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New Haven, Connecticut

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Did You Know … ?

  • Founded in 1638, New Haven was America’s first planned city, laid out in nine squares.
  • Yale hosted the first five-on-five men’s basketball game in 1897.
  • In 1784, Meigs, Bowen and Dana, New Haven, published America’s first geography book (see name below*).
  • Yale was named for benefactor Elihu Yale whose gift was fabric (for sale), 417 books and a portrait of King George I.
  • In 1878, New Haven got America’s first telephone exchange and its first telephone book.

Yale’s hometown

Puritans founded New Haven, a harbor city in southwest Connecticut, in 1638. They aimed to create a Christian utopia and a commercial empire on the Atlantic coast.

Neither happened, but the Puritans were very successful on the educational front. Their Collegiate School (1700) became Yale University, renowned for scholarship and central to New Haven’s economy and identity. Yale boasts a campus that is a tourist attraction, plus fine cultural institutions — galleries, museums and theater — which complement the city’s own cultural scene.

Greater New Haven’s attractions also include lighthouses, traditional town greens and historic homes.

In 1840, New Haven was the site of the Amistad trial. African captives faced charges after taking over the Amistad slave ship, but the courts confirmed the Africans’ right to return home. Nowadays, New Haven is the homeport for an Amistad replica. When the vessel is in town, tourists can come aboard and even join a scheduled sailing.

The city boasts a uniquely long list of innovations attributable to New Haveners, ranging from the first bedstead castors and the first corkscrew to the first hamburger sandwich.

Oliver Winchester (maker of “the gun that won the West”) and Eli Whitney (cotton gin, 1794, and manufacturer of firearms) were prominent in the city’s industrial development. Today, the Winchester Repeating Arms Company Historic District has at its heart buildings associated with the former Winchester factory. The Eli Whitney Museum, on the site of Whitney’s musket factory, provides another way to consider New Haven’s industrial side.

This factory town went into decline after World War II, leaving city fathers to struggle with reviving the downtown. Revitalizations have targeted several areas, including the waterfront, and a number of sections are now historic districts.

New Haven’s location has always been an asset. Its large natural harbor gives onto Long Island Sound, the estuary that separates Connecticut from New York’s Long Island. The sound is a seasonal playground for kayaking, sailing and sightseeing cruises. Mystic Seaport is a day trip away, too.

Inland, the area offers trails for biking and hiking, and tourism promoters suggest a series of themed sightseeing trails, dedicated to anything from barns to wine.

Things to do for Venturers

  • Hike the 25-mile Quinnipiac Trail from North Haven to Cheshire. It passes through Sleeping Giant State Park and crosses Mount Sanford.
  • Charter a sailboat for a personally planned outing on the Sound. Or, if sailing is an unrealized dream, take lessons.
  • Hear newcomers as well as established artists at the September East Rock West Rock Music Festival. The sounds, beyond rock, encompass blues, jazz, soul and more. Alternatively, look at summer choices: the Savin Rock Festival in West Haven or the New Haven Jazz Festival.
  • In January or February, bundle up and join an eagle watch on the Connecticut River. Or, in March, make that a seal watch in the Thimble Islands.
  • Follow the Greater New Haven Beer Trail, which highlights breweries, brewpubs and even shops for buying beer-making supplies. For a truncated version, seek out the trail’s spots located right in New Haven.
  • Join a tour of the New Haven Crypt, under the First Church of Christ, which is the locale of graves dating back as far as 1687. Or, on a Tuesday night, head to the Leitner Family Observatory and Planetarium for a planetarium show followed, on clear nights, by viewing the skies from a telescope in the observatory.

Things to do for Centrics

  • If the Amistad, replica of the slave ship highlighted in a 1997 Steven Spielberg movie, is in town, take a tour or even sail on it.
  • Head to Lighthouse Point Park for the beaches in summer or to watch for migrating birds of prey and songbirds in spring or fall. In any season, see the iconic New Haven Lighthouse.
  • Look for a lobster bake. Local groups often host the events in summer as charity fundraisers.
  • From Branford, take a narrated cruise among the Thimble Islands, or opt for a more ambitious option, seeing the islands from a kayak.
  • Put the Eli Whitney Museum on the itinerary. Yale grad Whitney invented the cotton gin, but the museum is at the site of his former musket factory.
  • There are historic homes to visit, but add variety to a history-themed visit with the 14-room Medad Stone Tavern Museum in Guilford and the Miller Barn Museum in North Branford.

Things to do for Authentics

  • Allow time for a leisurely stroll through the city’s Green, the town square, surrounded by historic buildings; it was the middle of the town’s original nine squares. Also, devote walking time to the Yale campus with its appealing architecture and grounds.
  • Take your pick of Yale University’s museums: the Yale Center for British Art, Yale Collection of Musical Instruments, Yale’s Peabody Museum of Natural History and/or Yale University Art Gallery.
  • Time your visit for fall foliage and one or more colorful drives. Or, at a different time of year, attend the Meriden Daffodil Festival; planners boast of 600,001 (that’s right, 600,001) bulbs in bloom.
  • Choose theater at Long Wharf Theatre or the Yale Repertory Theatre, and you might see a production before it hits Broadway. Also, the Godspeed Opera House features both opera and musical seasons with productions by up-and-comers.
  • Join an afternoon or sunset sail aboard a schooner out of New Haven Harbor.
  • Find a hamburger at its birthplace, Louis’ Lunch, where then-owner Louis Lassen cooked and served the first ground beef sandwich in 1900 and where burgers are still cooked on the same grill.

Additional Resources

For more information, consult Visit New Haven at www.visitnewhaven.com

* The title of America’s first geography book was “Geography Made Easy: Being a Short, But Comprehensive System of That Very Useful and Agreeable Science, Illustrated With Newly Constructed Maps, Adapted to the Capacities and Understanding of Children, Calculated Particularly for the Use and Improvement of Schools in the United States.”