Cooking pits

Stratford, Connecticut

Stratford is a town in Fairfield County, Connecticut, United States, located on Long Island Sound at the mouth of the Housatonic River. It was founded by Puritans in 1639.

The population was 49,976 at the 2000 census. It has a historical legacy in aviation, the military, and the theater. In 1942, Igor Sikorsky developed and produced the first successful single-rotor helicopter in Stratford. The town was also the home of the Stratford Army Engine Plant from 1939 to 1998.

Stratford was once home to the renowned American Shakespeare Festival, which was housed, until its closure, at its 1,100 seat Stratford Festival Theatre on the Housatonic River. Other Stratford features include Sikorsky Memorial Airport and the Great Meadows Unit of the Stewart B. McKinney National Wildlife Refuge, which borders the airport. Today, Stratford has two Superfund sites as designated by the United States Environmental Protection Agency.

Stratford is bordered on the west by Bridgeport, on the north by Trumbull, and Shelton, and on the east by Milford, (across the Housatonic).

History

Founding and Puritan era

Stratford was founded in 1639 by Puritan leader Reverend Adam Blakeman (pronounced Blackman), William Beardsley and either 16 families—according to legend—or approximately 35 families—suggested by later research—who had recently arrived in Connecticut from England seeking religious freedom. Stratford is one of many towns in the northeastern American colonies founded as part of the Great Migration in the 1630s when Puritan families fled an increasingly polarized England in the decade before the civil war between Charles I and Parliament (led by Oliver Cromwell). Some of the Stratford settlers were from families who had first moved from England to the Netherlands to seek religious freedom, like their predecessors on the Mayflower, and decided to come to the New World when their children began to adopt the Dutch culture and language.

Like other Puritan or Pilgrim towns founded during this time, early Stratford was a place where church leadership and town leadership were both united under the pastor of the church, in this case Reverend Blakeman. The goal of these communities was to create perfect outposts of religious idealism where the wilderness would separate them from the interference of kings, parliaments, or any other secular authority.

Blakeman ruled Stratford until his death in 1665, but as the second generation of Stratford grew up many of the children rejected what they perceived as the exceptional austerity of the town's founders. This and later generations sought to change the religious dictums of their elders, and the utopian nature of Stratford and similar communities was gradually replaced with more standard colonial administration. By the late 1600s, the Connecticut government had assumed political control over Stratford.

Many descendants of the original founding Puritan families remain in Stratford today after over 350 years; for centuries they often intermarried within the original small group of 17th century Pilgrim families. Stratford's original name was Cupheag, but was later changed to honor Stratford upon Avon in England. Despite its Puritan origins, Stratford was the site of the first Anglican church in Connecticut, founded in 1707 and ministered by the Rev. Dr. Samuel Johnson. Settlers from Stratford went on to found other American cities and towns, including Newark, New Jersey, established in 1666 by members of the Stratford founding families who believed the town's religious purity had been compromised by the changes after Blakeman's death. Other towns such as Cambria, New York (now Lockport, New York) were founded or expanded around new churches by Stratford descendants taking part in the westward migration. U.S. President Gerald Ford was a descendant of one of the Stratford founding families, that led by William Judson.

Towns created from Stratford

Stratford was one of the two principal settlements in southwestern Connecticut, the other being Fairfield. Over time, it gave rise to several new towns that broke off and incorporated separately. The following is a list of towns created from parts of Stratford.

Toll Booths

In January 1983, a truck slammed into a line of cars waiting to pay a toll on Interstate 95 in Stratford, killing seven people. This accident was one of the reasons toll booths were removed throughout the state; these changes took six years to complete..

A toll booth from Connecticut's Merrit Parkway is on display in Stratford's Booth Memorial Park. It was in service from 1940-1988.

Geography

According to the United States Census Bureau, the town has a total area of 19.9 square miles (51.5 km²), of which, 17.6 square miles (45.6 km²) of it is land and 2.3 square miles (5.9 km²) of it (11.52%) is water.

Stratford has numerous low points of zero elevation along the coastline, with a maximum altitude of 42 feet above sea level, and an average elevation of 23 feet.

