Home to centuries of history, blocks of distinguished architecture, dozens of esteemed cultural institutions, and the best pizza in the nation, New Haven is one of Connecticut’s most celebrated destinations. One spot that’s not so famous is Morris Cove, a quiet neighborhood on the city’s southeastern shore, just on the East Haven town line.
Morris Cove feels far removed from downtown New Haven’s big-city energy or the college-town vibe of the Yale campus. Its atmosphere is more akin to a small shoreline town, with sweet, simple houses lined up in neat rows along the water.
As you might have guessed, the neighborhood is built around a cove. Its low-lying streets are vulnerable to flooding, and the deceptively decorative seawall that partially protects this mostly residential “bowl” is a reminder that everything is temporary.
While it might not be your primary reason to visit New Haven, it’s definitely worth stopping for a few hours to take in the subtle appeal of this corner of the Elm City. Here’s what to see in Morris Cove.
Lighthouse Point Park (2 Lighthouse Road)
This city park, at the edge of the land where the Quinnipiac River flows into Long Island Sound, has been a summer paradise for over a century. In the off-season, when the historic carousel stops spinning and there are no lifeguards on duty, the picnic pavilion is abandoned and the beauty of the empty beach is revealed. From the rugged rock formations along the shore, to the paved paths winding through acres of parkland, Lighthouse Point in winter becomes a different kind of playground.
Its focal point is the 97-foot octagonal lighthouse, constructed from East Haven sandstone, that towers above the shore. Built in 1847 to replace an earlier lighthouse made of wood, it stands beside the former light keeper’s house. It no longer guides ships into New Haven Harbor, but it still evokes Connecticut’s enduring connection to the sea. One of the few local lighthouses that can be easily accessed by the public over land, it’s a New Haven must-see that doesn’t always make the list.
The Pardee-Morris House (325 Lighthouse Road)
Standing unobtrusively on a large corner lot, surrounded by charming but entirely ordinary homes, is one of New Haven’s oldest extant structures. The Pardee-Morris House, now owned by the New Haven Museum, is a collection of wings and additions, a sprawling palimpsest of the city’s past. It was built beginning around 1680 by the family of Thomas Morris, who was granted this land in 1671 when the area was known as Solitary Cove. The home was expanded around 1767, then partially burned in the 1779 British raid on New Haven. The next year, the family rebuilt it, using what wood and stone had survived the fire. They later expanded it further. The house remained in the Morris family until 1915, when it was purchased by William Pardee. Pardee died shortly thereafter, leaving the property to what was then known as the New Haven Colony Historical Society.
In recent years, the Museum has used the Pardee-Morris House to host summer concerts, workshops, and tours. But it’s worth stopping to see even when nothing is going on, simply to admire its unique structure and longevity.
Pardee Seawall Park (Townsend Avenue)
Driving into Morris Cove from the north, the road curves and a shining sheet of water unfolds before you. Along the shore is a narrow park, a swath of green grass bordered by a wide sidewalk. Benches are spaced out beneath street lamps. It’s a perfect place to sit or stroll and look out at the blue water and the houses lining the coast further down the road. Peer over the fence and down at the seawall, where the water laps its way up the stone steps, to get a sense of how vulnerable this neighborhood is in a storm.
Morris Beach (Cove Place)
A small beach mostly concealed behind a waterfront restaurant and wedding venue, this strip of shore is privately owned. But a right-of-way (look for the public shoreline access sign off Cove Place) lets you stroll onto the sand for an intimate view of the cove.
As the Connecticut coast goes, this beach is nothing extraordinary. (If you’re looking for extraordinary, check out my post about Connecticut’s best winter beaches.) In the wedding season, it sprouts palm trees and becomes a backdrop for outdoor ceremonies. But in the off-season, it’s a peaceful place to spend a few minutes walking along the sand – or pretending this is your backyard.
Morris Cove Historic District
The core of the Morris Cove neighborhood is a 61-acre historic district, primarily made up of late 19th century seasonal cottages and Colonial Revival, Dutch Colonial Revival, Craftsman, and Bungalow-style houses built in the first half of the 20th century. The district, which feels compact and self-contained, is roughly bordered by the wedge of Townsend Avenue and the water; Myron Street; Morris Causeway; and Concord and Dean Streets. It was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2018.
If Morris Cove looks like a place set apart, that may be because it always has been. Originally a section of then-rural East Haven, it became part of New Haven in 1881, but remained in some senses an entity of its own. Then known as a summer resort area, it had few year-round inhabitants until the turn of the 20th century, when it evolved into a streetcar suburb (and eventually, of course, just a car suburb.) Today, it’s a nice area to walk (or simply drive through on the way to Lighthouse Point or Pardee Seawall Park) and look for the little details – like enclosed porches and nautical decorations – that give these homes their historic waterfront appeal.
Morris Creek Nature Preserve
Though it lacks the drama of the nearby waterfront, this small salt marsh area is just as beautiful, if in a quieter way. The Morris Creek Nature Preserve covers just 20 acres, and it’s easy to miss as you drive out of Lighthouse Point Park. But stop and find the trailhead – look for the signs in the parking lot on the east side of the park – and you’ll discover a lightly worn path beside a narrow creek that winds prettily through tall grasses. Follow it into the woods, or just take a few minutes to appreciate this preserved ecosystem and quintessentially Connecticut landscape.
Tips & Info:
If you enjoy long walks, all of these sights are within walking distance, and there are sidewalks throughout the neighborhood. But add in the two parks, where you’ll probably also want to stroll around a bit, and that’s a lot of walking and a lot of time. For a quicker trip, park near Pardee Seawall Park then walk over to get a good look at the shoreline and explore the surrounding historic neighborhood on foot. Then drive along Townsend Avenue and park again near Cove Street to check out the Pardee-Morris House and Morris Beach. Finally, drive to Lighthouse Point Park, where you can park in any of the lots to access the beach, fishing pier, and lighthouse, as well as the Morris Creek Nature Preserve trailhead.
If you want to extend your time in the area, Pardee Seawall Park is adjacent to Fort Hale Park, which I wrote about in my post on 3 Connecticut Forts.
For Lighthouse Point Park hours and other details, visit the City of New Haven’s website here.
For more about the New Haven Museum’s events at the Pardee-Morris House, click here.