Mary Witkowski

Abolishment of Hard Times: Part Two

Abolishment of Hard Times: Part Two
November 02, 2012

Written by Ebenezer Wakeley, Jr. (1843-1916)

Edited by great-great grandson Gregory Robert Cunningham

 My father, Ebenezer Wakelee, the son of Daniel Wakelee and Mary Baldwin, was born January 13, 1818.  He married Mary Jennings of Greenfield Hill, CT, who was the daughter of Seth Jennings who lived in Easton, Fairfield County, CT, and died there in the year 1871.  My parents were married in 1841.  I was born in Trumbull, Fairfield County, Connecticut, on December 17, 1843.  I was the second of six children.  When I was born the house my father was building was between the two turnpikes on land inherited from the estate of his father.It was not ready to be occupied and we were living in an old house on the New Turnpike.  The first remembrance of life was in the new house that my father had built.  Here the family lived until they moved to Bridgeport in 1852.

Hard Times

It was with great difficulty that men could get work no matter how skilled in their trades.  The times were hard in the North before the Civil War, and there existed what was known as the “1857 Hard Times.”  During this period of hard times my father was without work, so he would cut wood for the farmers living out and about Bridgeport.  He was an expert with the axe, having acquired this ability to wield an axe when he was a boy working under the control of his father.  For two or three generations, the Wakelees had been hewers of timber, which they sold, when prepared at the saw mill, to the ship builders to be used in the construction of vessels.

It was during these hard times that my father solicited of a passing farmer the job of cutting wood and was told to go to work and cut the cord wood at a place about two and one half miles from Bridgeport.  My father was so glad for the chance of work that he did not bother about the price to be paid.  I went to see my father at work and I remember there was snow on the ground.  However, my father cut considerable wood and piled it properly to be measured for the cord.  One day my father was home when the farmer was going by and my father ran out to talk settlement.  There was a long talk on the highway, old Main Street, before my father came back to the house.  He was in a great heat of anger, using oaths in doing so.  The farmer wanted my father to take a portion of the wood, and a little money as payment.  My father, when aroused to anger, a violent swearer and I remember that on this occasion he did more than swear.  He cursed the Country and demanded God to bring blood and revolution upon this country.  It is more than likely that the Almighty paid little attention to this prayer,

Historical Accounts

African American History:Can you help Identify these People?

African American History:Can you help Identify these People?
July 12, 2011

We need your assistance!  We have photographs which we need to identify for cataloguing.

We will be posting photographs for you to help us identify  If you can assist us…please give us the names of individuals.  Drop by the History Center or send us the names of individuals that you are able to identify.

We will post a new photograph every week…help us out!

Who are the persons in this photograph?

Please identify left to right.

Call (203) 576-7417

Neighborhood: East Side

Alice Whiting Farrar and Geraldine Farrar Johnson

Alice Whiting Farrar and Geraldine Farrar Johnson
October 17, 2016

By Mary K. Witkowski
Editor: Ann Marie Virzi

Alice Whiting Farrar had many passions: music, church, education and above all, her family and their home on Bridgeport’s East End. Skills she learned at a young age, especially sewing,served her well as a mother running a household with her husband Edward Langston Farrar and their seven children.

Alice and Edward Farrar set high expectations for their children, including their third oldest, Geraldine Farrar Johnson, who would go on to become Bridgeport’s first female and African-American schools superintendent.

African American Heritage, Education, Family Tree Stories, Neighborhood: East End, Neighborhood: South End, Women

Baldwin Plaza in 1974

August 13, 2012

Directly behind what was then the new state courthouse building, a plaza costing around $1million was built.  Dedicated at a ceremony on October 10, 1974, the plaza was named after former Connecticut governor Raymond E. Baldwin Sr.

The ceremony was held in the new plaza, with then mayor Nicholas Panuzzio giving former Governor Baldwin the keys to the city.  Also in attendance was Superior Court Judge Otto H. La Macchia and Bridgeport Bar Association President C. David Munich.Governor Baldwin was governor of Connecticut from 1939 to1941 and from 1943 to 1946.  Governor Baldwin, on the far left, was 81 years old at the time of this ceremony.  When working as a lawyer for Pullman Comley in 1924, Baldwin lived on Savoy Street in Bridgeport’s North End for a short time  He was a resident of  Stratford.

