Elm City Minstrels

New Haven Industry and the Modernization of an American Urban Soundscape

Yale School of Architecture | Spring 2019 | Elihu Rubin

Urbanism and Landscape Seminar: Ghost Towns


Creating a sonic sanctuary

Listen to one of these songs from the four most popular domestic birds in New Haven in the 1920’s

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A Network of Noise

The Historic Farmington Canal, traversing from Northampton, MA all the way to New Haven, CT, was a spine of industrial promise and connectivity which traversed the rolling landscape of New England, bringing untold commerce and trade in its wake.

In downtown New Haven along Audubon St, one can find the remants of one such industrial epicenter formed around the presence of the canal, later transformed into a railroad. The McLagon Foundry and adjacent Andrew B. Hendryx Company constituted two industrial superpowers that contributed not only to the city’s growing urbanity, but also its loudening soundscape.

Dealing with the Din

Solutions to Newfound Noise in Modernizing Cities

Post-industrial cities experiencing the strains of increased urban density at the turn of the century encountered not only issues with visual and environmental pollution in con-junction with manufacturing and early zoning orders, but also the issue of sound. While often overlooked, sonic pollution at the turn of the 20th century represented a major concern for urban planners across the US, spawning a flurry of inventive solutions to combat this growing modern nuisance.

For example, New York’s Grand Central Station, in collaboration with Wallace Sabine (often referred to as the grandfather of modern acoustics), as well as Catalan builder Rafael Guastavino, invented an absorptive tile to clad the interior vaults of many of New York’s subterranean station platforms. Likewise, in Philadelphia, the PSFS building, representing the forefront of streamline moderne office design, incorporated a number of state of the art acoustic inventions to isolate the noise of a bustling city from the productive silence of the office space within. This included Acoustical Ceiling Tiles (ACT), absorptive partition walls, and asbestos. Each of these solutions offered ways to isolate and exclude the exterior urban landscape, thus reflecting a shift in modern conception of optimal interior space. They represent a period of American history in which absolute silence was considered a direct symbol of modernization, and a luxury that only the most forward thinking designers and planners could provide.

The Feathered Philosopher

Hendryx Company’s Solution to Urban Noise Pollution

As seen in the various advertising materials below, the Hendryx Company cleverly positioned themselves as a genuine solution to the growing urban noise crisis afflicting residences across growing American industrial cities such as New Haven. Through catalogs and posters, the company boldly proclaimed its solution through birdsong. One advertisement quoted, “Who am I? I am the living symbol of joy and love, singing my way into the hearts of people everywhere. I am a silver tounged, winged minstrel. I triumph over gloom. I am a feathered philosopher, softening the drab moments of life with the courage of my song. I am your pet canary.”

‘Put a Bird In It!’

New Haven’s Evolving Soundscape

Today, downtown New Haven offers a range of sights, smells, and sounds, as one wanders its historic streetscape. Consider the sounds of the city and the influence of New Haven’s historic industries on our city’s urban soundscapes as you traverse Audubon St. Park.

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