A Brief Guide to Willimantic



Willimantic is an Algonquian term for “land of the swift running water”. Prior to 1821, the village was known as Willimantic Falls, home to about twenty families and a single school district.

In 1825, the three Jillson brothers built a factory along the Willimantic River, and in 1827, they built a second building. By 1828, there were six cotton factories in Willimantic, all built within a seven year span. Willimantic became known as “Thread City", and American Thread was at one time one of the largest producers of thread in the world. Its factory was the first in the world to use electric lighting. Most of the red thread used in manufacturing baseballs was produced at the American Thread Company.

From the end of the Civil War to the outbreak of World War II, Willimantic was a center for the production of silk and cotton thread. Immigrants from Europe arrived to work in the mills—Irish, Italians, Poles, Germans and French Canadians. Later, Estonian, Ukrainian, Latvian, Lithuanian, and Puerto Rican immigrants moved to the town in search of mill jobs.

In the early 20th century, between 50 and 100 trains ran through Willimantic daily.

Willimantic Boom Box Parade: Willimantic has received national and international attention for its annual Boom Box Parade. Back in 1986, with the local Windham High School marching Band having disbanded, local parade fan Kathleen Clark approached the local radio station WILI with the idea of a “people’s parade”. She offered her collection of vintage marching music records to the radio station with her idea that they play these patriotic marches throughout the duration of the parade. Parade goers were encouraged to bring their Boom Box radios and tune into 1400 AM. The parade was a hit, and its unique notion of having no live music has drawn the attention of CBS Evening News and the Washington Post. Each year more than 10,000 people either march in or view the parade.

3rd Thursday Street Fests: Every third Thursday from May to September, Willimantic Renaissance, Inc. hosts on Main Street a festival of musical, theatrical, visual and olfactory delights. Six stages simultaneously host a wide variety of music and entertainment for audiences of all ages. People sample authentic ethnic international cooking and local micro-brewed beer or soda. The streets are filled with around 100 vendors and crafters, street performers and children's activities. 3rd Thursday Street Fest is a community event, completely organized by volunteers and with no paid staff, and attracts more than 6,000 attendees.

Willimantic Food Co-op: Willimantic is home to the only store front food cooperative in the state. The Willimantic Food Co-op was born of a large buyers' club and opened on Main Street in 1980.

Willimantic is the home of the Willimantic Footbridge: (established in 1907), which is the only footbridge in the United States to connect two state highways, as well as crossing all three major forms of transportation (road, rail, and river).

Prospect Hill Historic District: One of the largest National Register-listed historic districts in the state in terms of number of buildings, of which it has 993 Victorian style homes, a remarkable 88% contribute to its overall historic architectural character.

Victorian Days in Willimantic: produced by the Willimantic Victorian Neighborhood Association, is held on the first weekend in June and features Home Tours, Victorian Teas, Horse & Wagon Tours, Art Shows, Museum Exhibitions, Concerts and special events.

Willimantic celebrates Valentine's Day as “Romantic Willimantic": Al Saba was proclaimed Mr. Romantic Willimantic in 1981. Each year since, a local civic leader or citizen is crowned as Willimantic’s “Cupid” for their contributions to the city. The "Romantic Willimantic Chocolate Fest" is held on the weekend of or following Valentine's Day, and features a vaudeville show, Chocolate Chip Stroll on historic Main Street, restaurants featuring chocolate foods (mole, martinis, pancakes, beer, etc.), and a cake baking contest.

The Garden on the Bridge: The narrow stone arch bridge was built in 1857 by Lyman Jordan and Nathaniel Olin. In 1857 the new stone arch cost $3,200 to build and was paid for by the Willimantic Linen Co. (Willimantic Thread) and an eight percent tax hike on the town’s richest citizens. In 1907 the townspeople wanted to widen the bridge, but this idea was rejected in favor of planning for a new bridge. Ninety years later the “Thread City Crossing” Bridge was dedicated, thus resulting in the October 2006 dedication of the Windham Garden on the Bridge. On June 2, 2007, the Windham Garden on the Bridge was dedicated to Virginia Darrow, founding president of the Garden Club of Windham, and co-founder of the Willimantic Victorian Neighborhood Association. The Gardens are maintained by volunteers of the Windham Garden Club and Public Works employees.

Willimantic is home to three (3) museums: The Connecticut Eastern Railroad Museum is located off Bridge Street in downtown Willimantic, on the original site of the Columbia Junction Freight Yard. The Windham Textile and History Museum is at 411 Main Street, and the Jillson Museum at Jillson Square (The unofficial Town Green).

 Thread City Crossing (“The Frog Bridge”): Architecturally designed bridge, officially opened in June 2001. The landmark is adorned with eight foot high bronze frogs atop concrete thread spools, designed by Leo Jensen. The spools on the bridge represent Willimantic’s prominence in cotton thread and silk manufacturing. The Frogs represent the legendary Windham Frog Fight of 1754.

Camp Meeting Association:  Willimantic is home to the Camp Meeting Association that was established in 1860 and is one of the oldest camp meetings on the east coast. In the early years more than 15,000 people could be found each day on the “Holy Grounds”. It continues to operate offering summer programs of weekly prayer meetings, vesper services, and a Vacation Bible School.

 *Wikipedia: The Free Encyclopedia

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Website Developed & Maintained by:

Thread City Development
P.O Box 1257
Willimantic, CT 06226

860.455.4673 info@willimanticdowntown.org

WillimanticDowntown.org was partially funded by a grant from Connecticut Main Street Center and the ‘Preservation of Place’ program in cooperation with the State Historic Preservation Office with funds from Community Investment Act of the State of Connecticut
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