Way Back When … 1914
Summer is here and people are flocking to the beach! Although the coastline has always been an important part of Fairfield, it wasn’t until the late 1800’s that people started to use the beach primarily for enjoyment. Indeed, the whole experience of spending a day at the beach for fun is a relatively modern invention.
19th century Fairfielders enjoyed picnics and clamming expeditions, and well-to-do visitors escaped New York City by ferry and rail to enjoy the shoreline, but very few people wanted to live on the shore. The danger of storms, the annoyance of mosquitoes, and the lack of roads connecting it to the town made the beach a less-than-desirable place to live. Instead, residents put up temporary bathhouses (pulled to the beach in horse-drawn wagons) for shelter and changing rooms, which they removed at the end of the season. The first permanent club on the beach, the Fairfield Beach Club, was created by some of Fairfield’s leading residents in 1886, providing a pavilion with bathhouses and use of a private section of beach for its members. Today’s photo was taken in 1914 of the Tarlton family in front of the Fairfield Beach Club.
The first beach cottage built to remain in place was erected in 1891 by a Danbury family, who purchased inexpensive land on the beach since they could not afford more desirable property in town. Other Danbury residents followed, and within a few years, about 15 cottages made up an area called “Little Danbury.” Reef Road was built to connect this settlement with the town, and a local grocer began to send a wagon loaded with provisions to the cottage community. Following suit, a “Little Bridgeport” with inexpensive cottages emerged along the beach at Pine Creek in the 1890s. In the decades that followed, these beach cottages were joined by many others, with names like “Sand Reef,” “Bunny Cottage,” “Comfort,” “The Quiet,” and “The Racket,” housing local residents and a growing number of vacationers from New York and other parts of Connecticut.
As beach-going became increasingly popular in the 1910s and 1920s, private pavilions were built to offer changing rooms, movies, dancing, and even skating, catering especially to visitors from industrial Bridgeport. Some people in Fairfield worried that the beach would become crowded with outsiders, like “a miniature Coney Island,” and they quickly rejected a plan to extend trolley service from Bridgeport to the beach in the 1890s. When philanthropist Annie B. Jennings left land for a town beach in her 1939 will, she specified that it would be a bathing beach for Fairfield residents only.
Now, decades later, the Town of Fairfield boasts five beaches along its five miles of coastline. Beachgoers can swim, sail, relax and even reserve bonfire pits for evenings on the beach.
The Fairfield Museum & History Center and Museum Shop, located at 370 Beach Road, is open seven days a week, 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Members of the Museum and children under 5 are admitted free. For more information, call 203-259-1598 or visit Fairfieldhistory.org.