Seaside Park: Everything You Need To Know | Stanton House Inn

blackrock light on fayerweather islandLike many Connecticut cities, Bridgeport was once one of the wealthiest and most influential in America.

 

And today, you’ll still see vestiges of that past.

 

And whether Bridgeport, Connecticut is down on its luck or not, Seaside Park remains an impressive shoreline park.

 

This is arguably one of the most impressive parks on the Eastern seaboard.

 

Seaside Park sprawls across 325 acres. Here, lush lawns, shady glades, and sports fields roll toward Long Island Sound. And you can see each of the Connecticut lighthouses in Bridgeport from some vantage point of the park.

 

 

bridgeport ct visitors guide map 1 Seaside Park: Everything You Need to Know
Map design by Stanton House Inn with elements from Flaticon

 

About Seaside Park

Seaside Park is an expansive park along the Long Island Sound shore. It’s to the southeast of Bridgeport’s industrial and commercial district.

 

As a prominent city park, all the major thoroughfares connect to the park:

  • Park Avenue
  • Main Street
  • Broad Street

 

Bridgeport Harbor is to the east. Burr and Cedar Creek inlets form the western boundary line to the three-mile stretch of coastline.

 

You’ll find a 3,000-foot stone breakwater leading to Fayerweather Island and Black Rock Lighthouse at the far western edge of the park.

 

This large municipal sea side park offers, among other amenities:

  • A bathing beach
  • Bathhouse
  • Ball fields
  • Picnic areas
  • And hiking trails

 

The park was designed shortly after the Civil War by Calvert Vaux and Frederick Law Olmsted. Other works by the pair include Manhattan’s Central Park and Prospect Park in Brooklyn.

 

History of Seaside Park

The 17th Regiment of the Connecticut Volunteer Infantry first held training exercises in what would become Seaside Park. This infantry regiment served in the American Civil War.

 

American Park Movement

historic engravingA park-creation movement launched in Bridgeport in 1883. The goal was to provide public lands and combat social ills caused by the city’s increased industrialization and growth. The creation of New York’s Central Park inspired them and the American Park Movement.

 

Self-interested Bridgeport businessmen recognized the value of the park to:

  • Boost the city’s tourism
  • And increase property values

 

They also recognized the value of keeping the general population healthy. Opportunities for outdoor recreation would keep them from radicalizing against unfair working conditions.

 

In theory.

 

PT Barnum

P.T. Barnum, Bridgeport’s most well-known resident and 19th-century circus magnate, had a major part in the park’s creation. Barnum envisioned what was once pasture land, woodlots, and salt marshes as the first seaside “rural” park in the United States.

 

In his autobiography, he recalled the original landscape as littered with boulders and rocks. Add local farmers blocking access to the one narrow lane reaching here, and a visit could be unpleasant, if not impossible.

 

Seaside Park planning

The current layout of the park developed between 1865 and 1920.

 

The park’s planning began in 1884, with the help of Calvert Vaux and Frederick Law Olmsted. The seawall and carriage roads were built in 1885, followed by drives, paths, and tree plantings.

 

Olmsted described Seaside Park in 1884 as “a capital place for a drive or walk… a fine dressy promenade.”

 

National Register of Historic Places

Seaside Park was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1982. Ernest G. Southey, a Bridgeport architect, designed the Casino (the former bath house). The property contains three historically significant buildings:

  • The 1918 Casino
  • The stables, built at the same time.
  • And the Black Rock Harbor Light on Fayerweather Island, built in 1823

 

More recent controversy

postcard of Seaside Park in Bridgeport CTBridgeport’s Parks Department spent approximately $9 million on improvements between 1994 and 2002. The goal and result was a realignment of the roads, more parking, and a brand-new bathhouse on the west beach with restrooms, showers, and cabanas.

 

Historians were in a huff over the changes. Several claimed the parking lots and modern sculpture did a disservice to the rural park atmosphere of the original design.

 

To be fair, automobiles were non-existent when the park opened. And without the changes, Seaside Park would be inaccessible for much of Bridgeport. Transportation and general snobbery would have remained limiting factors for most.

 

Things to do at Seaside Park

Seaside Park offers plenty to do for those enjoying a Connecticut summer day.

 

Aside from other amenities I mentioned, you’ll also find food stands, an access pier, and boat launching facilities.

 

Seaside Beach Path

This route along the three miles of Long Island shore typically takes about an hour to complete on level terrain. It’s ideal for road biking, running, and walking. Open all year, this walking path is beautiful at any time of year.

 

That said, this park and trail are not dog friendly.

 

Check out our list of the most dog friendly places in Connecticut for nearby options.

 

This path meanders along the shoreline and passes through each of the three sections of the park.

Seaside Park sections

The park is divided into three distinct areas. This tour starts with the originally planned park in the east to more recent additions westward.

 

Eastern section

The park’s eastern section follows the design intent of Olmsted and Vaux, including:

  • Wide carriage drives with separate walks with panoramic views of the Sound
  • A pre-existing tree grove
  • And plenty of shade trees

 

A landscaped plaza at Broad and Main Streets and a ceremonial area at Park Avenue serve as park entrances.

 

On the park’s driving track, early automobile enthusiasts raced their (now antique) cars. That said, it was still used for horse driving in the early 1900s.

