The Mary & Eliza Freeman Center’s genesis lies in visioning workshops and charrettes conducted by the University of Massachusetts at Amherst’s Department of Regional Planning and Landscape Architecture in 2008 and 2009. The charrettes were funded by Action for Bridgeport Community Development (former owners of the Freeman Houses), the National Trust for Historic Preservation, and the CT Trust for Historic Preservation. Community stakeholders asked that a center for history and culture be established, exemplified at that time by the Anacostia Community Museum in Washington, DC and Weeksville Heritage Center in Brooklyn, New York. The original Freeman Center board of directors was representative of the coalition that saved the houses from demolition in 2009. It was out of the widespread and diverse movement to save the Freeman Houses from demolition by the City that the Freeman Center was born.
Photo by Barbara Loss
The Freeman Center for History and Community, Inc. is a 501 (c) 3 organization with offices at 1115 Main Street in Bridgeport, Connecticut. The Center owns the historic Mary and Eliza Freeman Houses (circa 1848), located at 360 and 354 Main Street in Bridgeport’s South End. It has owned the Freeman Houses since 2010. Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, the Freeman Houses are significant to the histories of African Americans and Women.
The Freeman Center is creating an African American historic site consisting of a museum and education center, a research and digital humanities center, and one unit of affordable housing. The Center’s preservation and restoration plans are designed to act as catalysts to neighborhood revitalization in Bridgeport’s South End.
The mission of The Mary and Eliza Freeman Center is to restore, preserve, and ensure the viability of the Mary and Eliza Freeman Houses; teach the history of Black people in Connecticut; revitalize the surrounding South End community; and facilitate the preservation and revitalization of other African-American, and greater Bridgeport historic and preservation communities.
Accomplishments by Freeman Center Volunteers
2009 – 2013
Saved the Freeman Houses from demolition and secured site control
Obtained planning, construction & training grants totaling $200,000 from the 1772 Foundation, the City, the CT Trust, HUD, and more.
Shored up the houses & deconstructed non-historic 20th century additions
Partnered with GBCE/Green Team to provide green construction training in preservation deconstruction to 16 local, displaced workers
Unearthed numerous museum quality artifacts from the 1800’s Provided humanities workshops for construction workers, university students and community organizations
Hosted the Liberian Ambassador to the United States
Piloted a community-based literacy program for children & adults
2014 – 2017
Received grants from the Graham Foundation (Chicago) & Fairfield County’s Community Foundation to support an art, architecture, and history exhibit about Little Liberia
Call to artists: Commissioned artwork and convened workshops for artists & historians
Opened Reimagining Little Liberia: Restoration & Reunion at Housatonic Community College in partnership with the Housatonic Museum of Art
Assumed leadership role in Resilient Bridgeport after Hurricane Sandy to keep history and neighbors above water
Photo by Barbara Loss
Freeman Houses designated one of “America’s 11 Most Endangered Historic Places”by the National Trust for Historic Preservation
Awarded grant for organizational capacity building by CT Humanities, $9,999
Received a $50,000 grant from the African American Cultural Heritage Action Fund, National Trust for Historic Preservation
Commissioned plans & specifications consistent with the Secretary of the Interior’s Standards for the Treatment of Historic Properties
Received IRC 501(c)3 designation
Selected by the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture & American Association for State and Local History for inaugural StEPS program (Standards and Excellence Program) for African American history institutions
2019 – 2020
Established offices at 1115 Main Street in Bridgeport, Connecticut
Awarded $1,600,000 from State and City historic restoration programs for restoration of Mary & Eliza Freeman Houses
Hired first professional staff member
Completed design plans for the preservation and restoration of the Freeman Houses
Opened a PopUp Museum space Downtown Bridgeport