The Newhall area of Hamden, also called Highwood, was mostly swamp and farmlands until the 1870s when residential subdivisions were built to house families of workers in New Haven’s factories.
Two public health issues played important roles in the Newhall Street neighborhood’s change from a swampy wetland to residential community. First was the concern that mosquitoes that bred in swamps and low lying areas, such as the Newhall neighborhood, spread malaria. Second, as the populations of urban centers grew along with industrialization, cities and towns needed to cope with the huge amounts of waste being generated. Waste that piled up and was not handled properly attracted rats and other carriers of disease. From 1900 to about 1950, public health officials believed that by filling in low, marshy areas with refuse, the problems associated with wetlands and with waste could both be resolved. In this period several dumps were established in the Newhall neighborhood.
Some of the waste dumped in the neighborhood came from the Winchester Repeating Arms Factory located in nearby New Haven. Disposed shell casings, batteries, ash and other materials lead to increased levels of arsenic, lead and Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons (PAHs) in the soil. Today we know high amounts of these chemicals are harmful to human health.
Public concern about waste in the Newhall neighborhood surfaced in 2000 when plans to build an addition to the middle school on Newhall Street uncovered unsafe amounts of chemicals in the soil. Shortly afterwards the Department of Environmental Protection spearheaded an extensive investigation of soil and groundwater conditions that led to plans to remove contamination from the neighborhood. The cleanup of the residential areas began in August 2010 and was completed by fall 2012. In late 2014 the Town of Hamden began constructing its cleanup plan for Rochford Field and Peter Villano Park. Both parks will be ready for full recreational use in spring 2016.
For more information on neighborhood history, including what steps have been taken to learn where contamination was found and what has been done about it, see the following links: