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Deacons Point Historic District


The Deacon's Point Historic District was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1992. Portions of the content on this web page were adapted from a copy of the original nomination document. [1] Adaptation copyright © 2010, The Gombach Group.

Description

The Deacon's Point Historic District is a residential enclave located on the east shore of Yellow Mill Pond, an arm of Bridgeport's inner harbor. It was laid out as a planned housing development and contains 79 structures, most of which date from the last third of the 19th century. Situated for the most part on unusually deep plots and architecturally distinguished from surrounding structures, the houses of the community form a recognizable historic entity in the midst of the city's East End, a neighborhood characterized by more intense early-20th century developments.

Deacon's Point is located on the west side of the peninsula that constitutes Bridgeport's East End district, at the halfway point between Boston Avenue (U.S. Route 1) to the north and the waters of Bridgeport Harbor to the south. The Deacon's Point Historic District boundaries on the west extend to within 100 feet of the millpond (the intervening space is primarily landfill dating from the early years of the present century). The north boundary is within a half-block of the main rail trackline through the city, and the south boundary is one block north of Connecticut Avenue (Connecticut Route 769), a major east-west thoroughfare. The city's central business district is located one mile to the west, and the Connecticut Turnpike (Interstate 95) is three blocks south at its closest point. The Deacon's Point Historic District, situated on level terrain at the foot of Old Mill Hill, is spread over four blocks. The grid street pattern is oriented on a southeasterly northwesterly direction, a contrast to the north south axis of the remainder of the area's roadways. There are a handful of vacant lots, and no open parklands, within the Deacon's Point Historic District parameters.

The housing stock of Deacon's Point exhibits characteristics common to suburban developments constructed at this time outside many of Connecticut's rising industrial centers. Most of its individual structures were set back at least 20 feet from the streets behind shaded lawns. Similar spacing between houses contributed to a park-like quality. The typical 150-foot lot depth provided space for a horse or cow barn, vegetable garden and fruit plantings. Houses were usually of wood-frame construction, clapboarded or shingled or a combination of both, and almost universally two-and-one-half stories in height. Housing units most frequently consisted of six rooms, including formal parlor and dining room. Special features facade-length verandas, ventilated towers or attic spaces, and movable louvered window blinds were incorporated to deal with hot and humid summer weather conditions.

Deacon's Point Historic District's component structures can be divided into three distinguishable categories based on their period of origin. Following is a capsule description of each:

1. Mid-Victorian Houses are those constructed between the onset of development in March of 1866 and the elevation of the neighborhood into the Borough of West Stratford in 1873.

They number 26 of the 79-building total, and are so remarkably homogenous as to suggest a common origin in a single builder's handbook or construction firm. Typically, these houses are balloon-framed, two-and-one-half stories in height. The most common expression of this mode has a low-pitched front-gable roof set with an arcuated attic light, a vernacular adaptation of the Italianate style. Variant examples are found with flat or hip roofs, or with more steeply pitched gables set with lancet-arch windows, a type which has been termed Victorian Gothic in this nomination. Virtually all of these houses are three bays in width, with a veranda running the breadth of the facade. On Williston Street are a number of double houses with side-gable roofs which otherwise reflect the characteristics described above.

2. Late Victorian Houses include those structures built during the era of the Borough of West Stratford (1873 1889) and in the first decade after incorporation into the City of Bridgeport. Comprising nearly half the total (37 out of 79 buildings), they are a substantially diversified group that includes ambitious architect-designed single-family residences and duplexes; small-scaled speculator-built cottages on minimal plots; and the first tenements and commercial blocks that marked the advent of urbanization. Of key importance are two houses (1422-8 and 1450 Seaview Avenue) designed by Bridgeport's Palliser architectural firm, the plans of which were published nationally in the 1870s, and a row of Queen Anne styled two-families along the water side of Seaview Avenue (1487 through 1567, odd-numbered side) developed by Warren H. Lamson and designed by his son, Harrison. On Holly, Williston, and Deacon Streets the infill houses of this period generally reflected the scale of the pre-existing structures around them, while the more urban scale of the easterly side of Seaview Avenue above Holly Street was the first major departure from the suburban village pattern.

