Thread City Crossing:
A History of Willimantic's Bridges:
by: Tom Beardsley:
An artist's impression of the new bridge.
The spools are shown, but there are no frogs.
The bridge built over the Willimantic River has been long awaited. The town's two stone arch bridges, built in 1857 and 1868, soon became crowded with traffic as Willimantic expanded after the Civil War. In 1872, the Willimantic Journal optimistically forecast that, "Probably a bridge of some kind will be built before a great while across the river about midway between the present bridges."
The Willimantic Enterprise of January 11, 1877 reported that a petition had been prepared by E. B. Sumner and 54 others, "praying for a survey and lay-out of a foot way and footbridge...from Main Street to Pleasant Street." The cost was considered to be too expensive, and the plan abandoned. A year later the Enterprise editorialized that, "the question of a foot bridge from Pleasant street to Main street is again agitated. It is stated that the approaches will cost $10,000. We think that the same amount of money would do more good if spent on an efficient system of sewerage." In 1888, a footbridge feasibility committee was formed but again the cost was considered too prohibitive.
Four years later detailed plans were again prepared. The Chronicle of August 10, 1892 reported that, "Now that the plans for the proposed new bridge over the river and railroad tracks from Railroad Street to Pleasant Street are completed and the specifications and estimates are soon to be forthcoming, together with the report of the bridge committee, this much talked about affair will be resumed. From the plans submitted it seems a beautiful structure can be made and something of this kind can't be denied." It was.
Along with the historic fiscal conservatism of the town fathers, there was another issue which delayed the building of a bridge for so long. The Yankees, south of the river, did not want the Irish and French Canadian immigrant mill workers to have easy access to this part of town. But gradually, control of the city council fell into the hands of the Irish-Americans, and under the leadership of Danny Dunn, the final hurdle was completed, and the bridge opened for business in November, 1906.
The turning point for the pro-bridge faction came in 1902, when the trolley cars came to town. It was a tight squeeze under the railroad bridge for the trolley cars, and over the old stone bridge between the American Thread Company's Mill's One and Six. Accidents were common, and the public demanded a new highway bridge over the river and tracks to "convey teams, trolleys and foot passengers," in the position often cited for the footbridge. Furthermore, it was forecast that trolley cars would travel to Hartford from Norwich, through Willimantic, so some means had to be prepared for those trolley lines to cross the railroad lines on Lower Main Street.