Shortly after the Civil War, Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux transformed the lands around Bridgeport Harbor, Long Island Sound, and Black Rock Harbor into what is today – Seaside Park (Project No. 12021). Thanks to advocacy by Bridgeport’s daily newspaper, plus land donations from nearby residents, Seaside Park came to fruition. Most notable among donors were Nathaniel Wheeler, Colonel William Noble and P.T. Barnum (of Barnum & Bailey Circus fame) whose later mansion “Waldemere” looked over the park to Long Island Sound. The original 1867 park was forty-four acres.
Seaside Park was the first park designed by Olmsted and Vaux outside of metropolitan New York. According to the Connecticut Olmsted Legacy Trail, the “value of such a public pleasure ground for the health and recreation of the citizenry was equally recognized as an economic investment in the continued development of the industrial City, increasing tourism and land values.”
Two decades later, Olmsted returned with his stepson and partner John Charles Olmsted to design Beardsley Park (Project No. 00691), making Bridgeport the only city of its size with more than one Olmsted park.
After much expansion into the adjacent marshlands, Seaside Park now stretches along 2.5 miles of waterfront including a 3000-foot-long stone breakwater extending to the Black Rock Light House. Three of the city’s main roads – Park Avenue, Main and Broad Street– link the city to the park and shorefront.
The Bridgeport History Center explains that Olmsted “created circular drives and grassy lawns for the pleasure of Bridgeport’s citizens” by 1867. At the time, Bridgeport was home to only 15,000 people, but FLO and Vaux anticipated urban growth.
Today, the Connecticut Office of Tourism describes Seaside Park as “325 acres of lush lawns, shady glades and sports fields rolling toward Long Island Sound, [and] offers many amenities including a bathing beach, bathhouse, ball fields, picnic areas, and hiking trails.” Concerts and local music performances frequently fill the park, programming that can be linked back to P.T. Barnum himself!
If you would like to learn more about Seaside and an exciting collaborative project underway in the park, check out this recording of our recent virtual event.