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Willimantic, Connecticut
Willimantic's town hall sports a Victorian-era clock tower
Nickname(s): Thread City, Frog City
Coordinates: 41°43′N 72°13′W / 41.717°N 72.217°W / 41.717; -72.217
County Windham County
Government
 - First Selectman Jean de Smet
Area
 - Total 11.6 km2 (4.5 sq mi)
 - Land 11.4 km2 (4.4 sq mi)
 - Water 0.3 km2 (0.1 sq mi)
Population (2000)
 - Total 15,823
 - Density 1,391/km2 (3,602.7/sq mi)
Time zone Eastern (UTC-5)
 - Summer (DST) Eastern (UTC-4)
Website Town of Windham, Connecticut
For the town in Maine named after this one, see Willimantic, Maine.

Willimantic is a census-designated place and former city located in the town of Windham in Windham County, Connecticut, United States. The population was estimated at 15,823 at the 2000 census. It is home to Eastern Connecticut State University, as well as the Windham Textile and History Museum. The city was incorporated in 1893 as a section of the town of Windham. The city government was dissolved in 1983 with the area reverting back to the town. It is also the birthplace of U.S Senator Christopher Dodd of Connecticut.

Contents

History

Giant sculptures of frogs atop spools of thread adorn a bridge next to the mill.

Willimantic is known for its legend,"The Battle of Frog Pond". It was an incident in 1754 around the time of the French and Indian War. The citizens of Windham (Willimantic is located in Windham) were awakened in the middle of the night by a tremendously frightening racket just outside of town. Assuming the worst, they seized their arms and prepared for the impending Indian attack. When morning arrived, the armed villagers marched in the direction of the noise only to discover that the nearby pond had dried up, and the area was littered with hundreds of dead bullfrogs. The frogs that still lived were heading to the Willimantic River in search of water. Thus, the fearsome sounds that had plagued the citizenry the previous night had not been Indians but rather bullfrogs “fighting” for water. The pond was renamed Frog Pond, the story spread throughout the towns and colonies, and the legend was born.

The complex that was once the American Thread Company’s Willimantic mill has been partially restored for offices and residential apartments.

In the late 19th century, the town prospered, growing from a population of less than 5,000 in 1860 to more than 12,100 by 1910.[1] It became known as “Thread City" because American Thread Company had a mill on the banks of the Willimantic River, and was at one time the largest employer in the state as well as one of the largest producers of thread in the world. Its factory was the first in the world to use electric lighting.[2] Willimantic was also, at one time, an important rail hub in Central New England; the town was one of only a handful of stops between Boston and New York on the high-speed "White Train" of the 1890s.[3] More than 800 ornate Victorian homes multiplied in the town's Prospect Hill section, which is now listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

But hard times followed; American Thread moved to North Carolina in 1985[4] and without it, the town's economy foundered. Since the departure of American thread, the town has struggled without a main employer. The unemployment rate in Windham, the town that contains Willimantic, stands at 10.2% as of July 2009. This is 2% above the state average, more than 3% above most towns in the immediate area, and eclipsed only by cities in the state like Hartford, Bridgeport and New Haven.[5] In 2002, The Hartford Courant ran a controversial investigative series called "Heroin Town" describing rampant heroin use in Willimantic, disproportionate to the town's small size. The articles roiled local residents, but a task force was appointed by the state to study the issue.[6]

Today, several projects aiming to revitalize the town are under way. The Willimantic Whitewater Partnership plans to reclaim the town's riverfront by developing a whitewater park and research facility. Some of the town's distressed factory buildings have been turned into residential space for artists by Artspace. Efforts to attract high-tech businesses to the area have turned other former factory buildings into space for small technology startups.[2]

Willimantic Highlights

  • "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 in to 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[7], among others. The parade Grand Marshal is WILI radio host and local celebrity Wayne Norman. Parade participation is equally as important as parade attendance, with the vast majority of parade participants being individual citizens or local citizens groups who simply wish to share their creativity and national pride with spectators. Other cities from Madison, WI and Lubbock, TX, to Newfane, NY and Bullhead City, AZ, have had Boom Box Parades, but none have endured or been as large as Willimantic's.[8]
  • "Third Thursday" - On the Third Thursday of the spring and summer months, a large section of Main Street is closed to traffic for a street fair. Different booths featuring performers, community groups, and food vendors line Main Street. The event began in 2002 and draws about 8,000 attendees.[9]
  • "Frogleap: The Willimantic Multicultural Winter Carnival" - A celebration of the New Year incorporating different cultural traditions.
  • "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. 10 years later it moved to a larger space a few blocks away at 27 Meadow Street, and most store items were moved via a human chain of Co-op members. After fifteen more years it moved to an even bigger location at 91 Valley Street where it is now. The Co-op hosts the Downtown Country Fair every autumn with a farmer's market, live music, food, crafts and children's activities.
  • "Willimantic Footbridge" - 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.
  • "Romantic Willimantic" - 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.
  • "Thread City Bread" - Willimantic had its own local currency called "Thread City Bread". The currency was valid tender at a number of local businesses.[10]
  • In August 2008, "bizjournals.com" ranked Willimantic the 43rd most desirable town in the country based on quality of life, location and other factors.

