The Irish In New Haven: History

The Irish Community of New Haven in the mid 1800’s was centered in the “Old Third Ward” (bordered by Davenport Ave., George St. and the harbor) and came to be known as “The Hill Neighborhood”. This area was heavily populated by Irish and German immigrants, especially on Congress and Lafayette Ave. While there appear to have been some Irish laborers in New Haven as early as the 1820’s, the majority of the Irish immigrants arrived twenty years later. The accessibility of New Haven to the Port of New York made the town the chief receiving point for immigrants in the State of Connecticut. Some Irish immigrants arrived in New Haven via a less popular route through Nova Scotia and New Brunswick, and then by boat or land into the US. Shipping companies already going to Ireland with shipments of timber were happy to fill their boats with Irish immigrants for the return trip. They sometimes charged as little as 15 shillings, compared with the fare of 5 pounds to go to New York. In the 1840’s the Irish were first attracted to New Haven by the promise of work building the ill fated Farmington Canal. Later they sought work with the Railroad and such companies as the rifle manufacturer, Winchester Repeating Arms. The Irish were quick to make thier mark on the city by organizing the first St. Patrick’s Day Parade in 1842. Irish immigrants also made contributions to industry in New Haven. For example by 1850 a Linen Damask Factory and a major contracting business had been started by Irish immigrant Matthew O’Connell of Dublin. In 1851, Patrick Maher, a mason-builder, started a contracting business and proceeded to build a number of important structures in town. The following is from Immigration to United States: Connecticut:

Around 1850, a growth spurt began in Connecticut’s population, partly because of the state’s proximity to New York, where the bulk of European immigrants entered the United States. In 1850, Connecticut’s immigrant population of more than 38,000 constituted about 10 percent of all state residents, but by 1870, that proportion had risen to nearly 25 percent. Increases in immigrant numbers were particularly noticeable in Hartford and New Haven. Of the 113,000 immigrants living in Connecticut in 1870, more than half were Irish.

The following is from An Ethnic History of New Haven; connecticuthistory.org

The coming of the Irish aroused deep-seated fears of Irish Catholics, based on the fear that they were hostile to U.S. values and controlled by the Pope in Rome. The Irish organized self-help organizations, like the Hibernians; organized their own schools where children were taught by nuns; and, above all, they enlisted en masse into the Democratic Party, which provided them with a rapid means of social and economic advance. This political move frightened many Yankees who worried that radicals and Catholics would join forces to take political control of Connecticut. In response, in 1843 a new political party was formed. Originally called the American Republican Party, it came to be known by several names; its members became known as the “Know-Nothings.”

The New Haven Hospital had a presence in this neighborhood as early as 1861, where it is listed in the City Directory as “State Hospital”. It was situated between Davenport and Congress Avenues west of Cedar St. Today, the hospital, known as “Yale New Haven Hospital”, occupies a large section of what was residential areas in “The Hill”. The Irish also faced difficulties being accepted by the US born residents of New Haven. The Irish were accused of taking work away from “native born” citizens and the Protestants were unnerved by the growing number of Catholics. By the 1880’s the Irish were being replaced in “The Hill” by Jewish and Italian immigrants. The Irish began to move out to the newly developed “Streetcar Suburbs”. Irish immigration was reduced to a trickle by 1880. During the Civil War era New Haven’s “Carriage Industry” became one of the nation’s largest. Many of my ancestors worked as “carriage painters” or “carriage smiths” during this time. The City of New Haven was also experiencing a growth in population at this time.

“At the outbreak of the war, the population was 40,000; by the turn of the century it had grown to 108,000. Many of the new citizens had immigrated from abroad from such areas as Ireland, Italy, and Eastern Europe. “

~from City Of New Haven History By the 1950’s “The Hill” had deteriorated into one of the worst areas of New Haven. “City leaders considered Oak Street their worst slum, “a hard core of cancer which had to be removed,” as New Haven’s mayor at the time put it.”(~from “Death of Neighborhood” by Rob Gurwitt; Sep/Oct 2000) There fore the entire neighborhood was razed in a rash of “Urban Renewal”. Most of “The Hill” is now covered by Yale-New Haven Hospital and highway.


City Scenes
Here are some general views of the City of New Haven in the 1800’s and early 1900s.
And here are some old maps of New Haven:
The majority of my Irish ancestors who lived in New Haven, lived in the Morocco Street/Oak Street area. That area was almost completely wiped out when the “Oak Street Connector” was being built. These photos show the change in that area. Photo credit: Yale University Library Collection


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