February is Black History Month! Starting in 1821, free blacks in Bridgeport settled in a neighborhood that would become known as Little Liberia. Only two houses of this nineteenth-century neighborhood survive today on their original foundations. They are also the oldest remaining houses in Connecticut built by free blacks, before the state completed its gradual abolition of slavery. Built in 1848-1849, they were the homes of sisters Mary (1815-1883) and Eliza (1805-1862) Freeman. Initially the sisters leased the houses out as rental properties while they continued to live and work in New York City. Mary’s house, 358-360 Main Street, built first, was either originally, or later added to to become, a two-family house. Eliza house, 352-354 Main Street, is a three-bay wide half-house with a side entrance that had a storefront extended from the facade from 1903 to 2013. A dormer window was added to the house around 1862. Eliza Freeman returned to Bridgeport around 1855, where she worked as a servant for a sea captain. Mary Freeman, who had worked as a hotel chef in New York, followed her sister to Bridgeport around 1861.
The buildings were occupied into the 1980s. By 2010, the houses were vacant and near collapse. The Mary & Eliza Freeman Center for History and Community was soon formed to raise funds to preserve and restore the houses as a museum. Non-historic elements of the houses were removed in 2012. Read the rest of this entry »
The Myrtle Avenue School in Bridgeport was constructed in two sections, both designed by architect Warren R. Briggs. The first section, a mansard-roofed structure, was built in 1884. A flat-roofed Beaux Arts section was constructed in 1916, fronting 325 Myrtle Street and filling the space that had been the old building’s front yard. The school was later renamed as the Jefferson School. No longer used as a school, the building was altered (with a new pitched roof) to house condominiums under the name Jefferson School Lofts.
In downtown Bridgeport is a vacant and dilapidated 13-acre building complex, which occupies a city block. Ghost hunters are very interested in the building, which was possibly built on a Native American burial ground. The Beaux Arts structure, built in 1922, was once home to the Poli Palace, the Majestic Theater and the Savoy Hotel. The Poli Palace was built by theater impresario Sylvester Z. Poli as a vaudeville house. Mae West appeared at the theater in 1927. It was the largest theater in Connecticut and continued in use (later renamed Loew’s Palace Theater) until 1975. The Majestic Theater was smaller than the Poli Palace. It was in operation as a movie theater until 1971. Both theaters were designed by Thomas W. Lamb. Between the two theaters was the 109-room Savoy Hotel. In 1935 the Prohibition-era gangster and bootlegger Dutch Schultz moved to the Stratfield Hotel across the street for several months after two trials for tax evasion in New York State. It is wondered if he was involved in the murder of two people in the second floor lobby of the Savoy during this period. A month after leaving Bridgeport Dutch Shultz was gunned down in Newark, New Jersey. The city is seeking to redevelop the property.
The first Congregational meeting house in what is now Bridgeport (then called Statfield) was built by 1695 at what is today Park Avenue and Worth Street. It was replaced by a new meeting house c. 1717, located on the northwest corner of Park and North Avenues. The third meeting house, located on Broad Street, was dedicated in 1807. The powerful influence of the Second Great Awakening led to a division of the congregation in 1830, with a new Second Congregational Church being built at Broad and Gilbert Streets. The old church was called North Church and the new church was called South Church. A new North Church was built (on the same site as its predecessor) in the Gothic Revival style in 1850. A new brick South Church was also constructed (on the same site as its predecessor) and was dedicated in January, 1862. In 1916 the North and South Churches merged and planned to erect a new united church on the site of the old North Church, which was demolished. Construction was delayed by the First World War and then, when the former site of North Church was deemed to be too small, a new lot was purchased on the corner of Park Avenue and State Street in 1924. The new United Congregational Church was completed and dedicated in 1926. A Georgian Revival edifice, it was designed by Allen & Collens of New York.
In 1886 the Fairfield County Bar Association and county representatives decided that the time had come to build a new county courthouse in Bridgeport. The city’s first courthouse (now called McLevy Hall), built in 1854, had become inadequate and its location near the public square meant that noise from the street, including from streetcars, had become a a nuisance when court was in session. As had occurred before in the 1850s, when the county seat was moved from the town of Fairfield to Bridgeport, the city of Norwalk made its own bid to build the new courthouse, but Bridgeport leaders, including Sidney B. Beardsley and P.T. Barnum, appropriated more funds and won legislative approval. The cornerstone for the building, located near the northwest corner of Golden Hill and Main Streets, was laid on June 24, 1887. Completed in 1888, the Courthouse is a Richardsonian Romanesque structure designed by Warren R. Briggs. There is also a Fairfield County Courthouse in Danbury.
The Queen Anne house at 128 Milne Street in Bridgeport was built in 1896 for Michael Casey, a teamster at Frank Miller & Company, a coal company which was in business until 1907. The house’s architect was Harrison G. Lamson. Read the rest of this entry »
The house at 800 Clinton Avenue in Bridgeport was built in 1915 for George T. Hatheway, a real estate and insurance agent. As related in Vol. II of The History of Bridgeport and Vicinity (1917), George Thomas Hatheway “was born in Pequonnock, town of Windsor, Hartford county, August 5, 1865.”
George T. Hatheway was but a young lad at the time of his father’s death. He acquired his early education in the public schools, pursuing a course in the New Britain high school and also in the normal school there. The necessity of providing for his own support forced him at the age of sixteen years to become a wage earner and he secured a clerkship in a drug store at Unionville, Hartford county. In that store the village postoffice «»s conducted and in addition to selling drugs and sundries his duty included handling the mail. After two or three years there spent he removed to Winsted, Connecticut, but in the meantime, while still in the drug store at Unionville, he had taken up the study of telegraphy, there being a telegraph office also in the store. He thus picked up a knowledge of telegraphy and at Winsted was appointed to the position of Western Union operator. When about nineteen or twenty years of age he came to Bridgeport and accepted the position of operator in the Bankers & Merchants telegraph office. In a short time he went to New York city as operator in the main office of the Western Union Telegraph Company. He remained there for about two years after which he returned to Bridgeport with the Western Union Company and devoted eight or ten years to telegraphy in this city and also taught telegraph; in a local business college, his teaching paying his tuition for a course of study in the same institution, from which he in due time received a diploma. He then devoted five or six years to bookkeeping in a wholesale and retail hardware store and in August, 1901, he embarked in his present business of insurance and real estate. In this connection he soon forged to the front and for many years he has been one of the city’s leading fire insurance and real estate men, his business having now assumed extensive and gratifying proportions, he has never had a partner, always conducting his interests under his own name, which has become a synonym for progressiveness, enterprise and reliability in insurance and real estate circles. He is now president of the Bridgeport Fire Underwriters Association. He is thoroughly familiar with property upon the market, is correct in his valuation and has negotiated many important realty transfers satisfactory alike to seller and purchaser.