Due to the success of the thriving industries, this area grew into a bustling urban center. Below are descriptions and pictures of some interesting historic sites in Windham. If you are interested in a specific site, use the site menu to go directly to that site. Or you can scroll through all of the sites. Use the Main Menu to go to other pages.
|Windham Town Hall
The Town Hall was built in 1896. Before that the Town Hall was in rented space in the Hayden Block. The rent became too expensive, so the Town of Windham decided to build their own building. The officials moved into the building in 1897. Originally the building housed the courthouse, the police station, the jail, and the library. The large clock on the top of the building was donated by James Hayden in memory of his father Whiting Hayden. On June 24, 1915 President Howard Taft visited the building. The building is five stories high, and contains a vault for public records. In 1977 the Police Station, Courthouse, and Library relocated.
This building is one of Willimantic's most famous buildings. Constructed during the vaudeville era, movies were shown, then vaudeville acts would entertain the crowds. The Capitol Theater opened its doors to the public on January 12, 1926 and was a grand theater boasting a marble staircase, brass lighting fixtures, a balcony and promenade, and a ladies retiring room and gentlemen's smoking room. The 1,224 leather seats, 800 on the main floor, 400 on the second floor, were all designed to give a good view. There were also four private boxes, six seats in each. The stage is 80 feet wide and 36 feet deep. The luxurious Capitol Theater was so popular it was often the cause of other theaters closing. The back of the stage (see bottom picture to the left) rose higher than the rest of the building so the sets could be hoisted out of the way when not in use. In 1930 the Capitol stopped doing vaudeville acts, just showing movies. The first movie shown at the Capitol was "His Secretary". The last movies to show at the Capitol were "Paper Moon" and "Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory". The American Thread Company rented the theater annually for their Christmas parties. The theater closed its doors on October 20, 1973.
The Jillson house was the home of William Jillson, one of the three brothers who built an early cotton factory in Willimantic. The house was built from stones quarried out of the Willimantic River in 1825. In 1851 the Willimantic Linen Company bought the mills and the house. The building was used as a storage area. The building was them sold and converted into apartments. It was vacant for many years and fell into decay. In the late 1960s Dr. Braw Rafferty headed the project of restoration. In 1976, after restoration, it was bought by the Windham Historical Society and became their new home. (See the Jillson House Website on our links page.)
Young's Tavern is believed to be the oldest structure remaining in Willimantic. It was built in 1776 and may have been the boarding house for the gunpowder mill. The mill produced 7% of the gunpowder used in the Revolutionary War, a great contribution when gunpowder was so greatly needed. Thomas Fitch sold the building to William Young Jr. Young's son David established Young's Tavern, and years later a ballroom was added upstairs. The first Post office in Windham was located at the tavern. Eventually the tavern was owned by Mr. Hebard and became Hebard's Tavern. By the 1840's the building was falling into decline. Today the building has been converted into apartments.
The Windham Inn was built in 1783 at Windham Center, the oldest section of town. The Windham Inn was a rest stop for weary travelers. Currently the Inn is an apartment building and is said to be haunted by the ghost of Elizabeth Shaw. To learn more about the ghost of Elizabeth Shaw check out our trivia page during the month of October, or visit the Mill Museum during October to view the slide show on "Ghosts of the Windham Area".
The Willimantic Footbridge was erected in 1906. For years there had been discussion of constucting a footbridge to link Pleasant Street and Main Street, but the town could not afford the expense of construction. The idea was to give the mill worker who lived on the other side of the river easy access to Main Street. The bridge is constructed of wrought iron with wooden decking. It cost $12,000.00 to build, a lot of money in 1906. The original color was black, but it has now been painted green. The Willimantic Footbridge is the only structure east of the Mississippi River to span a highway, railroad tracks, and a river (the Willimantic River). The bridge is 635 feet long and was fabricated in 5 sections by the Owego Company of Owego, New York. The pieces were shipped to Willimantic by train. The bridge was designed by local engineer Robert E. Mitchel. In 1978 the footbridge was placed on the National Register of Historical Places.
To see the building now it is hard to believe, but the Hotel Hooker was once the finest hotel between Hartford and Providence. The hotel was completed in February 1887. Seth Chauncey Hooker was the owner, which is how the hotel got its name. The hotel boasted gas lighting, electric bells, and speaking tubes, with hot water and steam radiators in every room. The restaurant could cater to 250 people. The second, third, and fourth floors of the hotel were reached by a hydraulic elevator. There were also bathrooms located on each floor. The Hooker House was conveniently located near the railroad station. The train between Rhode Island and New York had few stops, Willimantic was lucky to be one of them.
|Sister's of Charity Hospital
Before 1907 Windham had doctors, but no hospital to care for patients. Dr. Hunt saw patients in a small one-room office, which had previously served as a sheriff's office. Dr. Mason saw patients in his home. The Sisters of Charity of Our Lady Mother Mercy sought to change that. The sisters opened a small hospital across from St. Joseph's church. Originally the hospital had room for 20 patients, with 12 private rooms. The hospital was to be a hospital for everybody, no matter what their race, background, or financial status. By 1929 the hospital had to start turning people away because they were full to capacity. In 1930, in the middle of the depression, $500,000.00 was raised to build a new, bigger hospital. 12 acres of land were donated by the Vanderman heirs to build the present Windham Memorial Hospital 1 mile from the center of town. The Sister of Charity Hospital is now used as a homeless shelter.
First Footbridge, and Hotel Hooker pictures courtesy of Francois J. Gamache of Willimantic. All other pictures property of the Mill Museum.