The Mary and Eliza Freeman Houses are significant as the last two houses to survive of "Little Liberia," a settlement of free African Americans in Bridgeport, Connecticut, that began in 1831 and reached its highest population just prior to the outbreak of the Civil War.
The 1830s was a time when African Americans in the North, almost all free, started to leave rural areas and move to more populated, central communities. The origin of the name "Little Liberia" is based on oral tradition that the community's inhabitants strongly identified with the new African nation established for freed African slaves.
These houses were added to the National Register of Historic Places on February 22, 1999. The houses have been vacant for many years and are badly deteriorating.
The Mary and Eliza Freeman Center was established to restore these houses. Of the three dozen or so houses that made up this long-vanished community, only two survive on their original foundations: the homes of the Freeman sisters (354 & 360 Main Street).
Surrounded by a storage warehouse complex, a five-story brick apartment house, and expansive parking lot, the houses have somehow come through the last century and a half with relatively few modifications. Eliza’s residence is a Greek Revival “half house,” three bays in width with a side hallway.
It retains a walnut stair rail, almost Shaker-like in its severe yet elegant simplicity. Most of the major rooms contained mantelpieces of simple Grecian styling. Although a storefront was cobbled on in 1906 and a fire caused damage in the 1980s, enough survives so that a full restoration can be effected.
Mary’s house is located just to the north and is an Italianate-styled double house or duplex. It is built over a high brick “English” basement with its main entrances under a second-story piazza. The double-house design provided for rental income—Mary’s usual tenant was the pastor of Bethel Church. The interior is virtually intact with simple mantelpieces, four-panel doors with thumb latches, and tiny rooms that seem to shout of Mary’s frugal nature.
The Freeman Houses constitute a unique survival. They present an opportunity to exhibit a chapter of Connecticut’s history that has for too long been overlooked. They deserve to be restored for the edification of today’s citizens as well as that of future generations.