In 1812, James Walker Beardsley was born to a prominent cattle-farming family in Monroe, Connecticut, and remained a farmer for his entire life, splitting his time between his family’s Monroe farm and a second residence in the then-bustling city of Bridgeport. In addition to farming, Beardsley also dabbled in speculation and trading cattle futures, which had amassed him a sizable fortune by the middle of the 19th century.
In 1878, after he had formally retired from his agricultural and financial pursuits, he donated a large swath of prime real estate along the banks of the Pequonnock River to the city of Bridgeport, under the condition that the city “forever [keep it] as a public park.” The city soon hired famed American landscape architect (and Hartford native) Frederick Law Olmsted to design what would become Beardsley Park, and Beardsley spared no expense in funding the upkeep of the park and its continuous improvements over the next several years.
Unfortunately, all the positive press generated by Beardsley and the new park that bore his name led a pair of local thieves to believe he would make a lucrative target. On December 23, 1892, two men burst into Beardsley’s Bridgeport mansion while he and his sister were home and ransacked the place looking for cash and valuables. After finding only $60 and a gold watch, the frustrated robbers became violent, threatening and then beating Beardsley to try and get him to divulge the location of his valuables. They were unaware the 77-year-old philanthropist had spent the majority of his wealth on the development of Beardsley Park and had virtually nothing of value on hand. The men eventually fled, leaving behind a mortally wounded Beardsley, who died seven days later from internal injuries suffered during the home invasion.
Though, despite a massive manhunt, Beardsley’s attackers were never identified or caught, the city of Bridgeport went to great pains to ensure its generous benefactor was never forgotten. They commissioned a life-size statue of James Beardsley that was unveiled at the entrance of Beardsley park seventeen years after his death. A tragic end for a man who improved and forever transformed the city of Bridgeport, today in Connecticut history.
Yohuru Williams, “Bridgeport Patron Beardsley Met Tragic End,” Hartford Courant
Dave Pelland, “James W. Beardsley Statue, Bridgeport,” ctmonuments.net