The beginning of a great city
Before the advent of urbanization, the body of
water we know as Yellow Mill Pond extended north of the present railroad tracks and drained an extensive salt marsh that went
north as far as Boston Avenue. The shores of this salt creek were apparently of spiritual significance to Native Americans,
as it was the location of a great medicine wheel — a veritable American Stonehenge -- built along its banks. This ceremonial
center consisted of rounded granite posts a foot in diameter and about seven feet in height, arranged in concentric circles.
It remained intact until 1846, when the New York and New Haven Railroad plotted their trackline exactly through where the
Indian megalith stood. "We dug out loads and loads of these posts and threw them into the mill pond with brush and limbs
and heaped dirt upon them," recalled one of the construction laborers in Orcutt's 1884 History of Stratford. A Mr. Tuttle
of Stratford Center heard about the mysterious relics being disposed of and had one of the posts hauled to his front yard
and set up as a curiosity. It remains there to this day, its origin unknown to all but a few, in front of 753 Stratford
In the Algonkian language the word "pan" denotes a waterfall. At a place where the fresh waters of Stillman's Brook
rushed over a precipice to the salt estuary below lived into historic times a band of Indians known as the Pan tribe, the
"people of the waterfall." This spot, at 2 1/2 miles distance the closest water power to the colonial village of Stratford,
was coveted soon after settlement as a gristmill location. And so by 1650 a mill here was grinding the town's corn and
other grain, and the "Pan Brook" recorded in early deeds was soon anglicized to Pembroke. This was the "old mill" the
Green was named for.
A village began to coalesce in this vicinity by the onset of the 18th century. Remarkably, a shipyard making ocean-going
vessels was located halfway up Boston Avenue hill (near Bell Street) at the time of the Revolutionary War, when General George
Washington himself was given a tour. The boats were skidded down to Old Mill Creek on winter snows, and when ice broke
in the early spring they were maneuvered out to the harbor.
By the beginning of the 19th century the Puritan view of the world was being supplanted by the romantic, and the beauty
of this locality was being realized by artists and writers. "There is not in the state a prettier village than the borough
of Bridgeport," wrote Rev. Timothy Dwight, President of Yale College, in his Travels in New England of 1821. "The situation
of this village is very handsome, particularly on the eastern side of the river. A more beautiful and elegant piece of ground
can scarcely be imagined than the point which stretches between the Pequonnock and Old Mill Brook, and the prospects presented
by the harbors at the mouths of these streams, the Sound, and the surrounding country are, in fine season, gay and brilliant
and, perhaps, without parallel."