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Willimantic, Connecticut facts for kids

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Willimantic, Connecticut
Downtown District
The Willimantic Footbridge
A railroad yard in Willimantic
The former Armory
The Windham Town Hall in Willimantic
The old stone mills in the area
From top to bottom, left to right: The view of the center of Willimantic from Route 66, the Willimantic Footbridge, a well known bridge, a railroad yard, the Willimantic Armory, the Windham Town Hall, and the American Thread Company's former mill
Official seal of Willimantic, Connecticut
Thread City, Frog City
Location in Windham County and Connecticut
Location in Windham County and Connecticut
Willimantic, Connecticut is located in the United States
Willimantic, Connecticut
Willimantic, Connecticut
Location in the United States
Willimantic, Connecticut is located in Connecticut
Willimantic, Connecticut
Willimantic, Connecticut
Location in Connecticut
State  Connecticut
County Windham
 • Census-designated place 11.6 km2 (4.5 sq mi)
 • Land 11.4 km2 (4.4 sq mi)
 • Water 0.3 km2 (0.1 sq mi)
 • Census-designated place 17,737
 • Estimate 
 • Density 1,556/km2 (4,030/sq mi)
 • Urban
Time zone UTC-5 (Eastern)
 • Summer (DST) UTC-4 (Eastern)
Airport Windham Airport
Major highways US 6.svg Connecticut Highway 32.svg

Willimantic is a census-designated place located in the town of Windham in Windham County, Connecticut, United States. It is a former city and borough, and is currently organized as one of two tax districts within the Town of Windham. Known as "Thread City" for the American Thread Company's mills along the Willimantic River, it was a center of the textile industry in the 19th century. Originally incorporated as a city in 1893, it entered a period of decline after the Second World War, culminating in the mill's closure and the city's reabsorption into the town of Windham in the 1980s. Though the city was a major rail hub, an Interstate Highway has never passed within ten miles, despite early plans to connect it.

Willimantic was populated by a series of ethnic groups migrating to the city to find work at the mills, originally Western European and French Canadian immigrants, later Eastern Europeans and Puerto Ricans. Architecturally, it is known for its collection of Victorian-era houses and other buildings in the hill section, the Romanesque Revival town hall and two crossings of the Willimantic River: a footbridge and the "Frog Bridge". It is home to Eastern Connecticut State University and the Windham Textile and History Museum. As of 2010, Willimantic had a population of 17,737 people.



Willimantic is an Algonquian term for "land of the swift running water".

Early history

Prior to 1821, the village was known as Willimantic Falls, home to about twenty families and a single school district. In 1822, Charles Lee erected a factory on Main Street made of stone quarried from the Willimantic River. Although small shops and manufacturers had been built on the banks of the Willimantic before, this was the beginning of industrialized Willimantic. 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" 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. In 1833, Willimantic was a borough of Windham; in 1893, it would become a city.

City history

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.

Railroads added to the growth of Willimantic; the town was one of only a handful of stops between Boston and New York on the high-speed "White Train" of the 1890s. In the early 20th century, between 50 and 100 trains ran through Willimantic daily. 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. The town prospered, growing from a population of less than 5,000 in 1860 to more than 12,100 by 1910.

Later history

But hard times followed; American Thread moved to North Carolina in 1985 and without it, the town's economy floundered. In 1983, the city and the town consolidated and became one town again. The unemployment rate in Windham, the town that contains Willimantic was 7.8% as of December, 2014.

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. In August 2008, ranked Willimantic the 43rd most desirable town in the country based on quality of life, location and other factors.


Notable areas

Former Willimantic Post Office
The old post office in 2017, it currently hosts a brewery.

Notable events

  • 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, 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.
  • 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. The event began in 2002 and draws about 8,000 attendees.
  • Victorian Days in Willimantic: produced by the Willimantic Victorian Neighborhood Association, are the first weekend in June and feature Home Tours, Victorian Teas, Trolley Tours, Art Shows, Museums, Concerts and special events.

Notable places

  • 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. Ten 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, a remarkable 88% contribute to its overall historic architectural character.
  • Thread City Bread: Willimantic had its own local currency called "Thread City Bread". The currency was valid tender at a number of local businesses.
  • 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.
  • 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 22, 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. The Gardens are maintained by volunteers of the Windham Garden Club and Public Works employees.
  • The Connecticut Eastern Railroad Museum is located off Bridge Street in downtown Willimantic, Connecticut, on the original site of the Columbia Junction Freight Yard. The collection includes locomotives and rolling stock, as well as vintage railroad buildings and a six-stall roundhouse reconstructed on the original foundation.
  • The former post office now holds the Willimantic Brewing Company, a local pub.