3. Early-20th Century Buildings number 16, constructed between 1900 and the conclusion of World War I. Bridgeport at this time was a rapidly expanding manufacturing center, and any remaining land within such close proximity of the city center and factory districts was too valuable for the erection of single-family residences on commodious plots. Economics thus dictated that all domestic construction (with a single exception at 204 Deacon Street) be of multi-unit buildings, ranging in type from richly detailed two-family flats with stained-glass windows, fireplaces, and oak interior woodwork to hulking six-unit "railroad flat" apartments. On Deacon and Holly Streets the houses of this period again seemed to be somewhat respectful of their predecessors in context; Williston Street and Seaview Avenue saw marked changes in their streetscape with the addition of large-scaled structures. Even these, however, are few enough in number and accommodating enough in design to be substantially tempered by the presence of the 19th-century suburban cottages that surround them.

The majority of the Deacon's Point Historic District's dwellings have been covered over with some form of artificial siding. This is demonstrably a reversible alteration, as the original siding materials and decorative treatment clearly remain in place beneath the later obfuscation.

Significance

Summary

The Deacon's Point Historic District is an intact 19th-century residential neighborhood, a well-preserved enclave composed primarily of cottage-type dwellings. It is reflective of working-class housing ideals at the close of the Civil War and the onset of intensive industrialization in Bridgeport. With its situation on a promontory in a salt-water inlet, its spacious lot sizes, and its distinguished if modest architecture, it provided the city's mechanics and factory hands with a pleasant living environment beyond the reach of the already polluted and congested urban center across the bay. Deacon's Point's residents enjoyed extensive shoreline vistas to the south against the backdrop of the 140-foot elevation of Old Mill Hill, a setting especially suited to the romantic architectural creations of the Victorian era.

Historical Significance

The history of Deacon's Point prior to its subdivision and present development can be traced to the remote past. Almost certainly it was the site of a Native American seasonal encampment or village, as sizable shell middens were noted during the 19th century on the shores of Yellow Mill Pond at the (then) foot of Holly Street, and a burial ground was unearthed nearby at the base of Old Mill Hill (south side of Barnum Avenue opposite Mill Hill Avenue) in 1892. Perhaps more importantly, and indicative that this was a place of religious significance, it was the location of the "Pow Wow or Medicine Camp" described at length in Orcutt's History of Stratford and Bridgeport (published 1884) as consisting of concentric circles of rounded stone posts. As of this writing, however, no formal archeological investigation has been undertaken.

Deacon's Point derives its name from its first owner of record, Philip Groves, who was awarded this tract in the division of the "New Field" by the Town of Stratford in the 1640s. Groves, whose houselot was at the southwest corner of Main Street and South Avenue in Stratford Center, was appointed ruling elder at the establishment of the Stratford Church in 1639, serving in that capacity until his death in 1676. In 1642 he was made the first Deputy of the town; in 1654 he was appointed, by the Court of the Connecticut Colony, Assistant to the Magistrates, and in 1660 was made one of the Grand Jury of the Colony. He laid out a cartway between his homelot and his plantation at Deacon's Point that survives as part of South and Stratford Avenues in Stratford and Stratford, Union, and Central Avenues in Bridgeport. In the colonial era this was known as "Peacock's Lane" after John Peacock, who farmed the land immediately to the east of Deacon's Point and resided at Stratford Center just to the south of Groves.

On January 20, 1673, Groves sold his "27 acres of upland" to William and John Curtis, whose descendants were to retain possession for almost 140 years (Stratford Land Records, Volume 1, page 110). This same tract changed hands again on March 9, 1812, when the Curtis heirs sold it for 250 pounds to Pixlee Judson (Stratford Records, Volume 31, page 37). Finally, in the last transaction involving the entire tract, Henry Judson, son of Pixlee, sold 26-1/4-acres to Francis O'Came on December 28, 1847, "said tract of land (being) known by the name of Deacon's Point" (Volume 37, page 553). The price paid was $1200.

