The Historic Wooster Square Association (HWSA) is dedicated to preserving, enhancing and celebrating the Wooster Square neighborhood of New Haven, Connecticut. The Wooster Square Historic District became a local historic district (New Haven's first!) on June 11, 1970, and was listed on the National Register of Historic Places on August 5, 1971.
Wooster Square is named for Major-General David Wooster, who maintained a warehouse on Wooster Street prior to the American Revolution, and who lost his life in 1777 in Fairfield, CT while leading his troops against the British. Until 1825, the square was a field used for ploughing contests. By the 1840s, the neighborhood was a fashionable residential area that attracted many of the prominent citizens of the town.
The square's development occurred primarily between 1830 and 1870, and some of the most notable buildings in the area are the work of the well-known New Haven architect Henry Austin. The district includes a concentration of distinctive 19th-century residential architecture, with fine examples of the Federal, Greek Revival, Islamic Revival, and Italian Villa styles, as well as Late Victorian Italianate row houses and Second Empire and Queen Anne residences.
According to the New Haven Preservation Trust, by the turn of the 20th century, the growth of industry around the square made it an increasingly less attractive neighborhood for the socially prominent. Many homes were purchased by Italian-American families, a number of whom were able to make a living by using their homes as stores. This adaptation to commercial uses and the lower incomes of the new owners downgraded social prominence of the neighborhood significantly. By the 1930s, urban renewal plans called for total clearance; later plans for the new Interstate 91 would have routed the highway through Wooster Square Park itself.
None of these things happened, thankfully, due to a fortunate series of circumstances in the 1950s that sparked the beginnings of neighborhood renewal. The Wooster Square Project emerged in 1958-60 as a major focus of the New Haven urban rehabilitation program, at a moment when external events resulted in community-wide conviction that the neighborhood was worth saving.
Some of the events and trends that contributed saving the neighborhood were:
• projects by Yale architectural students, who created models for a restored Wooster Square
• relatively high earnings during World War II, which had permitted savings, and therefore possible homeownership by motivated residents; and
• public endorsement of the architectural potential of the neighborhood by the New Haven Preservation Trust.
These factors were vital at a time when low-interest rehabilitation loans and grants were not available to help the homeowners. Two of the most important early projects were construction of the Conti Community School - a first of its kind when it was completed in 1965 - and the rehabilitation of the Court Street tenements, which was among the worst housing in the area.
Historic Wooster Square Asssociation was founded in the 1980s as a homeowners association concerned with protecting the 19th century architecture surrounding Wooster Square. It is now part of the not-for-profit Wooster Square Conservancy, established in 2008. Our mission continues and now includes addressing the needs and concerns of the larger community, a rich mixture of vibrant people and fascinating cultures. Background of the Square: In the 1820s, the City of New Haven purchased a six-acre pasture and converted it into a public square named after David Wooster, a Revolutionary War general. The city spread east during the early 19th century, and the area around Wooster Square became a fashionable neighborhood. In 1860, an iron fence was built around the square to replace the original wooden fence.