May 22, 2005

My Hometown

I'm starting a meme. Yay! Simply write a bit about your hometown and it's history and then link back to whoever inspired you to do it. That way I/we can have fun tracking how these things get spread.

My hometown: Bridgeport, Connecticut

Bridgeport was first settled in 1639 by people who follwed the original pilgrims that landed at Plymouth, Massachussetts in 1620. The largest protestant denomination in the area is still the Congregational Church -- the direct descendant of the puritans. I was raised in the Congregational Church by my Irish Catholic mother because she had married (and quite promptly divorced) my protest yankee father.

Word has it (from my father) that my paternal lineage goes back to a Robert Jones who was a member of the crew of the second American voyage of the Mayflower, and who had decided to stay and try life in the new world.

Sitting at the mouth of the Pequonnok River, the settlement was originally called Newfield, and later Stratfield. With deep harbors it quickly became a minor whaling center. But the depth of the protected Black Rock Harbor, in the west end of town, as well as the main Bridgeport Harbor, made the earlier settlers decide to shift from an agrarian economy to a manufacturing economy.

The town was incorporated in 1800 as Bridgeport; named for it's unique drawbridge over the Pequonnok River.

Bridgeport became a well-know manufacturing center throughout the 19th century. By the early 20th century there were over 500 manufacturing plants in the city. Singer sewing machines, Remington arms, General Electric and a host of others called Bridgeport home. Brass and munitions was a major cash crop from the Civil War through World War II.

Most native Bridgeporters to this day don't know that, because of Remington, the city was "protected" by NIKE missles in the surrounding towns.
(Yep. Ask an Iowan where Bridgeport is and she'll be clueless. Ask Vlad Putin and he'll tell you exactly where it is.)

Those plastic disks we call frisbees were originally the pie plates of Bridgeport's own Frisbee Pies. The shape of their tin pie plates made them ideal for tossing them about like frisbees. They've long since stopped baking pies, but their plates still fly in parks across America -- albiet, made of plastic now

If you ever pull a chain to turn off a lightbulb then you can thank Bridgeport's own Harvey Hubble, who patented the thing in 1896. His design is the same that is used today. And, although located in the neighboring town of Stratford, Sikorsky Aircraft is a major employer of Bridgeporters. You may have heard that Marine 1, the presidential helicopter, after decades of production at Sikorsky, has just been bidded to Lockheed Martin. Grrr...

Our most famous former resident and mayor was P.T. Barnum. While Barnum was not born in Bridgeport, he made it his home. His famous side-kick, Tom Thumb (nee George Stratton) was a native Bridgeporter. Among the many festivals each summer is, of course, the Barnum Festival, consisting mostly of a grand parade. Not surprisingly, the Barnum Festival parade usually falls on the 4th of July.

Until my last move, I lived for years on Bridgeport's Mountain Grove Street. The street is only one block long, but it's a long block. At the end is the entrance to Mountain Grove Cemetary. This cemetary was designed by P.T. Barnum, and he is buried there.

If you're ever in Bridgeport you HAVE to visit the Barnum Museum. Among the many exhibits, on three or four floors, is a scale model of a three ring circus. When I was a kid I would just walk around and stare at this thing. It is HUGE! Oh, and it has moving parts! I haven't been back to see it in some years, but I think I'll do it soon.

Though you've probably never heard of him, one of our other famous mayors (locally) was Jasper McLevy. He was mayor back in the '30s and '40s. He held that office during the same long-term administrations of President Franklin Roosevelt and New York Mayor Fiorelo LaGuardia. For over a decade the leadership in the area seemed permanent.

The thing about McLevy, aside from his longevity, is the fact that he was a Socialist. Yep, Bridgeport's mayor was an unabashed member of the Socialist Party. Of course, back then, the Great Depression made being a socialist a welcome thing. But usually the socialists called themselves "Democrats". Ol' Jasper gets high marks, locally, for calling it as he saw it. The old City Hall building is now called McLevy Hall.

One of the things Jasper McLevy is most famous for saying came after a harsh blizzard during a depression-era budget crunch. When asked why the City wasn't plowing the streets McLevy replied "God put the snow there, God'll take it away."

A couple of years ago my boss came by to pick me up for work when my truck was down. "I see the spirit of Jasper McLevy is alive and well in Bridgeport," he said as we drove along snow-covered main arteries.

In the decades since World War II, Bridgeport has, shall we say, been dying a slow death. The major manufacturers have moved their operations to cheaper locations. By the time I came along it was a well-accepted fact that Bridgeport's glory days were behond her.

The unemployment due to the abandonment of the major manufacturing plants in the city has caused a spiral effect. Bridgeport's budget needs, to combat the effects of a depressed and needy populous, require that they raise more and more revenue from those that are more afluent. The streets are dirty, the buildings are old (but cool, architecturally) and the property taxes are high. Most Bridgeporters, once they can afford a home, move out to one of the surrounding towns. It's a mess and has been for as long as I've been politically aware.

But, there is hope. Bridgeport also has the most successful non-Major League baseball team ever. The Atlantic League's Bridgeport Blu-u-u-u-u-uefish! They play at the gorgeous Bluefish Field at Harbor Yard.

The Polka Dot Playhouse has moved to the center of town. Good thing, too. Polka Dot used to be at Pleasure Beach. Pleasure Beach used to host a huge carnival and amusement park every summer. The problem is that it was accessible only via a wooden bridge that burned down some years ago. So the Playhouse found a new home. Yay!

Okay, let me rap this up now 'cuz this is probably boring you to tears.

Bridgeport's nickname is "The Park City". There are large parks throughout the city. The major beach, on Long Island Sound, is called Seaside Park. But, there's another major park further inland called Beardsley Park. It was the private property of a man named Beardsley who willed his property, upon his demise, to the City on the condition that it be used as a public park. It has long been the home of the Beardsley Zoo, or Beardsley Zoological Gardens. It's also the site of the annual Shakespeare Festival.

At a population of about 135,000, Bridgeport is the largest city in Connecticut. But, it's not a large city. While "city life" is present in the downtown area, rural life is just a few minutes up the 25-8 connector. (That's a highway running north into the boonies.)

Okay, I'm done!

Now, write about your hometown on your blog and link back to me! And tell yer readers to write about their hometown and to link to you! Let's see if we can get this going, eh?!!

Posted by Tuning Spork at May 22, 2005 08:47 PM

Ahh Bridgeport. Land of such opportunity and history. Why doesn't it surprise me to also know that one shouldn't be caught outside after dark there.

Its history leaves scars, like Joe Ganim (and family) who seems to own or have own everything in town that couldn't be nailed down.

Its traditions of drug abuse and crime. Why those poor teenage youngsters and their silly gangs. No doubt many of them also inhabit the area graveyards.

And the Bluuuuu-fish. Despite having good teams, it constantly loses money. The ball park and nearby indoor arena have yet to become enough of a draw to people throughout the tri-state.

Ahhh Bridgeport. Not only have we all endured your travelogue, but now know far too much for our own good.

Posted by: Bbrother at May 23, 2005 05:20 AM

I was going to take up your gauntlet, but I'm finding it difficult to wax lyrical about Joliet, IL. What can you say about a place where the main claim to fame is the state prison? ;)

Posted by: Susie at May 25, 2005 12:33 PM
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