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Ball Island was named for Allen Ball, a farmer working for New Haven’s religious leader and founder John Davenport. Ball came into ownership of the lands around the Mill River following a deed to his brother-in-law in 1641. The land was soon dubbed Ball’s Island and was deemed “bad” due to constant flooding and muddiness. Over time the land was regarded as common space and by the 1830s grass was being harvested from the land .By the 1860s industrial concerns began to encroach the river and Ball Island was used by the adjacent lumber yard.
In a large brick warehouse across the river from Ball Island at 525 Grand Avenue businessmen Charles Bigelow and John E. Healy moved their medicine manufacturing and bottling works, the Kickapoo Indian Medicine Company, here in 1887. This was one of the country’s leading makers and sellers of Native American influenced botanical health products, specifically derived from a Texas band of the Kickapoo Nation. Part of their marketing tactics included having a large troupe that traveled throughout the country entertaining and selling their products. They used brick the warehouse to manufacture their goods and many of the Native Americans employed here lived in the surrounding neighborhood. In 1893 the company moved their operations to 441 Chapel Street.
Advertisement from 1888 New Haven Directory. Submitted by Colin M. Caplan
Mill River looking north from Grand Avenue bridge c1915. Joseph Taylor Collection. Submitted by Colin M. Caplan
One the south side of Grand Avenue on Ball Island the New Haven Electric Light Company built a massive power plant in 1890, demolished in 2021. As the demand for electricity grew, its predecessor the United Illuminating Company built English Station Power Plant beginning in 1927 and decommissioned in 1992. This massive plant and the surrounding land has been part of a large ongoing brownfield cleanup.