By Dan Shine
West Haven’s Centennial
This year 2021, West Haven celebrates one hundred years since it became Connecticut’s youngest town. In observance therefore, we will take a look back at West Haven, from its first days to the present time:
During the 1950s, the acclaimed author Eleanor Estes (1906-1988) wrote several books describing a child’s life in West Haven (although she changed the town’s name to Cranbury in her books). In her own words, she described what a child’s life was like while West Haven was transitioning from borough to town:
“The town of West Haven, Connecticut, where I was born is in a hollow with a hill behind it, the New Haven Harbor and Long Island Sound lapping against two sides and a small river meandering along its eastern margin. It was a perfect town to grow up in. It had everything a child could want, great vacant fields with daisies and buttercups, an occasional peaceful cow and even a team of oxen with whose help cellars for new houses were dug.
“There were marvelous trees to climb, woods where there were brooks and springs and wild flowers growing. There was swimming, and building in the sand and fishing and clamming in the summertime and ice and snow and sliding downhill in the wintertime with rowboat exploration of the small river for eels and killies in the between time.”
Estes tells of the trolleys of that period, and the Savin Rock amusement park, but calls the streets, bridges and the park by different names. Savin Rock is called Plumb Beach, but its description is accurate for that period, including mention of rides galore, White City and a long pier reaching far out into New Haven Harbor. She tells of times and things that existed one hundred years ago—times that few of us living today can remember or ever knew.
Today, outside of West Haven City Hall there stands a plaque stating:
“West Farms (West Haven) recorded its first household in 1648. Part of the original New Haven Colony, West Farms became the separate parish of West Haven in 1719 when the Connecticut General Assembly granted a petition submitted in 1712.
“West Haven and North Milford joined in 1822 to form the Town of Orange. The rural and residential sections of Orange separated in 1921 when the residential part, West Haven, became Connecticut’s youngest town.
“In 1961 West Haven was incorporated as a city and adopted a mayor-council form of government. By this action, one of the oldest settlements became the newest Municipality in Connecticut.”