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New Haven in the “off-season” (Oct. 1995)

The three city blocks separating Pierson College from the house I shared this summer may seem a short distance geographically, but in every other way they might as well have been an ocean. Now that I’m back, I wonder why I never made the trip before.

When I decided to stay in New Haven after school ended in May, five friends and I loaded up our cars and headed for a century-old house on Dwight Street. For the five of us Piersonites, it was our first experience living off-campus. Despite Dwight Street’s proximity, we had never been there before we arrived to look at the house. What we discovered was an elegant row of homes with trim fences and clipped lawns. While the houses showed the wear of the century, the street had the charm of a genuine neighborhood—most of the time.

We felt comfortable there, and Pierson and the rest of Yale quickly faded from our consciousness. I settled into a summer reporting job and rarely heard the University mentioned. Most evenings were passed at the house, which had a second-floor porch where we often sat and talked.

The porch offered an expansive view of Dwight Street, its homes, and our neighbors, and from this vantage point we gradually became acquainted with the surroundings. For two years, I had read about “the vitality of New Haven’s neighborhoods,” but until this summer I knew only Yale, its environs, and some blighted parts of downtown. Dwight Street was a world unto itself, with its own set of rules that were far different from those of a residential college.

Across the street lived our alderwoman, a vigorous citizen who insisted that we have a working porch light and leave it on all night to discourage “trouble.” She told us we had to put our recyclables in paper bags, and keep our music down to reasonable levels.

Soon, other neighbors began to stop by to collect bottles they could turn in for refunds, to ask for money (which was almost always repaid), or for cigarettes; somebody was always selling something, from marijuana to Connecticut flags. In most cases, we weren’t interested, but the good will continued.

Recent Yale graduates had told us that in their time, living on Dwight Street was considered downright dangerous, and one night we spotted two masked men tearing down Edgewood Ave­nue in what we later learned was the aftermath of a robbery. But by all accounts, the neighborhood has improved. Despite the jitters of our parents, we enjoyed life in the “real” New Haven. The lazy feel of the neighborhood was contagious.

In many ways, the atmosphere was an improvement on the tension-ridden atmosphere of a Yale college. In fact, when I retired on summer nights to my spacious third-floor bedroom, I often mused on the cramped quarters I would have to share with my roommates again in the fall. I had never before seriously considered moving off campus, but after this summer, the prospect seems positively inviting.

Noah Kotch ’97, a classics major from Chapel Hill, NC, is a stringer for the New York Times.

Filed under 1990s
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