East New London: A Neighborhood in the Path of Progress
As New London expanded north, west and south from its waterfront in the 19th century, a compact residential neighborhood grew up on Winthrop Neck to the east. Beyond the docks and industry of Winthrop Cove, and the tracks and steamboat pier of the New London Northern Railroad (later Central Vermont), streets were laid out on an elevated area featuring a low bluff at water's edge. With a long view of the harbor framed by the slopes of Groton and downtown New London, the bluff - known as The Bank - was a choice site for several large houses, with more houses on the blocks behind them.
This was East New London, and its misfortune was to lie in the way of the city's maritime progress.
Below: All photographs from the Harold Cone Collection of the Frank L. McGuire Maritime Library
Below: The Central Vermont Railway yard and pier lay on the western flank of East New London, and when the pier was enlarged in 1876 it became an even larger presence off the bluff (below). A decade later tracks laid for the approach to the new bridge across the Thames, opened in 1889, added the noise of trains along its northern edge.
But it was the construction of the State Pier that would utterly transform East New London. Merely reduced in area at first, the neighborhood slowly declined and decades later the last remnant of the once leafy enclave disappeared forever.
Photographs of work done in preparation for the State Pier record the fate of a few of the waterfront houses, several of which were lifted off their foundations and floated to new sites.
One in particular catches the eye: a classic, white Greek Revival house which would have been built thirty or forty years before its neighbors on The Bank.
Below: (a) Looking at the harbor from the back yard of the Greek Revival house, with a steamboat at the Central Vermont Pier, and (b) the view from its roof in the other direction showing the bridge over the CV tracks which the New York, New Haven & Hartford (now Amtrak) crossed approaching the Thames swing bridge.
The next picture shows the excavation for new tracks that would be laid to the Pier. Properties facing the railroad yard were cut away, and houses fronting the bluff, out of the picture at right, were either moved or demolished.
These rare photographs from the McGuire Library's Harold Cone Collection were taken by Waldo Clarke, the engineer appointed to oversee construction and a key player at the Pier for the next forty years.
Left: Houses have been raised off their foundations prior to moving. The Greek Revival house is last in the row, and has not been raised. We do not know whether it was relocated or demolished.
Below: The Capt. Hezekiah Bartlett house, at far right in both pictures above, is now floating down the Thames to its new location.
Elegy for East New London
Below: An anonymous memoir of life in East New London before World War I was published in The Day on March 2, 1914, as preparations for the State Pier were well under way. These nostalgic glimpses of life on The Bank recall another world and way of life.
EAST NEW LONDON BANK SOON TO BE A MEMORY
Place Where Neckers Gathered to Exchange Views Will Give Way to Approaches of Ocean Terminal
"The Bank must go. To make way for the approaches to the new steamship terminal all of that section of East New London from the Central Vermont tracks to the shore and from Twelfth Street south will be dug out and leveled for the grade of the tracks of the freight terminal. This means cutting away of the prominence on which East New Londoners for many years have assembled and exchanged their views on matters of moment.
"The Bank commands a fine view of the harbor. The twinkle of the light on Race Rock may be seen from it. The terminal of the boat race course may be viewed from either bench. All of the shipping operations of the harbor are observable at this point.
"Every evening when the weather would permit people of the Neck came out to The Bank. Women brought their sewing or knitting and worked as they talked through the dimming twilight.
"[On] the way around The Bank, is the dwelling built and occupied by Capt. Hezekiah Bartlett, a ship master and for years the harbor master. From the veranda Capt. Bartlett could view the most remote section of his jurisdiction. A large telescope was a conspicuous part of the furnishings in the Bartlett sitting room.
"It was possible to sit for hours on the benches at The Bank and be entertained. If it was too early for the grown-ups to come out after supper in the summer time there were boats to watch. The car ferries ploughed up the surface of the river before the bridge was built.
"The New York, the Boston and the City of Worcester came into port or left in the night and could seen at their wharves.
"For as many years as anyone can remember there have been...two long benches on The Bank where the Neckers gathered...Boys carved initials in the planks. Men whittled them away or whetted their jacknives while they smoked, chewed and talked. The benches probably had more to do with preserving the serenity of the neighborhood than any other feature.
-- Sic transit gloria mundi --