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Pleasure Beach: Connecticut’s largest ghost town brought back to life after almost two decades of abandonment

Darko Nanevski

Abandoned in 1996, after an arson fire destroyed the only bridge that connected the mainland to the beach barrier, Pleasure Beach was Connecticut’s largest ghost town. However, since June 2014, this ghost town has come back from the dead. It has been fully revitalized and re opened for the public.

Pleasure Beach incorporates a portion of Bridgeport, extending two and a half miles in a westward direction from Long Beach, which is under the jurisdiction of the adjacent town of Stratford. Being surrounded by water on three sides (Bridgeport Harbor to the west, south to Long Island Sound and Lewis Gut to the north) technically makes Pleasure Beach an island.

An aerial view (from a kite) of Pleasure Beach. Author: Bill. CC BY 2.0

An aerial view (from a kite) of Pleasure Beach. Author: Bill. CC BY 2.0

Founded in 1892, Pleasure Beach functioned at first as a small community of tiny beachside homes, mainly to support the work of the amusement park which became to be extremely popular, attracting tons of visitors to the island.

For approximately 15 years, from 1904 till 1919, the town was known as “Steeplechase Island”. During that time, the amusement park was for the most part accessible by steam ferries that were passing through Lewis Gut Creek. But after Bridgeport purchased the entire land of the island and took control of the amusement park, the ferry was taken out of service and in 1927 a wooden bridge was constructed. This allowed for easier access to the island, especially for those who were traveling with their cars.

A view of the carousel that was part of the original amusement park at Pleasure Beach. Author: 826 PARANORMAL. CC BY-SA 2.0

A view of the carousel that was part of the original amusement park at Pleasure Beach. Author: 826 PARANORMAL. CC BY-SA 2.0

The island with its seaside community was renamed Pleasure Beach, and the town began to thrive and expand, attracting more and more tourists in every year that followed.

In 1958, the amusement park went bankrupt. And because nobody was interested in taking over the business or maintaining it, the park was left to rot. By the 1980s it was almost totally derelict and in ruins. What remained of this once glorious Victorian theme park was the carousel, the summer theater, and the car enclosure. It became to be a frequent gathering place for drug users and looters. And visitors were no longer interested coming to the island.

The abandoned community theater is one of the few buildings that remain on the peninsula (shown here as it stands August 2012.). Author: Lastchance1291. CC BY-SA 3.0

The abandoned community theater is one of the few buildings that remain on the peninsula (shown here as it stands August 2012.). Author: Lastchance1291. CC BY-SA 3.0

In 1996, arsonists triggered a fire that destroyed the Pleasure Beach bridge, the only connection to the mainland. And with this kind of limited access, the property owners couldn’t continue doing business and were forced to leave Pleasure Beach. One by one all residents eventually left and the town was completely deserted. The only thing that kept on working was the WICC radio tower, accessed only by a hover craft. And for those who were curious enough to visit the town or go to the beach, there were only two ways available to do that: by small private boats, or by foot along the shoreline.

Pleasure Beach Island Bridgeport. Author: 826 PARANORMAL. CC BY 2.0

Pleasure Beach Island Bridgeport. Author: 826 PARANORMAL. CC BY 2.0

As the years went by, the state that Pleasure Beach was in only worsened. The town area was frequently visited by party goers who vandalized the place and trash was scattered all over. But what was even more troublesome was the constant danger of arson attacks. By July 2008, 3 of the 45 cottages, owned by the Town of Stratford, had fallen victim and were completely burned down. A year later, on March 15, 2009, five more cottages were destroyed. By then all the claims to those cottage seasonal homes had already been sold and they were eventually demolished by May 2011.

The old Pleasure Beach Carousel Bridgeport Connecticut. Author: 826 PARANORMAL. CC BY 2.0

The old Pleasure Beach Carousel Bridgeport Connecticut. Author: 826 PARANORMAL. CC BY 2.0

Also, it is very important to mention that the town of Pleasure Beach was also a victim of unauthorized demolition, where the bumper car area, the carousel, and the bandstand were destroyed. Which was probably a crucial factor for the town’s reopening.

In 2010, a $1.9 million federal funding was given to Pleasure Beach for renovation, to include upgrading the docks and the infrastructure and cleaning of the beach. A temporary road was built for this process to run smoothly without any obstacles.

Cottage in Pleasure Beach in very poor condition. Author: 826 PARANORMAL. CC BY 2.0

Cottage in Pleasure Beach in very poor condition. Author: 826 PARANORMAL. CC BY 2.0

The Pleasure Beach grand reopening happened on June 28, 2014. And today, the town stays open for the public seven days a week, accessible by free water taxis who can be located on Seaview Avenue fishing pier. The beach is gorgeous, it has a pavilion and a relaxation area, with available bathrooms, showers, and picnic tables.