Stratfield Historic District
The Stratfield Historic District was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1980. Portions of the content on this web page were adapted from a copy of the original nomination document. [†] Adaptation copyright © 2010, The Gombach Group.
The Stratfield Historic District is a 250-building north-south linear district along Clinton and Brooklawn Avenues in the West End of Bridgeport, and includes relating side streets in a general one-block radius to the east. It is located immediately north of Fairfield Avenue (U.S. Route 1A), and at its nearest point is approximately one-half mile from the city's central business district.
The Stratfield Historic District is residential in character. It consists primarily of detached single-family wood frame dwellings, with an admixture of brick as well as two-family houses. There are no intrusions of incompatible commercial architecture, although many of the houses, particularly along Brooklawn, Clinton, and North Avenues have been unobtrusively converted to office use (generally the only visible exterior indications of such conversions are well-scaled signposts on the front lawns). There are six church buildings located within the Stratfield Historic District boundaries.
The Stratfield neighborhood was considered one of Bridgeport's best residential districts between the 1870s and the 1920s, and its buildings are among the city's most distinctive representatives of their various architectural styles. The earliest indigenous structures that remain are two Italianate villas at 528 Clinton Avenue (created 1848; tower and some detailing added 1864) and 840 Laurel Avenue (circa 1855 — moved from the site of 2137 North Avenue in 1914). A somewhat later villa stands at 174 Elmwood Avenue (1872). These dwellings were once seats of extensive rural estates built long before the area suburbanized. An early 19th century farmhouse at 765 Clinton Avenue, extensively remodeled in the 1870s in the Victorian Gothic style and moved to its site from Fairfield Avenue in 1912 and a house of similar background at 555 Clinton Avenue add further historic depth to the district.
The neighborhood was laid out into regular city lots with a grid street pattern in the 1880s. Construction activity between then and the turn of the 20th century accounts for 15 percent of the Stratfield Historic District's buildings (38 out of 250 structures) and set a high standard for subsequent development New interest was shown in the early Colonial history of the area — a pre-Revolutionary cemetery was refurbished in 1879 and an ancient militia drilling ground at North and Brooklawn Avenues was procured by the city and turned into a park in 1887. One Colonial saltbox on North Avenue (reputed to have been a stopping place of George Washington) was elaborately remodeled in the Queen Anne style, but for the most part old homesteads were held in lower esteem than other remainders and were removed for the construction of larger and more modern houses.
Today the Clinton Park Militia Ground is a small (one acre) city park, undistinguished except for a stone monument commemorating the 1936 Centennial of the incorporation of Bridgeport as a city. To the northwest, the Stratfield Burying Ground is surrounded by a rustic stone wall built by the Daughters of the American Revolution in the first years of the 20th century. Many of its early gravestones (they generally date from between 1680 and 1820) have been restored recently as a project of the city's Bicentennial Commission. One other Colonial relic, a Franklin milestone, was reset by the D.A.R. in 1913 and stands in front of 2345 North Avenue.
By 1900 Stratfield was established as the most exclusive of Bridgeport's residential neighborhoods, replacing Washington Park, Golden Hill, Seaside Park, and other aging sections. Clinton and Brooklawn Avenues, themselves lined with stately homes, became the main thoroughfare between downtown Bridgeport and an estate district that had begun to develop just north of the district, around Brooklawn Country Club in Fairfield.
The majority of the houses built between 1900 and 1920 are adaptations of Colonial architecture, perhaps influenced somewhat by their historic environs. As with most neighborhoods built up during this era, however, there are significant numbers of other revived styles, including English Tudor, Regency, Spanish and Dutch Colonial, and French Normandy in addition to the free-styled architecture then emanating out of California.
Set well back from the streets behind wide, tree-shaded lawns, the houses of Stratfield form a cohesive unit and are for the most part eminently compatible in scale. The sharp differences between this neighborhood and those which surround it have determined the boundaries. To the south is Fairfield Avenue, once an upper-class nineteenth century residential street but now almost thoroughly commercialized. On both east and west sides are blocks of two and three family flat-style houses built mostly during the housing boom that enveloped the city during World War I (a handful of these have been included within the Stratfield Historic District for purposes of contiguity). A non-contiguous adjunct along North Avenue, separated from the district by a pair of high-rise modern apartment houses and a row of non-relating two-family houses, is linked to the rest of the district by its common scale, architecture, and general character. To the north is the estate district previously alluded to, known as Brooklawn Park, which differs visibly from the Stratfield neighborhood and might at some future time be studied as a separate National Register entry.
The streets within the Stratfield Historic District are remarkably homogeneous, although those located above North Avenue are slightly more suburban in nature. Late nineteenth century buildings are scattered arbitrarily throughout the neighborhood rather than clustered about the southern extremity as might be expected due to greater proximity to downtown. Houses along the side streets are generally smaller than those lining Brooklawn, North, and Clinton Avenues, but are built in scaled-down versions of the same styles. These blocks contribute much to the district's insularity.
