Bridgeport is the most populous city in the U.S. state of Connecticut. Located in Fairfield County, the city had an estimated population of 137,912 in 2006 and is the core of the Greater Bridgeport area. The city is part of the New York combined statistical area and is the fifth largest city in New England.
The city is marked by its attachment to its famous resident, the circus-promoter and once mayor P.T. Barnum. Barnum built three houses in the city, and housed his circus in town during winters. Other than Black Rock and Parts of Brooklawn which were originally part of the township of Fairfield, Bridgeport was originally a part of the township of Stratford. The first English settlement on the west bank of the mouth of the Pequonnock River was made somewhere between 1639 and 1665 and was called Pequonnock. This village was renamed Newfield sometime before 1777. More people settled further inland and to the West and the area officially became known as Stratfield in 1701, likely due to its location between the already existing towns of Stratford and Fairfield.
Bridgeport's early years were marked by residents' reliance on fishing and farming. The city's location on the deep Newfield Harbor fostered a boom in shipbuilding and whaling in the mid-19th century, especially after the opening of a railroad to the city in 1840.
The city rapidly industrialized in the late-19th century, when it became a manufacturing center. It produced such goods as the famous Bridgeport milling machine, brass fittings, carriages, sewing machines, brassieres, saddles, and ammunition. Bridgeport annexed the village of Black Rock and its busy harbor in 1870.
On Saturday, March 10, 1860, Abraham Lincoln spoke in the city's Washington Hall, an auditorium at the old Bridgeport City Hall (now McLevy Hall), at the corner of State and Broad streets. Not only was the largest room in the city packed, but a crowd formed outside as well. Lincoln received a standing ovation before taking the 9:07 p.m. train that night back to Manhattan. A plaque marks the site where Lincoln spoke. Other notables who have given speeches in Bridgeport include Martin Luther King, Jr. who spoke three times at the Klein Auditorium in the 1960s; and President George W. Bush who spoke before a small, selected group of Connecticut business people and officials at the Playhouse on the Green, just across the street from McLevy Hall, in 2006.
Industrialization started taking place in the mid-19th century. Famous factories included Wheeler & Wilson, which produced sewing machines and exported them throughout the world, and the Locomobile Company of America, builder of one of the premier automobiles in the early years of the century.
In the summer of 1915, amid increased labor demand for World War I, a series of strikes demanding the eight-hour day began in Bridgeport. They were so successful that they spread throughout the Northeast.
By 1930, Bridgeport was a thriving industrial center with more than 500 factories. Since the late 19th century, its industrial jobs had attracted the most recent immigrants: Irish, Italians and eastern Europeans. The build-up to World War II further helped its industries.
Restructuring of heavy industry starting after the mid-20th century caused the loss of thousands of jobs and residents. Like other urban centers in Connecticut, Bridgeport suffered during the deindustrialization of the United States in the 1970s and 1980s. Suburban flight as well as overall mismanagement, for which several city officials were convicted, contributed to the decline. In September 1978, Bridgeport teachers went on a 19-day strike due to deadlocked contract negotiations. A court order, as well as state law that made strikes illegal in Connecticut, resulted in 274 teachers being arrested and jailed. A portion of the harbor in Bridgeport.
Like other northeastern cities suffering from the effects of Post World War II industrial decline, Bridgeport made numerous efforts at revitalization. In one proposal Las Vegas developer Steve Wynn was to build a large casino, but that project failed to materialize. In 1991, the city filed for bankruptcy protection but was declared solvent by a federal court.
In the early 21st century, Bridgeport is a city that despite the longtime burdens of crime, poverty and corruption has taken steps toward redevelopment of its downtown and other neighborhoods. In 2004, artists' lofts in the former Read's Department Store on Broad Street first became available. Several other rental conversions have been completed, including the 117 unit Citytrust bank building on Main Street. The recession has halted, at least temporarily, two major mixed-use projects including a $1 billion waterfront development at Steel Point, but other redevelopment projects have proceeded, albeit slowly, such as the condominium conversion project in Bijou Square. In 2009, the City Council approved a new master plan for development designed both to promote redevelopment in selected areas and to protect existing residential neighborhoods. In 2010, the Bridgeport Housing Authority and a local health center announced plans to build a $20 million medical and housing complex at Albion Street, making use of federal stimulus funds and designed to replace some of the housing lost with the demolition of Father Panik Village.
Bridgeport is located along Long Island Sound at the mouth of the Pequonnock River. According to the United States Census Bureau, the city has a total area of 19.4 square miles (50.2 km²), of which, 16.0 square miles (41.4 km²) of it is land and 3.4 square miles (8.8 km²) of it (17.53%) is water. Bridgeport lies within the transition zone between a humid subtropical and a humid continental (Köppen Cfa/Dfa), with very warm and humid summers and cold, snowy winters.
Although the seasonal extremes are slightly moderated by Long Island Sound, the primary annual weather pattern flow is offshore, from the colder landmasses to the north and west. The adjacent waters result in Bridgeport being several degrees cooler in summer and slightly milder with less snowfall in winter than locations further away from the coast. The city receives 41.7 inches (1,060 mm) of precipitation and 24.8 inches (63 cm) of snowfall in an average year. The snowiest winter on record is 1996 where Bridgeport received 76.8 inches (195 cm).
Bridgeport has a number of venues for live theater and music events, ranging from intimate performing spaces to a stadium hosting rock concerts.
Bridgeport has been the annual home to Gathering of the Vibes, a weekend long arts, music and camping festival featuring some of the best names in festival talent. In 1999, 2000, and 2007 through 2010, thousands of people have come from all over the world to camp in Seaside Park and enjoy such talent as Buddy Guy, Bob Weir and Ratdog, Deep Banana Blackout, Les Claypool, Assembly of Dust, Dirty Dozen Brass Band, Los Lobos and Bridgeport's own The Alternate Routes.
Bridgeport has a number of museums, ranging from the science-oriented to fine arts and historical, as well as the state's largest zoo.
Bridgeport's first public park was the 4-acre (16,000 m2) Washington Park in East Bridgeport, first set aside as a park in 1851. As the city rapidly grew in population, residents recognized the need for more public parks and by 1864, Barnum and other residents had donated approximately 35 acres (140,000 m2) to create Seaside Park, now increased to 375 acres (1.52 km2). In 1878, over 100 acres (400,000 m2) of land bordering the Pequonnock River was added as Beardsley Park. Frederick Law Olmsted, famous for creating New York City's Central Park, designed both Seaside and Beardsley Parks. Over time, more parks were added including 35-acre (140,000 m2) Beechwood Park and Pleasure Beach, home to a popular amusement park for many years.