A History of the King's Block Building.
Cheney & Company is located in one of Fair Haven, Connecticut's oldest buildings, affectionately known as the King's Block. King's Block, the oldest surviving Federalist commercial building in the New Haven area, stands at the corner of Grand Avenue and Front Street. This intersection was central to the development of this community. Lying alongside the Quinnipiac River, whose oysters were responsible for attracting fishermen to the site that would become Fair Haven, and at the western end of the Grand Avenue Bridge, whose first incarnation as the Dragon Bridge propelled the community from a congregation of fishermen's huts known as Dragon to the bustling riverside town of Fair Haven, the intersection was prime real estate during Fair Haven's peak years. The King's Block building is the only building from the early days still standing at the intersection.
Recognizing the commercial potential of the intersection, Herman Hotchkiss and his business partner James Barnes purchased the parcel of land at the south-west corner of the intersection from Nathaniel Granniss in 1811. Hotchkiss' tombstone confers on him the honor of the 'founder of Fair Haven.' He began purchasing numerous tracts of land in the area after the completion of Dragon Bridge, particularly those around both ends of the bridge. According to one source whose family had long lived in Fair Haven, Hotchkiss built the first permanent house in the community. In 1816, Hotchkiss and Barnes built a tavern and hotel on the site they had purchased from Granniss to fill the needs of the growing Fair Haven community.
The building that King and Barnes constructed to house their hotel was designed in the then popular Federalist style which flourished in America from 1790 until 1820. Its painted brick facade is typical of the style as are the six-paned double-sashed windows and the half-moon sunburst window adorning the King's Block's northern gable. A distinctive feature of the King's Block architecture is the S-shaped bolt ends which serve to decoratively attach the building's iron ties to the brick facade.
In 1850, James Barnes (Hotchkiss having passed away) sold the land to one David M. King who had been operating the Fair Haven Coffee house out of the building. King renamed the hotel King's Hotel and added two large wooden wings to the building. He christened the enlarged structure King's (NEW) Block. The King's Block name caught on quickly and soon businesses listed their location as King's Block. The building also became a landmark by which other buildings were referenced.
The second floor of the Grand Avenue wing of King's Block was known as Central Hall. The space was originally designed as a meeting place for the Third Congregational Church of Fair Haven, which met there for the ten years of its existence. Central Hall was also home to numerous organizations and social gatherings. The International Order of Odd Fellows met there as did the Grand Avenue Church until the construction of their own church building. The Hall also saw community dances.
King rented the first floor and basement of the wing to numerous merchants. The first King's Block occupants included E.H. Riley's Grand Street Drug Store, Ruel Rowe "wholesale and retail dealer in family dry goods," a tailor, a jeweler and a boot merchant. Through the years numerous other stores occupied the building. The residents included Farren Bros. Spring Mattresses, Bradley Bros. Fish Market, The Fair Haven Stove Store, an ice cream parlor, a harness maker and several fancy goods stores. The display window on the north side of the building was added in the 1880's so one of the fancy goods tenants could display his wares.
Hotchkiss and Barnes' early hotel catered to the men involved in the oyster industry along the Quinnipiac. King's Hotel, its successors, Fair Haven House and Fair Haven Hotel, and the stores of the King's Block had a much diversified clientele, for Fair Haven had grown into a bustling industrial community. First King's Omnibus and then the Fair Haven and Westville Horse Railroad facilitated transportation to and from Fair Haven.
By 1924, the wooden wings of the King's Block had either been removed or destroyed. But the original brick building continued to house commercial ventures. At the turn of the century, the building was home to LL Adler's Fancy goods store. From the late 30's to the early 70's, Fair Haven residents could dine in the King's Block at Del's Grille.
After Del's Grille closed, the building fell into disrepair. It was scheduled for demolition but was saved by Richard and Marianne Mazan and Deb Townshend, long-time New Haven residents, who, under the name Historic Structures Unlimited, purchased the building from the city with the promise that the building would be renovated and restored to prospering commercial use.
The building was purchased by another group, The King's Block Associates, who undertook the renovation. The building's facade was restored, including returning the original half-moon window to its prominent position on the north facade after years of having been displaced by an exhaust vent. After over a century and a half of haphazard renovation to satisfy the whims and needs of the building's various occupants, little of the original interior decoration remained. Most of the interior had to be gutted due to the poor condition of the floors and beams, but the renovators were able to preserve a taste of the original flavor on the third floor where the original beams and vaulted ceiling were left exposed.
The building was nominated to the National Register of Historic Buildings and is now a part of the Quinnipiac Historic District. Cheney & Company, attracted by the building's historic qualities, began renting space in the building in the late 80's. Carol Cheney purchased the building outright in 1997.
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