The ambience of Stratfield has changed little from the time of its construction despite the adaptive reuse for non-residential purposes of many of its houses. Most of the buildings are well maintained, and unsympathetic modernizations have as yet been kept to a minimum.
Following is a brief description of the major styles to be found in the Stratfield Historic District and their typical representations:
The Queen Anne style is typified in this district by amply proportioned 2-1/2-story suburban houses constructed of wood, generally with front and side gable roofs and ornately detailed wrap-around verandas. Often there is an octagonal corner tower. Houses of the 1880s show exposed structural members and are sided with a combination of "novelty shingles" in varying patterns and clapboards; those of the 1890s are more staid with less exuberant detailing, gradually blending with the Colonial Revival style by the end of the decade.
Colonial Revival houses in the Stratfield Historic District range from the abstract derivations of the 1890s, often with front and side gable roofs and verandas with turned posts and detailed balustrades, to the architecturally correct copies of Massachusetts manors and Virginia plantation houses of the 1910s and 1920s. Frequently the houses constructed along Brooklawn, Clinton, and North Avenues are of the 5-bay-wide central hall plan, while those along the lesser side streets are three bays wide with a side hall. They are typified by clean, straight lines, side gable roofs, shuttered multi-pane windows, and leaded glass side and top lighted doorways.
English style houses include examples of both Tudor and Regency styles, Tudor houses are characterized by informally massed stucco and/or brick construction highlighted by dark-stained "half-timbering" and leaded glass casement windows. The Regency style, usually executed in brick, as in the Stratfield Historic District an intensification of the Colonial Revival with more elaborate decoration inspired by English Renaissance design and a formal plan.
Spanish Colonial houses are usually similar in form to Colonial Revival examples, differing with their characteristic hip roofs covered with glazed red tile and stucco walls.
Dutch Colonial houses also follow the forms of the Colonial Revival. They differ with their invariable side gable gambrel roofs above the first story with full dormers across the front and rear.
The California style was the only one in common usage in Stratfield in the first part of the 20th century that was not derived in essence from some earlier style. Similar in many respects to the Bungalow style, it is typified by dormered hip roofs and wide eaves, frequently bracketed Houses are usually shingled or stuccoed. In many instances they have cobblestone chimneys and porches with inordinately stocky round or square columns. Taking bits and pieces from the architecture of such diverse sources as South Pacific Islanders, Pacific Northwest Indians, and the Japanese, with an admixture of the Prairie style, the style was popularized by West Coast architects.
The Stratfield Historic District encompasses a late-19th early-20th century suburban residential neighborhood built on the remains of a 17th-century agricultural settlement. It became a favored site for the homes of the city's leading industrialists and businessmen during a period of tremendous expansion when Bridgeport grew from a smaller, commerce-oriented center to one of the great industrial hubs of the Northeast.
Stratfield's contribution to the broad patterns of American history began in the mid-17th century. The farming village was centered at the Stratfield Militia Grounds (northwest corner of North and Brooklawn Avenues, midway between the larger towns of Stratford and Fairfield, which was the basis for its name. It included a gristmill on the Rooster River (just north of where North Avenue crosses it today), a cemetery (the Stratfield Burying Grounds), a Congregational Church (at the northwest corner of North and Park Avenues) and an Episcopal Church (at the northeast corner of North and Wood Avenues). Aside from the cemetery, enshrined early in this century in a burst of historical enthusiasm, there are virtually no tangible remnants of this community, and probably none of its pre-Revolutionary buildings are standing today on their original foundations. The role of this village in area history was highlighted, and perhaps even inflated, by 19th-century historians, however, and it provided a suitable framework for the development of an aristocratic residential district in a city seemingly self-conscious about a lack of colonial antecedent.
The modern development of the neighborhood began in the 1860s. An article appearing in the Bridgeport Standard of 18 March 1885 gives an insight into its origins:
The rapid development of the northern and western portions of our city has attracted attention of late to those sections, and the need of improvements to answer the demands of this growth has been pressing...It is a little strange that, in the neighborhood of the locality mentioned, the intersection of North and Wood Avenues, lay the original Stratfield settlement, selected on account of its availability, its fine location, its healthfulness and its superiority to the "mud flats" where Bridgeport now stands...But the demands of commerce and the developments of industry determined the growth of Bridgeport in another direction, and this once flourishing center, after the year 1800, became a portion of the "outskirts," was turned into farming land, and has remained such, till now the tide of our growth and development, setting back from the "mud flats" out of which the present city has arisen, once more wakes up the old and long forgotten settlement, recalls to mind its historic associations, and also demands its repeopling by another and newer race...Already within the city limits, this tract of land will soon be entirely occupied, and the westward march of city improvement will leave it in the midst of a prosperity which its highest estate a hundred years ago never suggested and its original settlers never dreamed of.
