For the past 20 years, the Willimantic Victorian Neighborhood Association has invited visitors into our homes to offer a glimpse into the lives of Victorian Era Americans. We do this each year because we believe our history is a treasure to be shared and remembered.
On the day of the home tours, ticket holders will be given a map of the homes they may visit, a schedule of guided walks and a schedule of trolley rides.
We believe the name “Willimantic” came from an Algonquin word meaning “Swift Running Waters.” The flow of the Willimantic River drops about 90 feet from one side of town to the other. As a result of this immense power supply, the town became the place to build water powered mill. Early settlers build grist mills, sawmills and powder mills. The latter provided gunpowder for the Continental Army during the Revolution.
The village soon grew to become the center of Textile Production. From 1822, when the first cotton mill was built out of wood, to the massive granite structures built in 1854. Industry brought people, trade and wealth.
The railroad, too, was key to development. The rail line that crosses through the town was dubbed the Air Line because of the speed of transit from New York to Boston on an engineered level track. Raw materials were brought in by rail and finish product shipped out. Passengers would stay over in Willimantic's Hotels.
History books often forget the laborers who stood behind the rich and powerful mill owners and managers. One progressive leader, William E. Barrows, used the resources of the Willimantic Linen Co. to improve the lives of mill workers. He had the company build cottages along a winding tree lined neighborhood named The Oaks. 40 such cottages were built. They were rented to mill employees for about 12% of their wages. Barrows also had built a store, a library and a park. Barrows insisted that employees, many of whom were recent immigrants, learn English, and provided the lessons.
This year our guided tours and in-home visits will highlight the homes built for and rented to workers. Several of the current owners, of the nearly 140-year-old cottages, have graciously opened parts of their homes for visitors to gain new insight into life in a textile mill town at the end of the 19th century. The cottages can then be compared with near by opulent homes , the Gingerbread Gems built for mill executives, manufacturers and railroad officers.
What you need to know to enjoy all the possible activities
There are six cottages and two mansions open, plus Walking and Trolley Tours, as well as concerts and exhibits. Plan your day using the Schedule