Geography

According to the United States Census Bureau, the CDP has a total area of 11.6 km² (4.5 mi²). 11.4 km² (4.4 mi²) of it is land and 0.3 km² (0.1 mi²) of it (2.23%) is water.

Demographics

As of the census [11] of 2000, there were 15,823 people, 5,604 households, and 3,166 families residing in the CDP. The population density was 1,391.6/km² (3,607.0/mi²). There were 6,026 housing units at an average density of 530.0/km² (1,373.7/mi²). The racial makeup of the CDP was 70.35% White, 6.25% African American, 0.59% Native American, 1.67% Asian, 0.13% Pacific Islander, 16.87% from other races, and 4.13% from two or more races. Hispanic or Latino of any race were 30.19% of the population.

There were 5,604 households out of which 29.7% had children under the age of 18 living with them, 33.5% were married couples living together, 18.1% had a female householder with no husband present, and 43.5% were non-families. 33.2% of all households were made up of individuals and 12.7% had someone living alone who was 65 years of age or older. The average household size was 2.45 and the average family size was 3.13.

In the CDP the population was spread out with 22.6% under the age of 18, 22.4% from 18 to 24, 27.3% from 25 to 44, 16.1% from 45 to 64, and 11.5% who were 65 years of age or older. The median age was 28 years. For every 100 females there were 95.0 males. For every 100 females age 18 and over, there were 91.6 males.

The median income for a household in the CDP was $30,155, and the median income for a family was $38,427. Males had a median income of $30,697 versus $23,297 for females. The per capita income for the CDP was $15,727. About 14.6% of families and 19.8% of the population were below the poverty line, including 25.7% of those under age 18 and 12.6% of those age 65 or over.

Willimantic's largest private employer is Willimantic Waste Paper Company, which specializes in the collection and recycling of fiber products, scrap metal, and co-mingled plastic refuse. Brand-Rex Corporation also maintains a major cable manufacturing facility in Willimantic, which manufactures specialty wire and cable for commercial and industrial customers.

Media

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Newspapers

  • The Chronicle - Daily Newspaper

Radio

  • WILI AM 1400, talk radio
  • i98.3 FM, top 40
  • WECS FM 90.1, ECSU owned station

Education

Public Schools

  • Windham High School
  • Windham Middle School
  • Windham Technical High School
  • Arts at the Capitol Theater Performing Arts High School
  • Natchaug School
  • North Windham School
  • Windham Center School
  • W.B. Sweeney School
  • St. Mary-St Joseph School

In this college town are located Eastern Connecticut State University (ECSU) as well as the downtown campus of Quinebaug Valley Community College.

References

Post Office, about 1913
  1. ^ http://www.threadcity.org/61/?form_58.replyids=7&form_62.replyids=164&form_62.userid=3
  2. ^ a b http://www.masshightech.com/stories/2002/01/28/story35-Willimantic-hopes-companies-will-leap-to-tech-center.html "Willimantic hopes companies will leap to tech center"
  3. ^ http://pages.cthome.net/mbartel/ARRhistory.htm Air Line Rail Trail - History
  4. ^ http://doddcenter.uconn.edu/findaids/Amerthre/MSS19980302.html University of Connecticut: "American Thread Company Records"
  5. ^ http://blogs.courant.com/rick_green/2009/09/find-the-unemployment-rate-for.html CTConfidential: "Find the unemployment rate for your Connecticut town"
  6. ^ http://www.ajr.org/Article.asp?id=2761 American Journalism Review: "The Truth Hurts
  7. ^ Tim Page (2000-06-05). "No 76 Trombones In This Parade". Washington Post. http://www.washingtonpost.com/ac2/wp-dyn?pagename=article&contentId=A47709-2000Jul4. Retrieved 2007-06-08.  
  8. ^ "The WILI Boom Box Parade". WILI.com. http://www.wili-am.com/parade.htm. Retrieved 2007-06-08.  
  9. ^ "Willimantic Renaissance". Third Thursday Street Fest. http://www.willimanticstreetfest.com/wri.htm. Retrieved 2007-06-08.  
  10. ^ Beth Bruno (1998-08-06). "Insights: Thread City Bread". SNET.net. http://www.snet.net/features/insights/articles/1998/08060101.shtml. Retrieved 2007-06-08.  
  11. ^ "American FactFinder". United States Census Bureau. http://factfinder.census.gov. Retrieved 2008-01-31.  
Main Street, looking east, circa 1906
Bird's eye view, 1908

External links


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