The Significance of West Haven and the West River Crossing
The city of West Haven was founded just prior to the middle of the 17th century by several leaders of the New
Haven Colony who recognized the value of the extended shore line, unadulterated forests and potential farmland.
The historic crossing into "West Farms" was by horse bridge over West River adjacent to the active New Haven Harbor,
and is event that ss commemorated to this day both in ceremony and in a master mural in the main post office. Soon
after, guilds constructed six large post-medieval houses within a short distance of the community's central Green, a
common grazing and meeting site. The earliest settlers shared the lands with three major Native American tribes
which historically summered here, utilizing the resources of the forests, three tributaries and a shoreline abundant
with both fresh and salt water life.
In an unusual stance, two major religions built their churches and worshipped side by-side throughout the
colonial period. Christ Episcopal Church became the second oldest Anglican Church In the New Hemisphere; The
Congregational Church Meeting House served as the focal point of all town records, events and management and housed
the first Public Library In the State of Connecticut. More than a century after its founding, the citizens of West
Haven were involved In the Revolutionary War as militia, mariners and privateers holding the west side of New Haven
Harbor against multiple Invasions by the British and Hessian troops. One particular incident led to the demise of a
British officer William Campbell, after whom the city's main thoroughfare is named. (Campbell is believed to be the
only foreign soldier buried on American soil with honors.)
West Haven was heavily Involved in all facets of the shipping industry for more than three centuries, evolving
from early trade in necessities to eventually entering the commercial arena, sailing to the West Indies and South
America for spices, silks, rum, sugar and the like in exchange for local timber. More than thirty-five West Haven
ship owners, ship builders, masters and captains are Identified with that period of wealth and accomplishment.
Over the years, local ship building which began with tall masted trade ships by skilled Scandinavian boat builders,
changed to pontoon craft and the speedier, light weight Chris Craft used In World War II.
The industrial era came to West Haven with the West Haven and American Buckle Shops, where buckles, buttons and a
large variety of prosthetic clips and braces were developed for use during the Civil War. Eventually industry expanded
to piano and organ companies; railroad expansion led to the Victorian White City and the nationally known Savin
Rock Amusement Park. While many manufacturing companies flourished, Armstrong Rubber Company, known for the
manufacturing of tires and rafts for the military, was the focus of the community during World War II.
Today, West Haven Is alive In its history with several museums, National Register properties and beautiful
shoreline which celebrate the key elements of the past while moving to the future.