Scant biographical information has come to light regarding O'Came, progenitor of the Deacon's Point development. He is listed in records as a ship's caulker, and first came to West Stratford from Bridgeport in 1839, when he purchased one of Edwards Johnson's houselots on the south side of Stratford Avenue. His surname would appear to be Irish in origin, yet Census records indicate he was born in Connecticut in January, 1800, a date prior to known Irish immigration to eastern Fairfield County. Despite his apparent wealth ($8000 in real estate alone in the 1860 Census, for example) and his importance in West Stratford's developmental history, he was accorded only a minimal obituary in the Bridgeport Standard upon his death on March 24, 1883.

Apparently O'Came had the wherewithal to let his purchase lie fallow until significant development opportunities presented themselves. As the land was of unusual fertility and relatively free from stone, it is probable that the tract was rented to farmers from Old Mill Hill for crop and hay production during the ensuing two-decade period. A contemporary painting of Yellow Mill in the possession of the Stratford Historical Society shows the waterfront to have been heavily wooded.

Immediately after the cessation of Civil War hostilities, Bridgeport's industrial base experienced a rapid expansion. The Standard of December 28, 1865, cited the "unexampled prosperity with which our city has been blessed" in an article entitled "The Progress of Bridgeport." It described some 16 new manufacturing concerns that had commenced operations in the preceding months, along with construction and site acquisition activity by other firms which would make the year 1866 "ever memorable in the history of Bridgeport." Among those factories enumerated were the Bridgeport Brass Company and the Williams Silk Manufacturing Company, the two plants with perhaps the most significant effects on development prospects in West Stratford.

An acute shortage of available housing for industrial workers soon manifested itself. Describing the new silk factory on August 21, 1865, the Standard predicted, "(This establishment) will bring to our city new citizens who will become permanent residents. At present time it is next to impossible to find houses to accommodate the increasing population. Will not some enterprising contractor put up a few blocks to meet the demands of the public?" In the following months that newspaper took up the housing crisis as something of a crusade. A January 20, 1866, article, "More Houses Wanted," warned "We shall soon become the chief manufacturing city of the state...The scarcity of suitable dwelling houses is a serious inconvenience and is a clog to our prosperity. It must be remedied in some way or our progress will be so hampered as to direct elsewhere the channel of industry that is now centering towards our city." A February 12 item added "Something must be done and that speedily in the way of dwelling houses to meet the demands of these industrial establishments. We ought to have at least two hundred more dwelling houses at moderate rents." Again, on February 17 it predicted "Building materials are high, and so is real estate, but the price of real estate will certainly fall if our prosperity is checked (by the housing shortage)."

On January 2, 1866, the Standard noted perhaps the pivotal event in Francis O'Came's decision to undertake the development of his Deacon's Point land; "The horse railroad is now completed...The cars will commence running on Thursday next." For the first time the property had what it had always lacked — ready access. Public transportation within a quarter mile now made Deacon's Point extremely desirable for the construction of housing for workers unable to afford private carriages. March 12, 1866, marked the initial appearance in the Standard of O'Came's lot offering, which read "FOR SALE — Twenty of the most desirable building lots ever offered in this vicinity, situated a short distance beyond Yellow Mill Bridge, in plain view of the Sound and Bridgeport Harbor. These lots are all one acre each, of light, dry, and early gardening land, and the price is less than the 'seven by nine' city lots where one cannot stretch without trespass. To see plans and get particulars call on STAPLES, 12 State Street."

O'Came appears to have concentrated his lot sales on Beach Street (now Deacon Street) in the initial wave of activity, with the result that the street was soon built up as a showcase of the neighborhood's potential. A number of the pioneer purchasers were listed in City Directories as joiners, builders, and carpenters, perhaps attracted to the community by the prospect of future work as development progressed. Lots generally sold for between $250 and $300, substantially less than the $1200 to $2000 charged for smaller building sites nearby in East Bridgeport's Pembroke City development.

The Williams Silk Company, in close proximity to Deacon's Point and seemingly so ripe with promise during, the heady days of its construction in 1865 and 1866, failed in 1867, and as a result development came to a virtual standstill. The year 1868, however, saw a major rebound in activity, and West Street (Seaview Avenue), Center (Holly) Street, and Williston Street were as built up as Beach Street by the end of that construction season. In 1869 the New York Tap and Die Works, the first major industrial operation to be erected in West Stratford, opened immediately to the north of Deacon's Point, resulting in a spate of new housing construction.

