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P.T. Barnum Square

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The public square originated in 1881 when P.T. Barnum donated a fountain to Bethel, his home village. Barnum, by then a famous and wealthy man, had seen many public fountains during his travels in Europe. He purchased a 16-foot baroque statue of a Triton holding a conch shell atop a shell-shaped basin, itself atop a pedestal ringed by stylized fishes that spurted water. It was similar to one he had seen in Berlin, and Barnum had originally planned to install it on the grounds of his own home in Bridgeport. He offered it instead to the City of Bridgeport when he found out how much water it used. Bridgeport declined it, and Barnum turned to Bethel, which welcomed it. To house the gift officials carved a small public park out of Wooster Street where it intersects with what is now Greenwood Avenue. A crucial gift of land was made by a boyhood friend of Barnum's who owned the east corner of Wooster Street, which allowed enough land for a road to be looped around both sides of the fountain. The fountain lines froze in 1921 and the Triton collapsed and was subsequently sold for scrap to a New York foundry. In 1928 the Doughboy status was installed and the park renamed PT. Barnum Square. It has since that time functioned as the town's ceremonial center, chief landmark, and commemorative park. During World War II a sign was erected bearing the names of all Bethel soldiers serving in the war. Recognizing the importance of the square to Bethel's downtown, the Chamber of Commerce, the Town of Bethel, and merchants in the stores around P.T. Barnum Square spent $37,000 on improvements in 1991, including new walks, plantings, benches, and streetlights, and new sod for the square, an effort that is responsible for its present excellent condition. The arm of the Doughboy statue, which had been vandalized, was repaired.

Along with the Bethel Green, P.T. Barnum Square is part of a series of public spaces along Wooster Street. It is significant as a pivotal element of a historic streetscape and should be included in any National Register Historic District for downtown Bethel.



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