 

In 1884, Elias Howe’s bronze statue of Barnum was added, followed by Thomas Ball’s bronze statue of Barnum in 1893.

 

Perry Memorial Arch

The final major monument was added in 1918: the William Hunt Perry Memorial Arch. Henry Bacon designed this triumphal arch. He also designed the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, DC. The Perry Memorial Arch is between Waldemere and Park Avenues and makes a grand marker of the main Seaside Park entrance. The city dedicated the arch in memory of William Hunter Perry, president of the Bridgeport Park Commission.

 

Lighthouse on Fayerweather islandSoldiers and Sailors Monument

A Soldiers’ Monument was erected beginning in 1866 and dedicated in 1876. The statue serves as a memorial to the sailors and soldiers who died while serving their country.

 

The city removed the original marble statue in the late 1960s due to vandalism and deterioration. Emily Bedard, a Vermont sculptor, created the replacement with white gypsum polymer and fiberglass.

 

Elias Howe Statue

The first statue from 1884 in Seaside Park honors Elias Howe, Jr . He invented the first practical sewing machine and established a factory to manufacture it in Bridgeport. He was well-known for his patriotism during the Civil War, contributing funds to the 17th Regiment of the Connecticut Volunteer Infantry.

 

Salathiel Ellis designed this monument. He also created statues of Abraham Lincoln and Gilbert Stuart.

 

PT Barnum Statue

At the intersection of Iranistan Avenue and Soundview Drive, Bridgeport honors circus performer, mayor, and philanthropist P.T. Barnum with a statue.

 

The Barnum statue was cast in 1887, though the circus stored it until Barnum’s death.

 

Seaside Park is a fitting location for the statue. After all, the showman built many mansions on land that he later donated to the city for park expansion. Several streets in and around the park are named after Barnum mansions.

 

Thomas Ball, an American sculptor and musician, built P.T. Barnum’s monument in 1893. He also designed other public monuments, including:

  • Three George Washington statues
  • And Central Park’s Daniel Webster statue

 

The PT Barnum Museum has a large collection of Barnum, circus, and regional historical artifacts, for the curious.

 

The Olmsted-Vaux aesthetic has proved timeless. And yet, it had less of an influence on later landscapes in the park’s central and western sections.

 

Central section

Before 1869, the area west of the Elias Howe statue was underwater.

 

Barnum donated additional land in 1878 between:

  • Iranistan Avenue
  • Barnum Dyke
  • And Waldemere Avenue

 

The first area that was drained and dyked was near Park and Iranistan Avenue. The land between Iranistan Avenue and the former bathhouse was shaped in 1878.

 

The western end of Seaside Park

In 1919, the city acquired the area that includes the west beach and Fayerweather Island. The park’s current 325 acres are the result of the 1911 addition of Fayerweather Island and the 1936 addition of Barnum Field, as well as landfill.

 

Fayerweather Island is the park’s westernmost outpost. You can access this natural wildlife preserve by navigating the breakwater rocks. The island’s lighthouse guided navigators into Black Rock Harbor from 1823 to 1932.

 

Music in Seaside Park

music festival at Seaside Park in Bridgeport CTSeaside Park has long hosted concerts.

 

PT Barnum’s Sunday concert series

Many locals opposed Sunday concerts “for the benefit of the working people” in 1890. But Barnum, whose house bordered the park, fought for it in the local papers.

 

When rumors circulated that the police had disrupted the first concert, Barnum invited the band’s leader to play at his home. He then declared that anyone who wanted to listen to the music could do so on the grounds.

 

Gathering of the Vibes concert

Gathering of the Vibes was a four-day annual music, camping, and arts festival honoring the Grateful Dead that featured a wide variety of music. It was held annually in Seaside Park since 2007, where it first debuted in the summers of 1999 and 2000.

 

That said, the final event was 2015, with no clear plans to restart the festival.

 

Sound on Sound

The Sound on Sound festival weekend features an innovative experience, top-tier music, and local food and drink.

 

This year’s festival provides a more refined experience. That’ll be true whether you want to:

  • Ride the Ferris Wheel
  • Sip a glass of wine in the Wine Grove
  • See your favorite artists perform live
  • Or relax with a cold beer in the Sports Hall

 

Sound On Sound, with one massive stage, over 20 bands, and no overlapping sets, allows attendees to see every act without having to make a choice.

 

Some of the biggest names performing at the Sound on Sound Festival include:

  • Red Hot Chili Peppers
  • John Mayer
  • Alanis Morisette

 

The festival will also have programs that highlight regional specialties from all over the state. Even more food, beer, wine, and cocktail options will be available throughout the festival grounds.

 

Even more things to do in Bridgeport, CT, after Seaside Park

PT Barnum MuseumWhile the eastern section is quite grand, I don’t think I could spend an entire day here.

 

The walk is lovely, but this park gets crowded. Especially on nice weather days.

 

So take a walk to stretch your legs, then head elsewhere to explore the many things to do in Bridgeport.

 

Park aficionados will love some of the other public parks in Bridgeport, such as:

 

Or visit some of the museums in town and nearby:

  • The PT Barnum museum, for all everything you’d like to know and more about the circus magnate

 

Or get out and explore some more of Fairfield County’s most unique attractions, activities and things to do.

 

 

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *