Save the Freeman Houses
September 17, 2008
Not far from Harbor Yard in Bridgeport's South End stand two structures that appear derelict but are of historic importance. They are said to be the oldest homes in the state constructed by African-Americans. In fact, it was two sisters who built them, Eliza and Mary Freeman, all the way back in the 1840s. They're all that is left of a once vital seaside community known as Little Liberia.
For several years the Freeman Houses have been owned by a nonprofit called Action for Bridgeport Community Development (ABCD). Speaking for the group on News 12's Our Lives program, Maisa Tisdale said ABCD has researched and protected the buildings, but plans to renovate them have been stalled by an ongoing legal problem with the city over property taxes.
The city, which claims the right to tax nonprofits that own real estate but aren't using it, says ABCD owes $116,000. Because the agency has not paid, Bridgeport recently moved to take title of the properties and then foreclosed on them. A court ruling supported the city's action.
But fearing demolition, ABCD appealed that ruling and was granted 90 days--that's until November--to find a resolution. The good news is that the city, according to Mayor Finch, agrees that preservation of these homes should be a priority. But of course money as always is the problem.
We hope a settlement can be arrived at. This region--way beyond Bridgeport--is replete with preservation activists and fund-raisers who could step in and help here. And soon, we hope. According to the Connecticut Trust for Historic Preservation, the structures are rapidly approaching the point of no return. Too much valuable history and heritage are at stake to neglect them any longer.