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


Climate data for Windham Airport (KIJD), Connecticut (1981-2010), Snow data for Storrs, Connecticut (1981-2010)
Month Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sep Oct Nov Dec Year
Record high °F (°C) 69
Average high °F (°C) 35.3
Daily mean °F (°C) 29.0
Average low °F (°C) 17.0
Record low °F (°C) -27
Precipitation inches (mm) 3.36
Snowfall inches (cm) 8.1
Avg. precipitation days (≥ 0.1 in) 6 6 7 7 8 7 6 5 6 6 6 7 72
Avg. snowy days (≥ 0.1 in.) 4 4 3 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 1 2 15


Historical population
Census Pop.
1880 6,608
1890 8,648 30.9%
1900 8,937 3.3%
1910 11,230 25.7%
1920 12,330 9.8%
1930 12,102 −1.8%
1940 12,101 0.0%
1950 13,586 12.3%
1960 13,881 2.2%
1970 14,402 3.8%
1980 14,652 1.7%
1990 14,746 0.6%
2000 15,823 7.3%
2010 17,737 12.1%
2020 18,149 2.3%
U.S. Decennial Census /
Social Explorer Map

Immigrants of many national origins populated the city. First, Europeans 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. As a mark of how strongly newcomers identified with their places of origin, Willimantic has many churches, even several from the same denomination: for example, one Catholic church for French Canadians, another for Irish, Polish and Italian immigrants.

As of the 2010 US Census, there were 17,737 people, 5,812 households, and 3,324 families residing in the CDP. The population density was 4,031 inhabitants per square mile (1,556/km2). There were 6,282 housing units at an average density of 1,428 per square mile (551/km2).

The racial makeup of the CDP was 66.0% White, 7.5% African American, 0.6% Native American, 1.9% Asian, 0.1% Pacific Islander, 20.2% from other races, and 3.8% from two or more races. Hispanic or Latino of any race were 39.8% of the population, mostly (26.4%) Puerto Ricans.

Of the 5,812 households, out of which 34.2% had children under the age of 18 living with them, 30.6% were married couples living together, 20.2% had a female householder with no husband present, and 42.8% were non-families. 31.0% of all households were made up of individuals, and 10.9% had someone living alone who was 65 years of age or older. The average household size was 2.58 and the average family size was 3.21.

In the CDP the population was spread out, with 21.5% under the age of 18, 31.0% from 18 to 24, 24.8% from 25 to 44, 19.0% from 45 to 64, and 8.6% who were 65 years of age or older. The median age was 26.5 years. For every 100 females, there were 97.3 males. For every 100 females age 18 and over, there were 95.8 males.

The median income for a household in the CDP was $37,469, and the median income for a family was $45,254. Males had a median income of $37,111 versus $33,862 for females. The per capita income for the CDP was $18,441. About 23.7% of families and 25.9% of the population were below the poverty line, including 38.4% of those under age 18 and 9.3% of those age 65 or over.

The urban cluster is an area surrounding the CDP, which has a population of 29,669 as of the 2010 census.

In popular culture

In 2007, writer-director A.D. Calvo filmed portions of his debut film, The Other Side of the Tracks, in Willimantic. More recently, during the summer of 2011, Calvo returned to film the majority of his third feature, House of Dust, on the campus of Eastern Connecticut State University and various other locations in town.


Willimantic's first factory was built in 1822 on Main Street by Charles Lee, followed by the first of the Jillson Mills in 1824. The Jillson Mills were bought in 1854 by a group of investors from Hartford, who formed the Willimantic Linen Company. In 1879, the Company built a woodworking factory to source its spools in Howard, Maine, which was renamed Willimantic in 1881. In 1880, the Willimantic Linen Company built its Mill No. 4, the first industrial building designed for electric lighting and the world's largest cotton mill at the time, which stood until it was burned down by two teenagers in 1995. The company was acquired by American Thread Company in 1898, and expanded production. The mill closed when the company moved operations to North Carolina in 1985.