Stratford also contains several islands, all of which are in the Housatonic River. These include Carting Island, Pope's Flat, Long Island, Fowler Island and Peacock Island, and Goose Island. None of these islands are considered inhabitable due to their low elevations.

Demographics

As of the census of 2000, there were 49,976 people, 19,898 households, and 13,630 families residing in the town. The population density was 2,841.9 people per square mile (1,097.0/km²). There were 20,596 housing units at an average density of 1,171.2/sq mi (452.1/km²). The racial makeup of the town was 84.76% White, 9.79% Black or African American, 0.16% Native American, 1.40% Asian, 0.03% Pacific Islander, 2.14% from other races, and 1.71% from two or more races. Hispanic or Latino of any race were 6.80% of the population.

There were 19,898 households out of which 28.5% had children under the age of 18 living with them, 52.5% were married couples living together, 12.5% had a female householder with no husband present, and 31.5% were non-families. 27.1% of all households were made up of individuals and 14.1% had someone living alone who was 65 years of age or older. The average household size was 2.49 and the average family size was 3.04.

In the town the population was spread out with 23.0% under the age of 18, 5.8% from 18 to 24, 28.5% from 25 to 44, 23.5% from 45 to 64, and 19.2% who were 65 years of age or older. The median age was 40 years. For every 100 females there were 89.0 males. For every 100 females age 18 and over, there were 85.6 males. The median income for a household in the town was $53,494, and the median income for a family was $64,364. Males had a median income of $45,552 versus $34,575 for females. The per capita income for the town was $26,501. About 3.5% of families and 5.0% of the population were below the poverty line, including 5.6% of those under age 18 and 5.8% of those age 65 or over.

Military and Industrial Significance

In 1939, one of the world's first successful commercial helicopters was developed in Stratford by Igor Sikorsky and flown at his plant. His company, Sikorsky Aircraft Corporation is still the town's largest employer. Also in 1939, Lycoming produced Wright radial engines here. After WWII, the plant was converted to produce turbines.

Sikorsky Aircraft

Stratford is home to the headquarters of Sikorsky Aircraft, a United Technologies Corporation subsidiary founded by Igor Sikorsky, developer of the first successful American helicopter. Sikorsky also has major facilities in other Connecticut locations, as well as in Florida and Alabama. Every Marine One (the helicopter of the President of the United States) has been manufactured in Stratford since 1957. However, in January 2005, a Lockheed-Martin model was selected to be the replacement for the current Marine One aircraft.

Stratford Army Engine Plant

The Stratford Army Engine Plant (SAEP) was a U.S. Army Tank-Automotive and Armaments Command installation and manufacturing facility, located along the Houstatonic River and Main Street opposite Sikorsky Airport. Because of the Base Realignment and Closure actions of the United States Department of Defense, closure of the plant was recommended in July 1995. The SAEP closed on September 30, 1998.

The U.S. Army, which still owns the 77 acre site, recently indicated that it will put the property up for auction. For the past 11 years the Army has been involved with developer "Team Stratford" to develop the property.

Transportation

Air

While owned by the City of Bridgeport, Sikorsky Memorial Airport is located in Stratford. The 800-acre facility includes two paved runways (both under 4800 feet), a helipad, and two hangars. It provides helicopter service to New York and the Downtown Manhattan Heliport and is used as a landing site for blimps and small aircraft. In 2007, 241 aircraft were based at the airport, with an average of 212 operations per day.

Rail

Stratford (Metro-North station) is a stop on the New Haven Line, 59 miles east of Grand Central Terminal. Average travel time into Manhattan is about 90 minutes. The station platforms only four cars and has limited parking of fewer than 300 spaces. It features two ticket machines, a bus connection to neighboring Bridgeport, and handicapped access.

Roads

Stratford is served by several major roadways, including Interstate 95 (Connecticut Turnpike), U.S. Route 1 (Boston Avenue and Barnum Avenue), the Merritt Parkway (Route 15), Route 108 (Nichols Avenue), Route 110 (East Main Street and River Road), Route 113 (Lordship Boulevard and Main Street), and Route 130 (Stratford Avenue and Ferry Boulevard).

