Do You know Your City? A Refresher On The Brilvitch Lines

P.T.'s elephants
What, you thought we were kidding? P.T. Barnum, center without hat, led a convoy of elephants to test the strength of the Stratford Avenue Bridge.

It’s campaign season so one of the privileges of hosting OIB is giving tours of the city to folks running for public office or their operatives, be it donkey or elephant. Did so the other day. It’s always a hoot to drive across the Stratford Avenue Bridge explaining to an inquisitive pol that P.T. Barnum once paraded 13 elephants to test the strength of the structure. And then, of course, as we drive by Mountain Grove Cemetery, PT’s burial gift to the city, it’s noted this is the place that still turns out a vote. Hey, the pol in the car could benefit from this.

Bridgeporters can be territorial about their neighborhoods. Hence, we have an Upper East Side, an East Side, a lower East Side and East End. Confused? When it comes to Bridgeport boundaries, however, no one does it better than Charles Brilvitch, architectural historian, story-teller extraordinaire. There’s no one quite like Charles. You must meet Charles to understand what that means. It’s sorta like a tour by the Jolly Green Giant. Charles, you out there?

If there’s buried treasure to unearth in Bridgeport, Charles can tell you where to dig. He’d be the guy with pick in hand telling you be careful, Remington buried explosives in these parts after World War I. Every now and then we dust off this literary tour of the city from Charles, just to make sure we’re in touch with city neighborhoods. Grab a cup of joe and check out the Brilvitch lines:

My version of Bridgeport’s neighborhoods is based on my own historic research into traditions going back many years.

The East End is that part of the city to the east of Yellow Mill Pond and Old Mill Creek, the territory annexed from Stratford in 1889. It is subdivided into Newfield (south of Stratford Avenue and west of Blackman’s Creek [the arm of Johnson’s Creek that adjoins Central Avenue]); East End Proper (north of Stratford Avenue and east of Blackman’s Creek up to the railroad tracks); Old Mill Hill (north of the railroad tracks to Granfield Avenue/Stewart Street); and Success (north of Granfield/Stewart and including much of Remington Woods), which is an Indian name in use since the 17th century.

The East Side, known in the 1800s as East Bridgeport, is the area between Yellow Mill Pond/Old Mill Creek and the Pequonnock River. In the old days the portion south of the railroad tracks was Newpasture Point (another name of pre-Revolutionary origin), and the area north of the tracks up to Boston Avenue (developed by Barnum & Noble beginning in 1850) was Pembroke City, ‘Pembroke’ being a corruption of ‘Pann Brook,’ after the Pann family of Indians (also goes back to 17th-century deeds).

From Boston Avenue north to Beardsley Park and the intersection of Huntington Turnpike and East Main Street was laid out in the first years of the 20th century as Beardsley Park Slope, a calculated reference to the Park Slope section of Brooklyn, at that time the ritziest place to live in America. And the territory from the Huntington/East Main intersection north to the Trumbull line was known for generations as Briarwood, after the 325-acre farm of the Thompson family (anyone who has been inside Remington Woods will understand the appropriateness of the name!) In recent decades real estate agents have pretty much succeeded in changing the name of this area to Treeland. Collectively, these last two neighborhoods comprise the Upper East Side.

The South End is that entire section of the city south of State Street and East of Went Field (no Connecticut Post, Lewis Street is NOT in the West End!!!). Since the filling in of the salt marsh and tidal flats to the west of Barnum Dyke after 1919, Fayerweather Island was more-or-less annexed to the South End from Black Rock. The exclusive residential district south of Atlantic Street (now the UB campus) was long known as Marina Park to distinguish itself from the more plebeian blocks to the north. And the blocks around the intersection of Main and Whiting Streets was once a village of free people of color called in its early days (1821-47) Ethiope, and, later (1847-late 1800s) Liberia. It was never, ever (prior to about 1980) called “Little” Liberia!!!

The area now known collectively as The Hollow is an amalgamation of several historic communities. Golden Hill was the well-to-do neighborhood (largely obliterated by highway construction and later development) that occupied the hill to the west of Pequonnock and Congress Streets. Sterling Hill was a 19th-century Irish settlement on the north and east slopes (named not for the cheaper metal but for its progenitor, Daniel H. Sterling). The area north of Harral Avenue to North Avenue, the Hollow Proper of our day, was known in the 19th century by the bucolic name of Golden Valley. And from Madison Avenue west to the Pequonnock River is a section still known as Bull’s Head, after a tavern of that name that stood at the corner of Main and Frank Streets that was a favorite stop of cattle drovers from Monroe and Newtown in the 1790s.

