The industrial scene along the Mill and Quinnipiac rivers in the 18th century was made up principally of companies that were taking advantage of running water to power machinery on the riverbanks. On the Mill River, this consisted of Christopher Todd’s
gristmill, a carriage factory, a mill to make carriage wheels and axles, and a paper mill. In
1798, Todd’s gristmill was purchased by Eli Whitney to build an armory.
As the number of manufacturing works in New Haven increased in the 19th century, the importation of coal replaced the export of food as the dominant activity in New Haven harbor. By the early 1900s, a number of factories had settled on the Mill and Quinnipiac Rivers. This notable increase in heavy manufacturing activity caused tension with the oyster industry because of their negative impact on water.
The New Haven Electric Light Company, had decided in 1924 to “seek less confining quarters than their location on
College and Crown” as one result, the English Station was erected on filled land in the tidewaters of the Mill River. . The discharge of waste materials from factory sites into the Mill River posed a serious threat to the health of the oyster beds that formed a perimeter around the
industrial area. The transition of use of the Mill and Quinnipiac Rivers from largely oyster-based and residential activity to manufacturing works in the late 19th century was not the result of a city plan for a change in urban landscape. Rather, it was a private market reaction to
the new economic opportunities that the steam engine allowed manufacturers. This was an ideal location for factories because of the easy supply of nearby labor and connectivity to a transportation
The Mill River is a small stream flowing between Fair Haven and New Haven. Prior to 1900 the natural depths of the Mill River were 4 1/2-5 feet up to the fork between Chapel Street and Grand Avenue. In 1913 under the Act of 1899, Congress allotted the necessary funds and a channel in the east was widen to 100 feet and on the west a width of 125 feet.