Founded in 1638 by English Puritans, New Haven became a leading port city. In 1641, the town surveyor, John Brocket, created a nine square grid plan, designing the first city plan in the United States. The center square was where the public market, meeting house, jail, gallows and cemetery were located. The surrounding squares were divided into home lots for the town planters, or founders. One of those men was Stephen Goodyear. He was a leading merchant who became Deputy Governor of New Haven Colony and was the first to brew beer here in 1646. Goodyear built a mansion on the corner of College & Chapel Streets around that time. By 1659, John Harriman lived there and ran the town Ordinary, or tavern. This site was convenient to sailors and ship builders because the original wharf was located down College Street on the old East Creek. The maps here, dating from the top left going clockwise: 1641, 1748, 1817 & 1847, show the evolution of the block. Goodyear’s mansion was located in the top left corner of the maps.
The drawing to the left depicts the old tavern as it likely looked at the time that John Harriman’s son-in-law, John Miles, ran the tavern starting in 1703, and from that point the place was known as the Miles Tavern. In 1701, New Haven became co-capital of Connecticut and the General Assembly came to the tavern for board and drink. In 1754, Isaac Beers continued as innkeeper here, and the place was then known as the Beers Tavern. In 1778, Beers opened a bookstore and kept a general store here. He rented the upstairs rooms to students and other ordinary people.
The Beers Tavern became the stop for statesmen, sailors, imbibers and ordinary folks. It was here, on April 20th, 1775, that Benedict Arnold, pictured at right, famed Captain of the Governor’s Foot Guard, and later infamous traitor, rode his horse up to the tavern door, backed by the Guard, and demanded that the Town Selectmen hand over the keys to the powder house. Arnold’s purpose was to arm, march and rise against the British who attacked Americans in the Battle of Lexington. This drama proved successful and the Foot Guard arrived in Cambridge, Massachusetts, showed their swagger as the most regimented, and well dressed, unit on the field. The news of the Rebellion had spread across the states, and 43 year old General George Washington was in command. On his way to Cambridge to lead the Continental Army, Washington stopped in New Haven on June 28th, 1775. Washington rested the night at the Beers Tavern and the following morning he inspected about 100 Yale students who had assembled in front of the tavern, armed and ready for battle. Among them, playing a fife, was Noah Webster, creator of the first American English Dictionary. Washington was then escorted out of town by the Foot Guard, the Minutemen and the Yale brigade to the Neck Bridge on State Street over the Mill River. General and Mrs. Washington were guests at the tavern on April 11th, 1776. The image below shows Washington taking command of the Continental Army at Cambridge on July 3rd, 1775.
This extraordinary plaque was placed on the side of the Hotel Taft to commemorate General George Washington’s visit to New Haven on his way to command the Continental Army in Cambridge, Massachusetts. He rested the night of June 28th, 1775 on this site at the Beers Tavern, corner of College & Chapel Streets, and on the following morning inspected the armed formation of around 100 Yale students, before setting off.
In 1840, the old Beers Tavern was sold to Augustus Russell Street, pictured at right, who had married Isaac Beers’ granddaughter. Street’s father, Titus, owned a successful old hardware store and had left Street a considerable fortune. After Street’s graduation from Yale, his ill health sent him travelling in Europe where he studied art and language. He returned to New Haven in 1848 and hired renowned local architect, Henry Austin, to design a new hotel to replace the old tavern. Austin was assisted by English designer Gervase Wheeler. Called the New Haven Hotel, pictured above after it was built in 1850, it was the largest hotel in New Haven, accommodating 200 people, and its elegance was compared to the best hotels in Boston and New York. The hotel was first managed by Salmon W. Allis, formerly the manager of the Tontine Hotel across the Green. Augustus Street was an extraordinary philanthropist and he donated more money to Yale College than any other individual at the time. His money and name were used in the construction of Street Hall just up the street, the country’s first school of art connected to an institution of higher learning. Upon Street’s death in 1866, he willed the New Haven Hotel to Yale, and the following year the college sold the building to prominent hotel manager, Seth H. Moseley.
Seth Hamilton Moseley, pictured at right, was the successful hotel manager and owner of one of the finest hotels in New York City. Due to ill health Moseley was forced to retire and travelled through Eurpope and the United States until 1867, when he moved to New Haven and purchased the New Haven Hotel. From that point on the place became known as Moseley’s New Haven House. The hotel gained a reputation for its exceptional quality and it became the regular host for visitors of Yale, politicians, businessmen and ordinary travelers. The hotel contained a commodious dining room, barroom and shops on Chapel Street. In the circa 1865 photo above store on the left was H. Croswell Ward’s Church Book Store, and the store on the right was Mason & Co. Merchant Tailors. Over the years the building was improved and changed. An elevator was finally installed in 1887.
Abraham Lincoln made his only visit to New Haven in early March of 1860, pictured as he appeared then, at right. Lincoln was campaigning for president through New England and stopped at a number of Connecticut cities where he made speeches and greeted swarms of supporters. He arrived in New Haven by train at the old Union Station on Union Street on March 6th, speaking that evening nearby at Union Hall. Afterwards Lincoln was the guest of James Babcock, a wealthy newspaper editor who lived on the corner of Olive and Court Streets. On March 7th, Lincoln headed to Meriden to speak and returned to New Haven by midnight. A number of accounts mention that Lincoln came to the New Haven House and likely was a guest here on the night of the 7th, leaving for New London on the 8th. Lincoln made an extraordinary impression on the Elm City, and, in return, the city supported his cause and fight to end slavery. The image above shows how the neighborhood around the New Haven House looked in 1879. The Green is on the right side of the drawing and Yale is on the top. The New Haven Hotel was the tallest building on the block and it was situated conveniently near Yale College, the Green, the Statehouse, the banks and town offices.