Raymond E Baldwin Sr.  died October 4, 1986.  He was buried in Middletown.

Photo: Baldwin Plaza Dedication ceremony, October 10, 1974


Architecture, Featured, Neighborhood: Downtown

Beardsley Park and Zoo

Beardsley Park and Zoo
September 09, 2010

Beardsley Park :”A Place that Would Always be Theirs”

By Eric D. Lehman

After the success of Seaside Park, Bridgeport was ready to put aside more land for the enjoyment and refreshment of its citizens. When wealthy cattle baron James W. Beardsley donated over one hundred acres of land in 1878, he gave it on the condition that it “shall accept and keep the same forever as a public park.” He had been inspired one day while watching local children play outside, and decided they deserved “a place that would always be theirs.” Located at the north end of Bridgeport along the Pequonnock River, the land also contained the highest point in the city limits. So, in 1881 the designer of Seaside Park, famous architect Frederick Law Olmsted, created a plan for a “pastoral” park, using the existing contours of land in what was called “rustic arrangements of boulder and parterre.” 

Soon citizens relaxed on lawns shaded by European beeches and took dips in the wide expanse of Bunnell’s Pond. A replica of William Shakespeare’s home, the “Anne Hathaway Cottage” was built in the park on the 300th anniversary of the author’s death. In the years in which Barnum and Bailey circus had its winter quarters in Bridgeport, animals like zebras, camels, and elephants were exercised in the park. This heralded the park’s future, and in the year 1920, City Parks Commissioner Wesley Hayes began the process of creating a zoo.

Beginning with exotic birds from local citizens and circus retirees from Barnum and Bailey, the zoo grew quickly. At first, it was a “drive-through” zoo, where visitors could literally see the exhibits without leaving their cars.  The city invested $50,000 to build a large greenhouse, and some animals stayed in its warm confines during the winter months, Soon, monkeys, leopards, and llamas joined more unusual animals like silver foxes and tree ducks. In 1997 the Connecticut Zoological Society bought the zoo from the city and runs it as a nonprofit institution. Today it is still the only zoo in the state of Connecticut, with one of the largest greenhouses and a rare carousel.

The park itself remains a place of refreshment and relaxation for the city’s residents. As designer Frederick Law Olmsted said, it is “just such a countryside as a family of good taste and healthy nature would resort to, if seeking a few hours complete relief from scenes associated with the wear and tear of ordinary town life.” A statue of James Beardsley by Charles Henry Niehaus was erected in 1909 and remains at the entrance to the park, watching over the land he donated, land that will “always be theirs.”

Want to learn more about Beardsley Park and Zoo? The Bridgeport History Center has the following materials available:

Bridgeport: Tales from the Park City. By Eric D. Lehman (Charleston, SC: The History Press, 2009.)

Barnum's Bridgeport, Neighborhood: North End, Parks

Black Market Rally Bridgeport:1943

Black Market Rally Bridgeport:1943
November 18, 2014

Rationing of many products during World War II, such as food items, gasoline, and coffee, caused a surge of the black market–goods traded illegally.  In August 1943, a rally in Marina Park was held to protest the black market.  Shown in attendance in the rally are from left to right, the following:  (front row) Franz Rupp, pianist; Marian Anderson, opera  singer; Bud Hollick, comedian;Carl Frank, radio announcer and actor; (back row) Franklin P. Adams; columnist and quiz expert; Mayor Jasper McLevy; Edna Ferber, novelist; and Clifton Fadiman, book reviewer for the New Yorker.

Bridgeport at War, Neighborhood: South End

Bridgeport Memoir Writing Class

Bridgeport Memoir Writing Class
September 12, 2015

Memoir Writing Workshop
Time:  Third Saturday of every month, 2:00-3:30 PM
Location: Burroughs-Saden Library, History Center,
925 Broad St.
Contact: 203-576-7400, #7
Writer and published author Elizabeth Hilts leads the class which will include free form writing exercises and an exploration of the nature of memoirs, and examining voice and perspective.  Drop in any month.

