I have always been fascinated by places that evoke memories of great deeds and watershed events of the past. I came from Seattle, a relatively new city where few buildings were more than 75 years old, and colonial style buildings were rare. One of the reasons I came to Yale was to live in a region where buildings and places instrumental to our colonial past could be experienced firsthand.
Imagine my delight to find such a place a stone’s throw away from my freshman room in Welch Hall. My Introduction to Philosophy discussion section met on the second floor of Connecticut Hall. One day after classes were finished for the day, as I took a break from reading Plato’s Apology, I noticed a plaque on the wall that said Nathan Hale had resided in this room. How cool was that for a kid from the Pacific Northwest to sit and study in a Revolutionary War hero’s room! Maybe he read Apology there as well, though he would have read it in Greek, not in English as we did. I tried to imagine how he had lived there: where were his bed, washstand and writing table? Who was his roommate? Looking out the window, I imagined his unobstructed view across College Street to the New Haven Green, since his dorm, then known as New College, along with First Chapel and College House were the only significant buildings on the campus in the early 1770’s.
I imagined Connecticut Hall must have always looked as it does today: a colonial style, four-story, gambrel-roofed brick structure with beautifully proportioned sash windows and doors and a row of dormer windows above the steep-pitched lower roof. I later learned that it had gone through numerous changes since Nathan Hale’s time, including the addition of a fourth story with a Federal Style roofline that lasted through the 19th century, restoration of the Gambrel roof in 1905, and a complete interior renovation shortly before we came to Yale. Even the name had been changed twice. It was alternately loved and hated by students, faculty and architects. More than once it had been slated for demolition, only to be saved by dedicated alumni and historic building preservationists.
I loved Connecticut Hall for its unpretentious elegance, and for its links to the early years of the New Haven campus and to the heroic days of America’s past. My interest in history led to my eventually getting a BA in the subject, and to a lifelong love of traveling to historic places and reading about the past. My time spent in Connecticut Hall, and the sense of the continuity of the human story that those hours aroused in me, helped to guide me along that path.
– Bruce Miller