In 1878 James Beardsley
, a wealthy cattle
dealer, donated over 100 acres to the City of Bridgeport
In 1884 the City contracted Frederick Olmstead, famous for creating New York City's Central Park, to create a design for Beardsley Park. Mr. Olmstead's plan was to create a simple, rural park for the residents to enjoy.
The City of Bridgeport was also home of Mr. Phineas T. Barnum and his world famous circus. At the time of the Parks creation, Mr. Barnum usually exercised his animals through the streets of Bridgeport, and it was common to see zebras and camels walking up and down Main Street. After Beardsley Park was created, Mr. Barnum and the circus company began exercising the animals there.
In 1920 Bridgeport Parks Commissioner, Mr. Wesley Hayes, began a campaign to create a City Zoo within the Park. He requested that the citizens of Bridgeport contribute animals to start the Zoo and in the first year there were 18 exotic birds donated. Barnum and Bailey Circus also donated some of their retired animals to the Zoo.
In 1997 the Connecticut Zoological Society, a nonprofit support group for the Zoo, purchased the Zoo from the City and continues to run the Zoo as a private, nonprofit institution with assistance from the State of Connecticut and the City of Bridgeport.
The Beardsley Zoo is the only Zoo in Connecticut. The entire complex, both Park and Zoo, is really lovely. It's one of the reasons Bridgeport has the nickname "The Park City".