The westerly portions of Stratford township, which included Deacon's Point, Lake Village to the north of it, and the Ely & Wheeler development at the south tip of the peninsula, grew rapidly in the postbellum period, while the older, agriculturally oriented portions of the town stagnated or declined. For this reason, these newer communities combined in 1873 and incorporated as the Borough of West Stratford to provide increased services to residents. Immediately, two new schoolhouses were constructed, roads improved, and police and fire departments organized. In 1883, a 600-foot bridge was built connecting the southerly tip of Deacon's Point to the mainland, and West Street became a portion of "Sea View Avenue." This connection established, the Standard observed on May 6, 1883, that "East of Sea View Avenue houses are springing up like mushrooms." The previously acquired suburban character, however, was maintained throughout the years of the Borough's existence.

In 1889 West Stratfordites wanted out of their association with the older town altogether and sought union with the bustling city on the opposite side of the bay. A plebiscite was taken, and consolidation with Bridgeport was approved by an overwhelming margin. The old Borough was rechristened the East End, and within a short time was experiencing another watershed in construction activity. The Standard of September 15, 1891, took note of the progress: "The Southern district and the West End (of Bridgeport) have each had their boom and now the East End is in full enjoyment of a marvelous growth. Within two years this district has been changed from an inconvenient city-conducted suburb to one of the most pleasant residential portions of the city. But especially during the last spring and summer its growth has been phenomenal."

For the first time since its original layout, Deacon's Point began to lose some of its insularity and separate community identity as the farmland to the east long known as "Peacock's Possessions" was developed for housing and the easterly branch of Yellow Mill Pond (called "Peacock's Creek" in old deeds) was filled in. City Directories in the 1890s no longer listed "Deacon's Point" after residents' street addresses. New factories were built along the railroad across the northern edge of the district — the old New York Tap and Die Works was taken over by the Holmes & Edwards Silver Company in 1882 and greatly expanded (it was to become the International Silver Company in 1930); to the east of it the John S. Fray Hardware Manufacturing Company and the Bridgeport Chain Company erected large plants within a few years after consolidation. Across the millpond the Union Metallic Cartridge Company, American Ordnance Company, and American and British Manufacturing Company provided employment to many Deacon's Point residents.

The ethnic composition of the neighborhood began to change after 1889, reflecting the population of the city of which it was now a part. Deacon's Point's original home builders were predominantly from old New England families, with representatives of the local Irish community (James Cleary, John Delahunt, Owen Kelly, and John Mulloy) as well as a few Germans (John Cuzner, George Zink). This ethnic mixture remained relatively stable throughout the Borough period. With the building boom following consolidation, there was a surge in the number of new German residents, and Joseph Ruzicka, forerunner of a sizable Slovak migration to the neighborhood, built a house on Deacon Street in 1891. By the first decade of the present century there were significant concentrations of Swedes on Deacon Street (probably attracted by the opening of the Swedish Baptist Bethel Church around the corner at 291 Bunnell Street in 1907), and Central European Jews on Williston Street (Congregation Ein Yacob was organized nearby at 748 Connecticut Avenue in 1916).

During the first half of the 20th century, however, Deacon's Point was most noted as the center of Connecticut's largest Armenian community. The first individual with a recognizable Armenian surname, John Armaganian, was listed in the City Directory for 1910 at 145 Holly Street. A year later he was joined by Vrvio Kabonian at 141 Holly Street and Harry Kerbekian at 143 Holly Street. By the time the 1913 Directory was published, Dick Armoozian's restaurant and coffee house at 1536 Seaview Avenue sat at the center of a small but thriving community. Many of the Armenian newcomers were skilled silversmiths who found employment at the adjoining Holmes & Edwards Silver Company. The number of immigrants increased dramatically following the launching of an overt policy of genocide against Armenians on their native soil by the Turkish government in April, 1915. Newspaper accounts of the period reveal the presence of an especially robust ethnic enclave at Deacon's Point through the 1920s, 1930s, and 1940s. The Armenian Revolutionary Federation maintained a headquarters on Holly Street (no longer extant) that was visited by the President of the short-lived (1919-1920) Armenian Republic. There were frequent parades and national and religious festivals.