Local politics and government

Form of government

The Town of Stratford operated under a Council-manager government form from 1921 until 2005, when it changed to a mayor-council type of government. The first mayor, James Miron, was elected in November, 2005 to a four-year term. The Town has a ten-member Town Council, elected by district to two-year terms. It appoints one of its members to serve as Chairman. The Mayor and the Town Council are responsible for setting policy through the enactment of ordinances and resolutions.

Local schools

Stratford has these public and parochial schools as of 2006:

  • Chapel Street Elementary School
  • Eli Whitney Elementary School
  • Franklin Elementary School
  • Stratford Academy
    • Honeyspot House (elementary) (K-2)
    • Johnson House (elementary) (3-6)
  • Lordship Elementary School
  • Nichols Elementary School
  • Second Hill Lane Elementary School
  • Wilcoxson Elementary School
  • David Wooster Middle School
  • Harry B. Flood Middle School
  • Frank Scott Bunnell High School
  • Stratford High School
  • A.L.P.H.A. (Formerly S.A.F.E.) Alternative High School
  • St. Mark School (K-8)
  • St. James School (K-8)

Local sites and attractions

Beaches

Town beach stickers are free for residents, $100/season for non-residents with daily rates (per beach) available.

Long Beach - Located at the end of Oak Bluff Avenue, southwest of the Sikorsky Memorial Airport. Approximately 1.5 miles long, the eastern end of the beach is open to the public and features parking and lifeguards. Though it does not have any of the amenities of Short Beach it is still the most used beach in Stratford. The central part of the beach is a nature preserve whose land is set aside for wildlife, particularly nesting seabirds, such as kestrels and ospreys. The western end of the beach is the site of about 40 cottages, now abandoned because of the town's discontinuation of the lease to the land.

Russian Beach - Located between Long and Short Beaches, and accessible from Beach Drive. There is parking and the Point-No-Point walkway. Fishing is allowed, as is swimming although this beach does not feature lifeguards.

Short Beach - Short Beach Park is 30 acres in size and sits at the mouth of the Housatonic River, east of the Sikorsky Memorial Airport. It has three picnic pavilions, two of which hold 50 people and contain a grill and four picnic tables. The largest unit holds 100 people and has water and electricity. There are also a handicap accessible playground, basketball courts, tennis courts, volleyball courts, a skateboard park, a lighted softball field, a soccer field, two baseball fields and a lacrosse field. The beach has 1000 feet of frontage with a concession stand, bathrooms, a deck and lifeguards.

The Park is also home to the Short Beach Golf Course, a nine hole par-3 course constructed in 1988, and the Gull's Landing Miniature Golf Course.

Great Salt Marsh

Stratford is home to the Great Meadows Unit of the Stewart B. McKinney National Wildlife Refuge, which is adjacent to Sikorsky Airport.

National Helicopter Museum

Located in the former Stratford railroad station (eastbound, or northern side of the tracks) at 2480 Main Street, the National Helicopter Museum contains a photographic history of the helicopter, along with many models. The museum has free admission and is open Wednesdays through Sundays, 1 p.m. to 4 p.m., from Memorial Day through October.

Roosevelt Forest

Located on the north end of Stratford, this 250-acre site is primarily a mixed deciduous forest, though it does include some wetlands and ponds. Named for President Franklin D. Roosevelt, it was set aside in the 1930s, when much of the infrastructure was created as a Works Progress Administration project. The forest includes camp sites with cooking pits, picnic tables, a playground, restrooms, and walking trails.

Shakespeare Festival Theater

In 1955, Stratford, having the same name as Stratford-upon-Avon, William Shakespeare's hometown in England, became home to the nationally renowned American Shakespeare Festival Theater, which was housed, until its closure, at its 1,100 seat Stratford Festival Theatre on the Housatonic River. The theatre featured such luminaries as Katharine Hepburn, Paul Newman, Jessica Tandy, Jane Alexander, Hal Holbrook, Roddy McDowall, Nina Foch. John Houseman served as its artistic director during the late 1950s.