HC Events

Bridgeport Soap Box Derby

Bridgeport Soap Box Derby
November 01, 2013

Imagine racing down Boston Avenue in a home made, four wheeled, handmade miniature racing car!  Bridgeport’s Soap Box Derby was run on July 25, 1936 over a course that was 1,050 feet long.  The course ran along Boston Avenue between North Summerfield Avenue and Success Avenue.

Cochrane Cheverolet Company cosponsored the race with Post Publishing Company.  The Bridgeport Police Department helped to regulate the race, re-routing traffic so that the Boston Avenue hill was a smooth, four lane course.

Entrants in the race had to be between the ages of 9 and 15 years old.  The local champion would compete in the All American finals in Akron, Ohio in August of 1936.  No car that was entered in the race could exceed 75 inches in length over all.  All racers must have had rubber tired wheels, with a maximum diameter of 15 inches.

The entire car had to be hand built, however the cost of making the car had to be under $10.00!  Some of the rules set up in making the cars were as follows:  wheels could be home-made, second-hand or newly purchased in stores that specialized in Derby wheels; overall height of the car may not exceed 30 inches.  Brakes were mandatory on each car…the “drag” type of break was the simplest for the soap box racer.  By pressing down on the brake rod with the foot, the brake pad at the end of the rod drags on the ground and stops the car.

Special awards were given for best racing design and the most “unique” entrant.  Mayor Jasper McLevy was the Honorary chairman of the event and the race director was W. Ben Aurandt.

150 boys entered the race. 15,000 spectators lined up and down Boston Avenue to watch the race.  It was 13 year old Richard Moore who won the City Championship.  Richard told reporters that it took him six weeks to build his red racing machine, and it cost $3.84 cents to assemble the car!

Three of the young drivers were injured, receiving lacerations on their legs, and were rushed to nearby Bridgeport hospital.

Featured, Neighborhood: East Side, Neighborhood: North End

Bridgeport Titanic Survivor Drowns in Beardsley Pond?

Bridgeport Titanic Survivor Drowns in Beardsley Pond?
April 12, 2012

Photo: Oscar Palmquist

In April of 1912, the news of the tragedy of the sinking of the ship Titanic resonated throughout the world.  In the New York metropolitan area, the many immigrants and their families shuddered to think of the sad drownings.  Many area residents themselves traveled over from Europe and other countries by boat.  It was a difficult trip, one of hardship for many, as they left their homeland to take their chances on a new life overseas in America.

Those who died were listed  in the newspapers in the days following the tragedy.  The horrible news that came back was described too grimly in the newspapers.  The Bridgeport Post reported; “The faces of the dead were set in expressions of horror and extreme fear, and legs and arms were bent and contorted, show how madly they had fought for their life in the icy water.”

There were survivors of the shipwrecked Titanic.  One survivor, Oscar Palmquist, managed to jump into the icy waters as its final six feet sunk into the Atlantic.  Oscar’s brother, Amandus, gave the account of Oscar’s rescue to the Yonkers Herald, April 22, 1912.   “He tied two life belts around his waist, knowing that the suction as the boat went down would make the chance of getting away from her very small.”

Oscar was in the freezing water for more than five hours before being rescued by the Carpathia.  He was assisted by a young woman in one of the lifeboats.  The Swedish girl, who let him hold onto her shawl like a rope from the lifeboat, later died from exposure.

Oscar and his brother Amandus first lived in Yonkers, but later moved to Bridgeport, Connecticut.  Oscar Palmquist, a single man, lived on Bassick Avenue and worked in a local factory.  On March 23, 1925, Palmquist was reported missing, and was found dead in Beardsley Park reservoir by park employees on April 19, 1925.

Even though the Bridgeport police reported the cause of his death as drowning, Larsen’s funeral home said the body had not been submerged in water that long.  The family of Palmquist felt that it had been foul play. A nephew of Oscar Palmquist, Robert Palmquist told me recently that “Oscar never went near the water after the Titanic disaster.  He also was a strong man and would not have drowned in a pond.”

In 1925, as fairly recent immigrants to Bridgeport, the family did not pursue Oscar’s death any further, because it may have caused friction for the family.

Heroes and Villains