The formation of the Center District
To start at the very beginning, we need to travel back in time some fifteen years before Engine and Hose Company #1 was organized and the West Haven Fire Department came into existence. In May of 1873 a resolution was passed through the General Assembly incorporating the “Borough of West Haven”. Although the Town of Orange was still mostly farmland, the West Haven section of town was quickly becoming commercialized. West Haven had a sawmill and a lumberyard, the West Haven Buckle Company, a ship building industry, and all the various businesses that go along with being located on the shore of Long Island Sound. Along with all these many professions came the people to work them. With the people, came more businesses to accommodate them. Now the people of West Haven would have need for doctors and pharmacists, teachers for their children, furniture for their homes, food for their families, and so on and so forth. What would eventually become the downtown area of West Haven was fast filling up with hundreds of dwellings. What West Haven really came to need were roads. The narrow horse tracks needed to be replaced with wider, more modern roadways to allow the movement of people and goods. The Town of Orange, however, did not want to get involved with building and maintaining roads and so the Borough of West Haven came to be.
In the fall of 1873, West Haven became a borough of the Town of Orange and was empowered to govern itself. A Warden and a panel of six Burgesses would oversee the the operations of the borough and have the power to appropriate funds from the borough residents. Most importantly, they had the power to build roads and highways. They would begin by straightening and widening the existing roadways. They would determine that all roads running north and south would be called “Avenues” and that all roads traveling east and west would be called “Streets”. They would raise the roads to keep them dry and harden them with clay gravel or, in many cases, oyster shells. When it was hot and dry they would employ a “sprinkler” to wet down the roads to keep the dust at bay. By the end of the nineteenth century they would be lighting the roads at night and installing curb lines and sidewalks. It would not be until November 18, 1888 that, as a result of the Hinman House fire, Engine and Hose Company #1 would come into being and thus begin the long tradition of the West Haven Fire Department.
But that’s another story…