The company operating the theater ceased operations in the mid-1980s, and the building has been vacant since then. In February, 2005, the Town of Stratford received the deed for the Stratford Festival Shakespeare Theater from the state of Connecticut. In 2006, it selected a New York City development company to reopen the theater as a tourist destination, however the company's contract was terminated in July, 2007 because of lack of progress. Three months later, the town issued a Request for Proposals for an architectural assessment of the needs of the theater building.

Sites on the National Register of Historic Places

Sterling House

Since 1932, Sterling House has served as a community center for Stratford. It is housed in a donated 1886 Romanesque mansion which was previously the home of John William Sterling. It hosts a variety of activites for both adults and children, including children's day camps and pre-school programs, cooking courses, dance instruction, golf lessons, youth basketball, lacrosse and soccer leagues, a skiing club, and music classes. Sterling House is also home to charity events and volunteer activities. The grounds include a gazebo, a rose garden, and a two-acre field.

Movies Filmed in Stratford

Movies filmed at least in part in Stratford:

  • All Good Things (2009)
  • Listen to Your Heart (2009)
  • Store (2006)
  • Boxes (2005)
  • The Battle (2001)

Superfund Sites

Today, Stratford has two sites designated as Superfund sites by the United States Environmental Protection Agency. These include a variety of locations related to asbestos dumping and disposal by the Raymark corporation, whose manufacturing was previously headquartered in Stratford, and the former Stratford Army Engine Plant.One of these sites, Raymark, is on the EPA's National Priority List. Stratford Army Engine Plant is not on the National Priority list, but is being cleaned up by the US Army.

From 1919 to 1989, Raymark manufactured friction products, such as brake pads, for the automobile industry, and disposed of wastes containing lead, asbestos, PCBs and other hazardous substances at its Stratford manufacturing plant. Raymark dried the waste material and made it available for use as fill material for lawns, playgrounds, and schoolyards. In 1993, the EPA and the Connecticut Department of Environmental Protection began working together to complete the cleanup of contamination Raymark left behind in Stratford. EPA completed its cleanup of the contaminated residential properties in 1995 and the former Raymark plant property in 1997. Plans for cleanup of the Ferry Creek area and surrounding properties where additional Raymark waste was historically disposed are currently being developed by the EPA.

The cost of cleaning up the Raymark Site is estimated to have exceeded $200 million.

Sports

Stratford is home to one of the most successful women's fast pitch softball teams in history, the Stratford Brakettes. The Brakettes have posted 3,242 victories in 3,607 games played, as well as 3 World Championships, and 27 National A.S.A. Championships, including a record eight consecutive titles, from 1971 to 1978. Nineteen former members have made the National Softball Hall of Fame, and 11 have been Olympians. Formed in 1949 as the Raybestos Girl All-Stars, and later the Raybestos Brakettes, they became known as the Stratford Brakettes in 1985 after Raybestos ceased its sponsorship. More recently, they have become the Connecticut Brakettes. In 2004, they captured a three-peat (titles in 2002, 2003, and 2004). Their most recent title came in in 2006 in Amherst, New Hampshire.. The Brakettes play at Frank DeLuca Hall of Fame Field.

Stratford also has had success at baseball. In 2007 the Stratford Pony Baseball Bronco American team made it to the Pony World Series in Californa.

Sister cities

Stratford has three sister cities:

Notable people associated with Stratford

Books about Stratford

  • Calhoun, John D. & Lewis G. Knapp. Stratford: A Pictorial History, 1850-1970, (Images of America Series) Arcadia Publishing, 1999. ISBN 0738535796
  • Knapp, Lewis G. In Pursuit of Paradise: History of the Town of Stratford, Connecticut. West Kennebunk, ME: Phoenix Publishing, 1989. ISBN 0914659421
  • Wilcoxson, William Howard. History of Stratford, 1639-1939, Stratford, CT: Stratford Tercentenary Commission, 1939.
  • Smith, Claude. The Stratford Devil. New York: Walker, 1984. ISBN 0802765440

Notes

External links

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