Many first and second-generation Armenian-Americans moved to the suburbs after 1950. The Armenian Community Center closed in the 1960s, and the Armenian Apostolic Church was relocated to Trumbull in 1972. The African-American community, which is predominant today, can be traced back to 1938 at Deacon's Point. In that year the Langston family, operators of a neighborhood cleaners, moved to 1557 Seaview Avenue.

Architectural Significance

The Deacon's Point Historic District is significant as a rare survivor in the context of Bridgeport's built environment. It comprises an intact 19th-century residential neighborhood that is still a readily discernible entity in the midst of later, 20th-century industrial and residential sprawl. The architecture of its individual components, while modest in comparison with that of the city's more opulent Victorian-era neighborhoods (e.g.Golden Hill, Seaside Park, or Washington Park), nevertheless still exhibits recognizable stylistic influences. The cottage-like qualities of most of Deacon's Point's dwellings as well as their suburban-scaled spatial relationships have been preserved to the present day in relatively intact condition.

The initial wave of building activity between 1866 and 1871 was almost certainly undertaken without the benefit of professional architects. The simple cottages of this period were adorned on their exteriors with stock windows, doors, porch posts, and attic gable lights to distinguish them from one another, yet their basic plans varied but little. In the 1870s the neighborhood reached something of a pinnacle of architectural distinction when the architectural firm of Palliser, Palliser & Company designed their "Model Towered Cottage" at 1450 Seaview Avenue for W.W. Osborn. The plans for this house were published and distributed nationally in the 1870s and 1880s, and duplicate structures were erected in many states. A nearby double house (1422-28 Seaview Avenue) also appears to have been the work of that firm.

The latter years of the 19th century saw the architectural enhancement of the Deacon's Point Historic District. Yellow Mill Pond, opened to cleansing tidal flow by the demolition of the old mill dam in 1889, began to attract some fine residences to its periphery. Architect Henry A. Lambert designed a classic shingle style cottage to grace the shore at the foot of Deacon Street in 1890. Later, a distinguished row of Queen Anne stacked duplexes along Seaview Avenue was designed by Harrison G. Lamson, who is credited with introducing this mode to Bridgeport. Many of his similar commissions were published in the Scientific American Architects and Builders Edition in the period 1897 — 1902. At the turn of the century, businessman James F. McNamara set about creating a neighborhood commercial center for Deacon's Point with a trio of Renaissance-styled blocks at the juncture of Seaview Avenue and Williston Street.

Relatively few additions were made to the community's building stock after 1900, and the last house to be built there was completed in 1919. In appearance today the entire Deacon's Point Historic District remains highly suggestive of its 19th-century origin, the vicissitudes of some lost architectural detailing or the addition of artificial siding corrupting its integrity but slightly. No uncomplimentary 20th century structures have been erected to compromise its streetscapes (two buildings listed as Non-Contributory are so designated as the result of substantial remodelings that deviate fundamentally from their original designs).

References

Bridgeport City Directories, 1866-1970.

City of Bridgeport Building Department Records.

City of Bridgeport Land Records.

Historic Houses files Historical Collections, Bridgeport Public Library.

Historic Maps file, Historical Collections, Bridgeport Public Library.

News Clipping file. Historical Collections, Bridgeport Public Library.

Orcutt, Rev. Samuel W. History of Stratford and Bridgeport (1884).

Palliser, George and Charles. Model Homes for the People (1876).

Palliser, George and Charles. Palliser's American Cottage Homes (1878).

Stratford Historical Society collections.

Town of Stratford Land Records.

United States Census Records.

Wilcoxson, Howard. History of Stratford (1939).

  1. Charles W. Brilvitch, City of Bridgeport, Deacon's Point Historic District, Bridgeport, Connecticut, nomination document, 1992, National Park Service, National Register of Historic Places, Washington, D.C.

Deacons Point Historic District Map

Street Names
Deacon Street • Holly Street • Seaview Avenue • Williston Street

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