Thomas Oyster House

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Thomas Oyster HouseResearch carried out in 1967 revealed that the Thomas Oyster House is one of the few remaining buildings that could be classified as a typical small northern oyster house. The building was constructed about 1874 at City Point, New Haven, Connecticut, by Thomas Thomas. New Haven once was the largest oyster distribution center in New England; now there is only one oyster-opening shop left in this state, that of the Bloom Brothers in South Norwalk.

Initially Mr. Thomas used the building as a culling shop, where oysters were sorted by size and shipped in their shells, by the barrel, to markets in New York City and as far away as California. Following Mr. Thomas’s death, his son John took over the business and converted it to an shucking house. This involved opening the oysters upon delivery by the oyster boats. They were then packed in iced wooden kegs ready for delivery to various markets. The building was used in the oystering business until John Thomas’ retirement in 1956.

Oyster Farming

Inside the Thomas Oyster HouseAs demand for oysters grew and natural beds were overfished, oystermen in the 1850s learned to cultivate oysters in undersea “farms.” Surveyed and buoyed, these private grounds extended along the Connecticut shore. Some were used for spawning new crops, often using adult “seed oysters” dredged from natural beds. Others were used for growing oysters to market size. Oystermen working on private grounds were free to use steam- or gasoline-powered vessels to dredge, and to haul their dredges with power. Like farmers tending their fields, oystermen laid down old shells, which they called “cultch,” for juvenile oysters to settle on, then mopped up the predatory sea stars and otherwise protected their “crop” for the three years it took the oysters to grow to market size.