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Over a century ago, James O’Rourke made the first base hit in the National League. He played major league ball until the age of 54 — all the while a practicing lawyer with his LL.B. from Yale University. Later, as president of the Connecticut League, he hired the first minor league African-American player in baseball history.
O’Rourke is a proud son of Bridgeport, Connecticut, a once-booming city which now is among the poorest in the nation. An unfinished urban planning project had the entire neighborhood surrounding O’Rourke’s house destroyed in the 1990s — but preservationists managed to keep it up. It sat prominently, alone, among acres of weeds, and was viewable both from Bridgeport’s Harbor Yard ballpark, completed in 1998, and from I-95, the super-highway which split the city into two parts in the mid-20th century.
This 2008 radio piece for WSHU won first prize in the enterprise category from the Connecticut Associated Press Broadcaster’s Association. I created a version with still pictures so people could have a visual experience of the house and the people who fought — unsuccessfully — for its existence. It was demolished in 2009.
The script is pasted below.
Next to I-95 in Bridgeport sits a single, abandoned house surrounded by vacant lots. It’s fenced off, and it’s left legions of drivers – and Bridgeporters – wondering what it’s doing there. WSHU’s Erik Campano got a rare look inside that house – and learned how from, one day to the next, it risks disappearing into history.