Since its founding in 1638, New Haven has been shaped by over 380 years of history along its streets, river fronts, and harbor. This heritage is reflected in historic districts that are documented and listed on the National Register of Historic Places. One of these, the River Street National Historic District, is the site of industries that made New Haven a thriving manufacturing center between the Civil War and World War I. River Street is one of the last industrial historic districts in New Haven and represents an era when city workers sent their products worldwide.
The largest complex in the district, the H. B. Bigelow Co. boiler works at 198 River St., was a national leader in the manufacture of steam boilers. Its founder, Hobart B. Bigelow, made River Street a hub of the metal-fabricating industry. His factory buildings had distinctive architectural characteristics, such as arched windows to draw in natural light and huge openings in the facade to allow heavy steam boilers to be swung out and loaded directly onto freight cars that connected to the national rail network.