The Yale Alumni Magazine is owned and operated by Yale Alumni Publications, Inc., a nonprofit corporation independent of Yale University.
The content of the magazine and its website is the responsibility of the editors and does not necessarily reflect the views of Yale or its officers.
Since even before Yale found its way to New Haven in 1716, the fates of the town and the college have been intertwined. The 300-year relationship has been marked by a mix of cooperation, mutual pride, mutual indifference, occasional violence, and, increasingly, a recognition of interdependence. Here are some of the highlights—and lowlights—of Yale–New Haven relations.
Nine years after the New Haven Colony is founded, the local assembly meets to “consider and reserve what lott they shall see meete and most commodious for a college which they desire may bee sett up so soone as their abilitie will reach therunto.” The meeting is the first recorded discussion of a college in New Haven, but it will be another 54 years before the Collegiate School is established—not in New Haven but Saybrook.
The Reverend James Pierpont, pastor of New Haven’s First Church, leads the efforts of Connecticut ministers to establish the Collegiate School. Having purchased a set of books from the town of New Haven that had been set aside for a college by the Reverend John Davenport 45 years earlier, he donates the books to the new college’s library.
After an intense competition among factions representing Saybrook, Hartford, and New Haven, the trustees choose New Haven as the new and permanent home for the College, because of its central location and because the town had made “the Most Liberal Donations” to its support. One year later, the College holds its first Commencement in the Elm City.
President Thomas Clap begins holding separate Sunday worship services for students in the College, instead of at First Church, because he feels that First’s minister, Joseph Noyes, is theologically suspect (not to mention boring). The move alienates the Connecticut clergy and also marks the beginning of the Yale undergraduate’s withdrawal from New Haven life.
A volunteer company of some 70 Yale students is hastily assembled to defend New Haven when it is attacked by the British on July 4. College President emeritus Naphtali Daggett, 72, is caught sniping at British troops with a fowling piece and asked by his captors if he will keep shooting at them if they let him go. “Nothing more likely,” he growls in response. Daggett is bayonetted and later dies of his wounds.
A full-scale riot, the first of many fought with fists, clubs, and knives, breaks out between off-duty sailors and Yale students. Townspeople refer to the leader of the Yale mob, Guy Richards, as the “College bully.” Soon thereafter, students turn the title into an elected undergraduate position until it is outlawed by the faculty in 1840.
New Haven responds generously when Yale embarks on one of its first fund drives, this one to raise money for the establishment of the Divinity School. Donations from New Haven residents would also be instrumental in the purchase of the Gibbs collection of minerals in 1825 and the $100,000 general fund drive of 1832.
In the first of many dangerous clashes with firefighters stationed at High and Library Streets, Yale students attack the firehouse and destroy equipment. A mob threatens to burn the College, and military companies are called in to keep the peace.
Angry at the participation of Yale students—who were predominantly conservative Whigs—in local elections, New Haven politicians push a law through the state legislature prohibiting students from voting in places other than their hometowns. The law is repealed two years later.
Bricks and bullets fly after a confrontation between students and townspeople at a New Haven theater. After the leader of the town group is stabbed, the students retreat to the College. The locals bring in two militia cannons and aim them at the College, but are stopped by constables before they can fire.
The Yale man’s habit of carrying a weapon contributes to a fatal clash. When a group of undergraduates passes the High Street firehouse, harsh words are exchanged with a firefighter and a student shoots him. The incident moves Yale to ban weapons—and to contribute $100 toward relocating the firehouse away from the campus.
Yale plays its first intercollegiate baseball game, against Wesleyan, heralding the postwar rise of organized athletics. In addition to providing years of entertainment for New Haven residents, sports help to channel student aggression, lessening town-gown tensions.
Farnam Hall is completed. The building is the first stage of the gradual walling-off of the Old Campus from the city, a gesture that sets the pattern for future courtyards and quadrangles. While these spaces create a collegial intimacy, they are forever seen by the city as forbidding and aloof.
President Noah Porter urges New Haven to develop East Rock and the surrounding area as a park. Yale gives its “College Woods,” which had been used to provide firewood for campus buildings, to the city as part of the new park, which becomes a favorite of both students and townspeople.
