Historic Structures

James Dwight Dana House, New Haven Connecticut

Date added: January 24, 2011 Categories: Connecticut

Noteworthy example of 19th century stuccoed brick town house with wooden portico of Hindu derivation. It was designed by Henry Austin for James Dwight Dana who was one of the leading scientists of the 19th century and one of Yale's most distinguished professors. He was the son-in-law of scientist and Yale Professor, Benjamin Silliman and father of scientist and Yale Professor Edward Salisbury Dana. Sillimans and Danas have lived on Hillhouse Avenue for more than 100 years. The house was built in 1849 and remained in the Dana family until acquired by Yale University in 1962.

Alterations and additions: Two additions, 1896 and 1905. A library addition replaced the porch on the west side. A wing was added to the north side which fronts on Trumbul Street. The flooring in the library, as well as the glass and ceiling work, indicate an early date for that addition, possibly as early as the house itself, thereby implying a change in the original plans.

Over-all dimensions: The extreme over-all dimensions are 60' 8" wide by 57'-8-1/2" deep. The original block, before the addition on the north measures 30'-0", and consists of three bays. The house is 2-1/2 stories high, not including the basement which is above grade on the rear.

First floor: The main block entrance on Hillhouse Avenue has a deep vestibule and stair hall on north side of two main rooms which are connected by a doorway. Double glazed doors lead from rear room to library on west which leads to another room on the north. There is a pantry between this room and the stair hall. The wing which was added on the north contains two rooms and a rear stairway.

Second floor: The second floor has been adapted to office space and seminar rooms. The attic is reached by a closed stairway of fifteen risers leading from the second floor hall. At the top of the attic stairs is an open well to the cupola. The attic over the main portion of the house has been adapted for modern use and none of the roof framing is visible. The attic over the addition is unfinished so that the exterior of the original north wall of the house is visible, complete with corbeled cornice. There are traces of ornamental wooden trim at the eaves and indications of an original attic window which was bricked in.

The main staircase on the north consists of a long straight flight of sixteen risers to a landing and three treads in the reverse direction. The bottom newel consists of a heavy "S" or scroll and handrail of smooth unmolded mahogany. The secondary stair is a straight flight with winders at the top. There is an enclosed flight to the attic, a rough painted steep flight from attic to cupola floor. Cupola floor is cantilevered balcony over the well on all sides. When additions were added to the house a small elevator shaft for single elevator was built on the rear near the back stairs.

House faces Hillhouse Avenue on the east and Trumbull Avenue on the north. The land slopes to the southwest, dropping abruptly at the rear. The property is triangular. A single line of the New York, New Haven and Hartford Railroad traverses the southerly side. Lot was originally bounded by the Farmington Canal as it crossed Hillhouse and Trumbull Avenues. The triangle was low marsh land lying along the canal bank and presumed unbuildable. The railroad bought the old canal and deepened the cut. The resultant fill raised the triangular lot four feet, making it suitable for erection of a dwelling.