West Haven is strategically located on the western shore of New Haven Harbor in south central Connecticut.
From its pristine four mile shore one can see the contour of Long Island, a natural barrier, twenty miles to the south.
The deep harbor and beaches are somewhat protected by the "Breakwaters", a series of stone walls constructed in the
1880's. Its location has been both a blessing and a bane throughout history.
Three Native American tribes, keepers of the oyster beds, summered in the area for hundreds of years. The abundance
of wildlife in the densely forested region, fresh water from three tributaries and salt water fish and shellfish made
it a natural habitat. Crops were easily raised on the fertile soil. Shells were used for wampum and fertilizer.
Dutch explorers first noted the tall mounds of shells along the shoreline long before New Haven Colony was
settled. Encampments were set up along the area of Old Creek near the sand bar, on the Green and as far from the ocean
as Maltby Lakes. Arrow heads and other artifacts may be found In several areas of the city, often in one's
"West Farms", with its first six settling families of gentlemen farmers (1648) was an extension of New Haven, a part
of the Borough of Orange, independent Town of West Haven in 1921, and the incorporated City of West Haven, 1959.
Oddly enough, through all the years of being identified as a part of another community, West Haven has always had its
own unique economy, noted persons, industries, social structure, government and religious leaders and political impact.
The focus of the early settlers was on the center of the city, and they established the Congregational meeting house
in the middle of town. All vital statistic, tax and town business records were kept there. A school and library
were established. In a move which shook the colonies, ministers from that church united with Yale College leaders
to establish an Anglican Church adjacent to the meeting house in the early 1700's.
British troops marched through the town on the way to burn New Haven on July 5, 1779. The history of West Haven
cannot be told without recalling the Williston incident and British Adjutant Campbell's merciful deed. Over the early
years there was a degree of strife as colonials distrusted the Loyalists in their town to the point where it is
recorded that a gentleman from Oyster River shot his British sympathizer neighbor in the leg for his disloyalty to
the townspeople. Other sympathizers provided beef and fresh produce for British ships landing on our shores during
another landing. Our city seal bears the image of our Paul Revere, militiaman Thomas Painter, as he spotted invading
ships enter the harbor.
Ship builders, seafarers, international traders, whalers, and privateers - their owners, captains and masters
who resided here - brought great wealth to the community, and an ear of gracious homes and elegant living was the
norm during the second century of our history. Dramatic change had taken place, and by the end of the 1800's there
were businesses and industry which once could only have been imagined. Sophisticated travelers enjoyed the
summer hospitality of the new amusement park and shoreline homes and inns, while locals went to such places as
the Philadelphia Exposition. Fraternal organizations flourished, and people were lured to the town because of its
country atmosphere but with the convenience of the trolley. Patriotism was always in the forefront throughout the
centuries and many veteran's groups participated in parades and memorial services and businesses grew and changed to
meet the needs of the ever growing population.
Contemporary West Haven is proud of its corporate neighbors and small businesses alike; the University of New Haven,
the Veteran's Hospital with its Blind Services Unit, the four mile shoreline where thousands of locals and visitors
enjoy the beach walk or swimming and boating; especially of its ability to host many cultural and ethnic
festivals, concerts on the Green or in the Savin Rock Grove; its sports venues and special events such as the
Special Olympic World Summer Games
Our "Lone Sailor" Monument, Campbell's Gravesite and the monuments of the Green, the Ward-Heitmann House
Museum, Revolutionary era burial grounds, are among the attractions of our Historical Society's "Tour of Historic
We are proud of our history, our hospitality and our recognition as a "Local Legacy" by the Library of Congress!"
The West Haven Historical Society