The scene above dates to around 1886 looking east down Chapel Street from the corner of College Street. The New Haven House Hotel stands at the corner across from the Green. This scene was largely unchanged until 1910 when the hotel was torn down and replaced with the Hotel Taft. The Taft was built by Yale graduates, and named after another alum, President William Howard Taft. This building, designed by New York architect F. M. Andrews and built in 1911, was then the tallest in New Haven and it was also considered the finest hotel between New York and Boston. The images above depict how the hotel looked in the months following its opening on January 1, 1912. Starting at the top left and going clockwise in photos below: view of the front entrance on College Street, the main lobby, the basement Rathskeller or Grill Room and the main Dining Room. Besides these larger spaces the hotel also had a large basement swimming pool, a ballroom on the top floor, a Palm Room for dining, a reading room and Lady’s Lounge.
The Hotel Taft became the center of New Haven’s popular social life and its proximity to the Shubert Theater and Yale University made it the destination of students, professors, tourists and actors. Some of the famous people who were guests at the Hotel Taft include presidents, actors, writers, producers, scientists and athletes. Woodrow Wilson stayed at the Taft while on his presidential campaign trail in 1912. William Howard Taft, pictured on the upper left, was known to have stayed here while he was searching for a home, while he was a Yale professor in 1914. Babe Ruth, pictured on the top center, stayed at the Taft in 1932 and was completely mobbed outside by young fans. Other notables who have visited the Taft include Humphrey Bogart, Spencer Tracy, The Marx Brothers, Katherine Hepburn, Henry Fonda, Marlon Brando, pictured on the bottom center, Thornton Wilder, Eleanor, Roosevelt, pictured on the bottom left, Jack Dempsey, Albert Einstein, pictured on the top right, and Lou Gehrig. The Taft was featured in songs, books, musicals and films as well. Cole Porter wrote and performed songs here from 1912-13, a reproduction of the hotel lobby was built in Hollywood for the F. Scott Fitzgerald based film “A Chorus Girl’s Romance” in 1920, Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein, pictured on the bottom right, rewrote the musical “Oklahoma!” here after it bombed at the Shubert, “The Gilmore Girls” television show was based here and references to the Taft were made in F. Scott Fitzgerald’s book “The Great Gatsby” and in J. D. Salinger’s book “Franny and Zooey”. Numerous dinners, dances and celebrations featuring national and local clubs, leagues, schools and businesses occurred in the Taft. Connecticut’s first AM radio station, now called WDRC, broadcast from the Taft in the 1920s.
The Hotel Taft, pictured at right around 1912 shortly after it was constructed, was a great social center and gathering place during its days of operation. The advent of Prohibition in 1920 in the United States meant that no alcohol could be served in any capacity. This devastating blow affected all hotels, restaurants and saloons. The Taft Barroom was shuttered during this period, but surely drinking was accomplished behind locked doors and in alleys. The Speakeasy was born at this time and it is believed that one of these secret clubs existed in the Grill Room in the basement. During the Great Depression the repeal of Prohibition occurred in 1933, giving a green light for alcohol to be served at the Taft. The Barroom was renovated with a new bar, moldings, doorways and more, creating the English Tap Room in 1935. A new stairway was installed to the basement Grill Room from the front of the bar. The advertisement on the top left from 1937 shows the Double Cocktail being served in both bars at the time. The ad in the top middle from the same year shows Eddy Weaver and his Hotel Taft Grill Orchestra in the basement Grill Room. On the top right is an advertisement from a 1946 Shubert Theater playbill inviting playgoers to indulge in the bar at all times. On the bottom is an article from a 1946 newspaper that shows some of the happy guests of the Belle-Tan Club of New Haven in the Collonade Room, or main Dining Room in 1946.
The image above shows the Taft Barroom with its original wood paneling, plaster ceiling, bar and bar back in 1912. Below shows how it looked in 1935 after Prohibition when it was called the Tap Room.
The Hotel Taft closed in 1973 partly due to competition from the Park Plaza nearby and also due to Yale University’s acceptance of women in 1969, as the hotel saw less business from visiting females from other Ivy League schools. For almost a decade the hotel sat vacant until 1981, when the Starrett Housing Corp. of New York renovated the building into apartments. The old Tap Room still sat vacant until one of the residents, Richter Elser, a Yale graduate and crew instructor, stumbled on the space and opened up Richter’s Cafe instead of heading to Harvard Law School. The photo above shows how the bar looked just before renovations in 1982, taken by local photographer David Ottenstein. After nearly 20 years of business providing quality beer in pints, pitchers and half yards, Dieter vonRabenstein, longtime Richter’s owner, shut its doors in 2011. Restoration finally began by local restaurateurs Jason and brother Tom Sobocinski, Mike Farber and Timmy Cabral in 2013. This timeline was prepared and created by local author, historian and architectural designer, Colin M. Caplan. Cheers!