Like the East End, the West End was annexed from a neighboring town, in this case Fairfield, in 1870. It occupies that entire chunk of the city between Park Avenue and the Rooster River, except for Black Rock and the aforetomentioned portion of the South End. Traditionally, the part to the east of Clinton Avenue was known as the West Side, while to the west of it was the West End Proper. The neighborhood bounded by North, Laurel, Capitol, and Park Avenues (and up to the present Central High School) was laid out as another elite development beginning in 1914 and was called Beach’s Woods, site of the Beach family’s farm that dated back to the 1700s. The part to the south of the railroad tracks and turnpike, reclaimed from salt marsh in the 1880s and ’90s and demolished in the 1960s, was called Hunktown.

‘Brooklawn’ was, historically, entirely within the bounds of Fairfield (laid out as an expensive estate district ‘to be the finest between New York and Boston’ [weren’t they all] in 1892). A chunk of Stratfield Road through Bridgeport was renamed Brooklawn Avenue as part of the development scheme, but a street name doth not a neighborhood make (think of Trumbull Avenue, to cite just one example). The name crept stealthily over the Bridgeport line a number of years back, and real estate salespeople have been advancing its boundaries eastward year by year to the point where now anything west of Lincoln Boulevard appears to qualify. Pretty soon I’LL be living in ‘Brooklawn’ over here by the Stratford line! Old-time Bridgeporters regard this spurious Fairfieldization with contempt.

Black Rock is Black Rock and everybody seems to know where it begins and ends. Its boundaries were even more distinct prior to the 1940s, when the land that now contains the P.T. Barnum Project was a saltwater inlet known as Burr Creek. The fancy enclave at the tip of the peninsula was generally known as Grover’s Hill until 1926, when the Black Rock Land & Improvement Company felt that St. Mary’s by-the-Sea had a better ring to it.

Island Brook is an easy-to-overlook area located to the south of North Avenue between the Pequonnock River and Housatonic Avenue. Beginning in 1786 it was the site of a village built around a grist mill that was known as Berkshire.

Last but not least is the North End, which, contrary to all appearances, was not annexed from the Town of Trumbull. It is bounded by Park and North Avenues, the Trumbull town line, and the Pequonnock River. Starting on the east, the hill that is bisected by Sylvan Avenue was known to previous generations as Rocky Hill. Real estate developers of the 1940s and ’50s promoted it as Sylvan Crest. To the west, the next hill over, bisected by Reservoir Avenue and westerly to Island Brook, was known from the old days as Chopsey Hill (after ‘John Pork Chop,’ an Indian who occupied a Golden Hill reservation where Trumbull Gardens is now located). During Prohibition it was still quite rural, and building lots could be procured for as little as $75. After a number of raids on illicit operations the Bridgeport Herald dubbed it “Whiskey Hill.”

The hill to the west, extending from Island Brook to the vicinity of Wayne Street (with Summit Street appropriately at its summit), has no name in common parlance today. In the 18th and 19th century it was known as Cow Hill, an apparent mate to Ox Hill located along Main Street above Anton. To the south of Cow Hill, from Salem Street down to North Avenue and west to Beachwood Park, is an area known to every Italian-American grandparent as the Old North End. Two more hills define the North End, Toilsome Hill (approximately bounded by Wayne Street, Park and Capitol Avenues and ‘Rooster River Boulevard’ [another pet peeve–the stream that adjoins this is Horse Tavern Brook, NOT the Rooster River!]); and Chestnut Hill (north of Toilsome Hill to the Trumbull line). And completing our circle is Lake Forest (a late-1930s development of the Hydraulic Company’s outmoded Island Brook Reservoir, which dates back to 1866), and Charcoal Pond (where the city’s drinking water was once filtered).



  1. Someone perhaps in the City Planning Department has other ideas for names of neighborhoods such as “Enterprise Zone” or the “Brooklawn/St. Vincent’s” Neighborhood … WHAT!!!???


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