An article from the Standard of 16 April 1889 adds:
"The growth of our city to the west and northward has been very rapid and marked, and must even be more so in the near future. Not long ago, North Avenue was 'out in the woods.' Now it is one of our finest streets, and will soon be built up so that it will be a center of population as well as of popularity. Clinton Avenue is another very elegant street...Already at its intersection with North Avenue it has begun to be built up with that class of residences which give it a distinctive and superior character. Beyond North Avenue it retains its style, and is in such hands that the desirable features already peculiar to it will be preserved."
Despite its unified appearance, the Stratfield neighborhood was the product of a multitude of small developers. Among those offering building lots in 1886 were Zalmon and Granville Goodsell, Clapp Spooner, William E. Seeley, David Sterling, William Leigh, Major Louis N. Middlebrook, Captain O'Brien, Charles Hough, P.T. Barnum, and the Banks and Wood Estates. Typical building lots sold for $1,500.00 to $2,000.00 on side streets, $3,000.00 to $5,000.00 on main avenues.
The area along Brooklawn Avenue was the largest single development in the district, plotted as "Villa Park" in 1893. Laid out by H.B. Clark, of Columbia, South Carolina; James Putney, of London, England; L.H. Hyde, of New York City; and W.C. Haight, F.N. Benham, B.W. Fairchild, and H.H. Scribner, all of Bridgeport, it was intended to "equal, if not excel, any like section in any city in New England." The Bridgeport Standard, observed that "...Golden Hill was already occupied and was, even at that, too close to the business section to afford that quiet and seclusion that wealthy people desire for their city homes; and that section of the city near Seaside Park, which was thought to be the coming place, was growing even more objectionable owing to the increased use of the park by the masses and the westward growth of the city."
That Stratfield succeeded in attracting the city's elite is evidenced by the scale of its domestic building. The neighborhood developed at a steady pace until the city's explosive growth in the years preceding World War I (brought on by its war-related industries) demanded the use of the remaining vacant land for housing. Its previously acquired status, however, was maintained.
The last large tract to be developed was the eight-acre block bounded by Clinton, Beechwood, Laurel, and Maplewood Avenues, divided into 34 lots by the H.L. Blackman & Son Company in 1914. Referring to these lots, the Bridgeport Post of 14 May 1914 stated "...their size shows that it is the intention of the Blackman firm to preserve the quality of the neighborhood as a residential section. From that point of view perhaps there is no section of the city that is so desirable for residential purposes as this plot. It is a matter of choice between the so-called Brooklawn section, and the one now opened to the public, which had been preserved for a number of years for park purposes. Its desirability for homes, which, while not too far away from the center of the city, yet retains all the charm of a suburban section, will attract the well-to-do to the purchase of lots there for homes."
Stratfield was associated with the lives of persons of both local and national significance. P.T. Barnum, the showman, lived adjacent to the district on Fairfield Avenue and used part of the land along Clinton Avenue (then known as Stratfield Road) as a game park in the 1850s. He later became one of the neighborhood's developers. An early resident of Stratfield was S.H. Wales, founder (in 1845) and editor of the Scientific American. His 18-acre estate has long been subdivided, but his house is preserved as the headquarters of the Bridgeport Art League (52 Clinton Avenue).
Residents of note in the early-20th century included Joseph P. Friable, president of the Frisbie Pie Company (it is alleged that the tin plates used by this company were the basis for the modern "frisbee") and Edward R. Ives, a prominent manufacturer of model railroads in the first half of the present century. On a local level, the roster of Stratfield's house builders reads like a "Who's Who" of local industrialists. Representatives of virtually every major manufacturing concern in the city are listed along with prominent shopkeepers and professional people.
The Stratfield neighborhood as a whole constitutes the finest collection of late-19th and early-20th century suburban residential architecture in the Bridgeport area, and is one of the few examples of this type of development on such a large scale in Connecticut. Each of the various architectural styles represented can be seen there in its pristine state, well-maintained and with its original setting (landscaping, companion structures, etc,) still in place. The atmosphere of the neighborhood is redolent of its period of peak development, and as such it stands as a model of late-19th and early-20th century urban residential aspirations.
Barnum, Phineas T. Struggles and Triumphs. New York: American News Co., 1871.
Bridgeport City Directories, 1855 to date.
Orcutt, Rev. Samuel W. History of the City of Bridgeport, New Haven: Tuttle, Morehouse & Taylor, 1887.
News clipping files, Historical Collections, Bridgeport Public Library.
† Charles W. Brilvitch, Connecticut Historical Commission, East Bridgeport Historic District, nomination document, 1978, National Park Service, National Register of Historic Places, Washington, D.C.