Dwight Hall is founded as the Yale University Christian Association. Over the next hundred years, the organization becomes the center for student volunteer efforts in the New Haven community ranging from tutoring to help for the homeless.
Alarmed by Yale’s expansion and the loss of property from tax rolls, the city attempts to tax the University’s dormitories, dining halls, and gymnasiums, arguing that they are not used for education. The Connecticut Supreme Court sides with Yale, and the plan fails.
Leading New Haven citizen George Dudley Seymour campaigns for better town-gown relations, persuading Yale to open the Peabody Museum and the Art Gallery to the public on Sunday afternoons and to make University rooms available for conventions. A year later, the Yale Club of New Haven is formed to promote harmony.
Yale and New Haven celebrate two centuries together with a concert on the Green and a pageant at the Yale Bowl, at which scenes from the history of the College and city are performed.
A period of wartime cooperation ends when returning local servicemen, angry over perceived insults from Yale students, attack the Old Campus. Finding the gates locked, they break hundreds of windows and move on to theaters and restaurants, assaulting any students they can find.
John W. Sterling’s enormous bequest to the University includes an amount set aside to help pay the tuition of students from New Haven. The program is later augmented by other scholarship funds administered by the Yale Club of New Haven.
As Yale greatly expands its campus with money from the Sterling bequest, removing more property from the tax rolls, local resentment of the University’s tax-exempt status flares again.
Two days after a student snowball fight on city streets gets out of hand, resulting in arrests by New Haven police, students pelt police officers with snowballs as the St. Patrick’s Day parade moves down Elm Street. The snowball riot attracts national media attention, and local Irish leaders alledge that the students were motivated by anti-Catholic sentiment.
Yale opens its campus to demonstrators who have descended on the city to protest the murder trial of Black Panther Bobby Seale, helping both the campus and the city get through the “May Day” events without the violence that many had anticipated.
Local 35 of the Federation of University Employees stages a 53-day strike, the longest in Yale’s history at that time. Union leaders say they consider Yale’s “social commitment to New Haven” to be a key issue. Workers will strike again in 1974, 1977, 1984, and 1996.
The New Haven Board of Aldermen rejects a Yale proposal to build two new eight-story residential colleges at the corner of Whitney and Grove Streets. Many objections to the colleges’ design are cited, but the main point of dispute is over taxation: The aldermen want Yale to pay full property tax on the buildings.
As the result of lobbying from New Haven and Yale, the State of Connecticut enacts a law that provides city governments with payments in lieu of taxes to compensate cities partially for revenue lost by the presence of large tax-exempt institutions. The new law helps lessen the ongoing tension over property taxes.
In order to better coordinate its economic, political, and community- relations efforts in New Haven, President Richard Levin establishes the Office of New Haven Affairs under the direction of Secretary Linda Koch Lorimer.
Yale establishes its Homebuyer Program, which provides $25,000 over ten years to University employees who buy houses in New Haven. Seven years later, the program has helped more than 400 people become homeowners, most of them in low- and middle-income areas of the city.
Veteran developer Bruce Alexander ’65 is named to a newly created vice presidency for New Haven and state affairs. Alexander is charged with encouraging economic development in the city and improving Yale’s commercial real estate on Chapel Street and Broadway.
Yale undergraduate Asit Gosar ’00, running for New Haven alderman, persuades a number of Yale freshmen to register to vote in their colleges (which are in his district) instead of their Old Campus dormitories (which aren’t). Gosar wins a narrow victory in the primary, but when news breaks of the questionable practice, he is forced to concede to the incumbent, who had finished second.
Yale unveils a “framework for campus planning,” prepared in consultation with city officials, that seeks to improve the interaction between campus and city. President Levin calls the plan “a major sea change in the relationship between Yale and the city.”
When the University announced that it was investing $1 billion in science and medicine, one often-voiced hope was that the new research facilities would eventually serve as an engine of economic development for New Haven. With more than a dozen new biotech companies spun off from Yale research, that promise has become reality.
©1992–2012, Yale Alumni Publications, Inc. All rights reserved.
Yale Alumni Magazine, P.O. Box 1905, New Haven, CT 06509-1905, USA. firstname.lastname@example.org