trade, such as the trading of enslaved people, sugar, or rum.
The third floor Is devoted to Modern and Contemporary Art and Design. It contained notable works from modern masters from Picasso, Braque, and Matisse to Klee, Dali, Basquiat, and Lewitt. Three galleries, meanwhile, are dedicated to Decorative Art, primarily American from around the Art Deco period of the 1920s and 30s.
The second floor meanwhile, is dedicated to Asian (especially Chinese), European and Early American art. The European section, primarily from the Renaissance through the mid-20th century, highlights the primary styles and artists of European countries, from Italian and French religious works, to Northern European (especially Dutch and Flemish) landscapes and portraits and British landscapes.
It also has a nice selection of early American artists from Benton, Church, and Bierstadt through mid-19th century work from Sargent, Copley, Remington, and St. Gaudens. A multi-piece series by Revolution-era John Trumbull is educational, as well as beautifully painted—a series of works that trace the major battles and turning points of the Revolutionary War from a somewhat stylized representation of the committee (Jefferson, Adams, Franklin, et all) responsible for drafting the Declaration of independence presenting the draft to Hancock through several of the most important battles and turning points of the war.
The first floor, meanwhile, displays ancient to contemporary African and Latin American art.
The museum also has a small, secluded sculpture garden on the back lawn that is framed by university buildings and is nicely suited to reading and study.
New Haven Restaurants
We had one day in New Haven and only time for one lunch and one dinner.
Frank Pepe Pizza is a nearly 100-year-old (founded in 1925) institution that is practically a mandatory stop according to our friends who grew up in the area. It was fun to watch the staff’s highly choreographed, if somewhat frantic effort, to keep up with the continual demand for the crisp-crusted pies from the super-hot coal-fired oven. The roughly 25-table restaurant also was doing an amazing amount of take-out while we were there. We shared two small pies: white clam with pecorino, romano, garlic, and oregano; and amanti della carne with crushed Italian tomatoes, mozzarella, meatballs, pepperoni, sausage, bacon, and pecorino and romano cheeses. Both were very good, with crisp, nicely charred dough. While they were not the best we have had, they lived up to their hype. A Foxen Park cream soda complimented the meal.
South Bay was where we had dinner of three small plates and a dessert—not to speak of a subtle, velvety soft 2018 Sauvignon Blanc from Merry Edwards. All of the dishes were very good: grilled octopus with sweet potato puree; tuna tartare with avocado mousse, ponzu, and kimchi; scallops with prosciutto, garlic, spinach, and bacon cream sauce; and ending with a decadent molten chocolate cake.