Major employers include Willimantic Waste Paper Company, which specializes in the collection and recycling of fiber products, scrap metal, and co-mingled plastic refuse, as well as Brand-Rex Corporation, which maintains a manufacturing making specialty wire and cable for commercial and industrial customers. In January 2018, a fire destroyed the Willimantic Waste Paper processing plant, however it was rebuilt and is currently operating. On July 26, 2021, Casella Waste Systems purchased Willimantic Waste Paper Company.


Willimantic is served by Windham Public Schools, which administers public schools in Willimantic as well as in the rest of Windham. Willimantic itself has a public preschool, the Windham Early Childhood Center, as well as Sweeney Elementary and the Natchaug School for primary education, Windham Middle School for middle-school education, and Windham High School for high-school students. Middle-school students can also apply for admission by lottery to the Charles H. Barrows STEM Academy in Windham.

Additionally, Willimantic contains the Arts at the Capitol Theater Performing Arts High School, administered by EASTCONN, and Windham Technical High School, part of the Connecticut Technical High School System. There is also a private Christian school, St. Mary-St. Joseph School, serving pre-K through eighth grade.

Eastern Connecticut State University, a four-year liberal arts college, is located in Willimantic, as is a satellite campus of Quinebaug Valley Community College.



Willimantic is served by several state routes: Route 14, Route 32, Route 66, Route 195, and Route 289. It is additionally served by the Willimantic Bypass (US 6), a controlled-access highway. Notably, the only connections to the outside world are via surface roads, as the Willimantic Bypass is only divided between its two intersections with Route 66. In the 1960s, Interstate 384 was intended to connect Willimantic to Hartford in the west and Providence in the East, but the plan was eventually abandoned.

WRTD bus in Willimantic, June 2017
A WRTD bus on Main Street in downtown Willimantic.

Public transportation in Willimantic is provided by the Windham Region Transit District, which provides two in-town routes, and three intercity routes to Norwich, Danielson and Storrs. Historically, Willimantic was also served by intercity trolley service: from 1903 to 1936, a line ran southeast to Norwich, and from 1909 to 1926, another ran northwest to Coventry. Both lines ended at the downtown railroad yard, but did not physically connect, as they did not cross the tracks.

Willimantic station white border postcard
Willimantic station, in early 20th century, when the station was a busy junction.

In the 19th century, three active rail lines passed through Willimantic: the Central Vermont Railway in 1849, running from New London in the south northward to Vermont, the Hartford, Providence and Fishkill Railroad (later purchased by the New York, New Haven and Hartford Railroad) in 1849, running east-to-west, and finally a line of the New York and New England Railroad, running from Boston in the northeast towards New York via Middletown and New Haven in the southwest, in 1872, which also was acquired by the New York, New Haven and Hartford Railroad. Willimantic was one of only a handful of stops between Boston and New York on the high-speed "White Train" of the 1890s. At its peak, the passenger rail system ran forty trains a day through Willimantic. The NH operated the Nutmeg and several unnamed local trains on an east–west route from Waterbury, through Hartford and Willimantic, and on east to Boston. These rail services ended in 1955 after a bridge was flooded out by Hurricane Diane.

Former Amtrak platform, Willimantic, CT
Former Amtrak platform for the Montrealer in downtown Willimantic.

Currently no active passenger rail service stops at Willimantic, though formerly Amtrak's Montrealer stopped at the city from 1991 to 1995.

Windham Airport (IJD), a nearby general aviation airport, is the only airport that directly serves the CDP. Bradley International Airport (BDL) in Windsor Locks is the closest commercial airport.

The Airline Trail South crosses the Willimantic River to enter Willimantic on a 2016 built path that ends at Bridge St. The Airline Trail North starts on Jackson St. across the street from Jillson Park, the trail then goes through the northeastern part of Willimantic before crossing the Natchuag River to leave the CDP and heading on to Putnam. The Hop River Trail enters Willimantic on CT 66 (crossing over the Willimantic River) shortly before departing to follow the river to the Airline Trail, where it ends.


Electricity and gas service is provided by Eversource. Municipal water and sewer services are provided by Windham Water Works.


Windham Hospital, a subsidiary of Hartford HealthCare, is a 130-bed community hospital serving the area. The Veterans Administration also runs an outpatient primary-care facility on Main Street. Generations Family Health Center, a Federally Qualified Health Center, is also located on Main Street.

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See also

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