Seaside Park History
With its 325 acres of lush lawns, shady glades, and sports fields rolling toward Long Island Sound, Seaside Park is a park without peer on the Eastern Seaboard. Visitors are delighted by the beaches, surf, and sunshine along three miles of sparkling coastline. The park was laid out just after the Civil War by Calvert Vaux and Frederick Law Olmsted, whose other efforts include Manhattan's Central Park and Prospect Park in Brooklyn. Their 19th century landscapes have proved timeless as they entice each new generation of park-goers.
At the western end of the park is Fayerweather Island. Walkers can visit this natural wildlife preserve by crossing the breakwater rocks. The island's lighthouse guided navigators into Black Rock Harbor from 1823 to 1932.
Bridgeport's most famous resident, the 19th century circus impresario P.T. Barnum is largely responsible for the development of the park. Once pasture land, wood lots, and salt marshes, Barnum envisioned the first marine “rural” park in the United States. He recalled the landscape of Seaside before its transformation in his autobiography:
“Up to 1865 the shore of Bridgeport west of the public wharves, and washed by the water of Long Island Sound, was inaccessible to carriages or even to the horsemen, and almost impossible for pedestrians. The shore edge was in fact strewn with rocks and boulders, which made it like 'JORDAN' in the song, and exceedingly 'hard road to travel.' A narrow lane reaching down to the shore enabled parties to drive near to the water for purposes of clamming, and occasionally bathing; but it was all claimed as private property by the land proprietors, whose farm extended down to the water's edge... I was satisfied that a most lovely park might be, and ought to be, opened along the whole waterfront as far as the western boundary line of Bridgeport... I immediately began to agitate the subject in the Bridgeport papers, and also in daily conversations with such of my fellow citizens as I thought would take an earnest and immediate interest in the enterprise...”
The park took its present shape between 1865 and 1920. Before 1869 the land west of the statue of Elias Howe was under water. The area between Park and Iranistan Avenue was the first to be drained and dyked (The Mirror Lake, also known as the Mummy Pond, is an essential part of that drainage system). In 1878, the land between Iranistan Avenue and the former bath house took its present form. The city acquired the water-bound area that comprises the west beach and Fayerweather Island in 1911, and completed construction of a seawall in 1919 that connected to the mainland.
Barnum meant for Seaside Park to be his legacy for future generations, and the strollers, bathers, athletes, fishermen, and picnickers who enjoy the park today owe a nod to his memory. In his autobiography he expressed the hope that “when the hand that now pens these lines is stilled forever, and thousands look... across the water to Long Island shore and over the groves and walks and drives of the beautiful grounds at their feet, it may be a source of gratification and pride to my posterity to hear the expressions of gratitude that possibly will be expressed to the memory of their ancestor who secured to all future generations the benefits and blessings of Sea-Side Park…”
(Adapted from "Seaside Park" a brochure published by the Friends of Seaside Park, 25 Myrtle Avenue, Bridgeport CT)