“The one thing that makes me laugh, is that they always refer to them as abandoned cottages; well abandoned is a poor choice of words. Abandoned means you walk away from it and you didn’t care, and that was not the case with any of us.” --Mary Francis King, former cottage resident, Aug. 6, 2010
This ongoing project documents a once thriving middle-class, beach-front community in Stratford, Connecticut, in its current state of ruin and what its future holds.
On June 16th, 1996, a bridge fire occurred, leaving the peninsula that was shared by Stratford Long Beach West’s 45 cottages and Bridgeport’s Pleasure Beach inaccessible by vehicle. The fire stranded 100's of people from and outside of this community. The next year the town of Stratford decided not to renew the land lease for its cottages. The cottage owners fought to keep the land, offering the town millions to purchase it; after a decade long court battle, the case was taken to the Supreme Court where the town won. The cottage owners were forced to sell their cottages to the town of Stratford for $1.00 each. The final dozen cottage owners were evicted in 2007. Since there was no public road to and from this community, many belongings were left behind, despite the boat that was provided by the town on a designated day for owners to retrieve their belongings. Many cottages still have toys, clothing, furniture and personal cards left in them, as if someone is going to return. The land has been unoccupied for several years; during this time the cottages have been severely vandalized, including three cottage fires.
Growing up 25 minutes from Stratford, Connecticut I surprisingly never heard of this community, though as a child I had gone to the nearby beaches. When I found out and visited the area, I felt compelled to find out the story behind these remains. Seeing these homes in such ruins, mixed in with the signs of life that once occupied them, I wanted to hear the history behind this place and the people that occupied them during the summers. I wanted to know what happened on that day the bridge burned, and the events that changed the lives of these people, unknowingly forever. How one event can change the future for so many individuals.
Stratford is a middle class environment, neighboring Bridgeport, which is known for its poverty and crime. Summer homes are not something expected in this area, as this is not a wealthy neighborhood with large homes and property. These were not summer homes like the Hamptons, which people fight to own. These beachfront properties were modest, juxtaposed with views of industrial buildings and beautiful marshlands, owned by residents of Connecticut and the surrounding area. For the owners that lived locally they were able to continue to work while enjoying their summer homes with their families. For many, these homes were the only means for family vacations, and without them they may not be able to “get away.”
The Long Beach West cottages have now all been torn down. In the spring of 2011, the land will begin to be developed into a Wildlife Preserve for the public and wildlife to enjoy. I will continue to document the changes that occur to this environment, while getting the stories of the families who once occupied the cottages.