This Windham town park on an old bridge is a jewel set between Windham Mills State Heritage Park and a restored mill building. Where traffic once crossed over the river, there is now a garden and benches with scenic views of the restored mill complex and the river.
From the junction of Jackson and Main Street (at the Frog Bridge) in Willimantic, go east on Main Street for a tenth-mile and turn right into the entrance of the Windham Mills complex. To the right is parking and the Windham Mills State Heritage Park.
Before going to the bridge, walk to the riverbank in Windham Mills State Heritage Park for a view of the stone bridge and Mill # 1 behind it. (This building has been refurbished by ArtSpace as studios and apartments.) The double-arched bridge was designed to better resist the river's floods, which had destroyed previous wooden bridges. Today, this bridge is still standing after 150 years. The smaller of the two arches allows water flowing through Mill #1's race (water channel) to return to the river. The water flow in this race powered the mill until steam engines arrived in the 1880's. For more information on the Windham mills, see Windham Mills State Heritage Park. The old bridge carried vehicles until it was replaced by the "Frog Bridge" in 2001. Then it was converted to the Windham Garden on the Bridge.
You can climb the stairs from the park to the bridge, but it is more enjoyable to walk out to Main Street and up to the bridge entrance. Flower beds line the sidewalk leading to a plaza at the bridge entrance. After turning left into this entrance, take a close look at the graceful patterns in the pavement that represent spools and looping threads (The American Thread Company produced thread here until 1985, when they closed this complex and later sold it.). Traffic was heavy on the narrow street and bridge, which even had trolleys passing over it. Now the former street is an open plaza with trees growing in large containers. Pass by ArtSpace (Mill #1) on the right and through an archway to enter the garden.
Throughout the growing season, a variety of annual and perennial flowers bloom and spill over the edges of stone containers along the walls of the bridge. Benches invite you to sit and enjoy the scene. Here in the midst of an urban mill site is a steep, wooded river bank and the sound of water rushing over the dam next to Mill #1. You may see a great blue heron flying down the river or a pair of mallard ducks swimming by. Another falls is farther upstream under the Frog Bridge. For this refreshing retreat, we can thank the Garden Club of Windham, whose members maintain this unique garden.
View from the Bridge
Next to Mill # 1, look over the edge of the bridge to see water pouring through the race. It flows from under the mill through an archway, then through a small hydro-electric plant before going under the bridge. On the downstream side of the bridge, you can see the race water flowing into the river and a fenced area with an old hydroelectric turbine. There is a fine view of the river and the massive granite Mill #2 (with the smoke stack). Between the bridge and this mill is the Windham Mills State Heritage Park and parking lot. There were once brick mill buildings in this open area, which were removed in the 1990's. These brick buildings were once joined to Mill #1 by an overhead walkway over the street. You can still see the old doorway in the side of the mill. At the south end of the bridge, a paved path follows the former street under a railroad overpass and up to Pleasant Street. If you are here at the right time, you can watch a train pass by (four times a day). For a walk on other Willimantic bridges, see Willimantic Bridges
To discover more about these mills, visit the Windham Textile and History Museum across Main Street from the park. It is always worth stopping in see changing exhibits about the mills and the life of those who lived and worked here. The museum's entrance is in the former mill store and library for mill workers.
Thanks to Tom Beardsley and Windham Textile and History Museum for their assistance.
Photos: P. Vertefeuille
This Willimantic River Greenway Parks and Trails Guide was produced by the Willimantic River Alliance and WINCOG. Information in this guide reflects conditions and features as of Spring, 2008. Since conditions change over time, the Alliance is not responsible for changes at this site. This guide was funded with support from the Quinebaug-Shetucket Heritage Corridor, Inc.
From Victorian Willimantic web site: The narrow stone arch bridge was built in 1857 by Lyman Jordan and Nathaniel Olin. The Bridge never had a consistant name but has been called South Main Street Bridge, Jillson Hill Bridge, the Lower Bridge and Windham Road Bridge. The stone arch replaced an earlier wooden bridge that was adjacent to an iron forge and was known as the Iron Works Bridge. That earlier bridge was destroyed by a flood in 1771 and rebuilt. 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 1903 the trolley tracks were laid over the bridge which added to the conjestion. 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 22nd, 2006 dedication of the Windham Garden on the Bridge.