The religious sentiment of Willimantic is now represented by six churches, viz., Congregational, Methodist, Baptist, Roman Catholic, Protestant Episcopal and Spiritualist. These have all been built up here since the year 1827. Up to the close of that year there was no church nearer than Windham Centre, nor any stated meetings except such as were held in a school house or in private houses. In the year mentioned a few persons here applied to the directors of the Connecticut Domestic Missionary Society for a minister. [. . .]
January 22d, 1828, an ecclesiastical council was called, of which Doctor Samuel Nott, of Franklin, was chosen moderator, and this council organized the First Congregational church of Willimantic. [. . .]
A church edifice was immediately erected, and was dedicated October 17th, 1828, Doctor Joel Hawes preaching the sermon. This was the first house of worship in the place. The expense of building it was a burden from which those who undertook it delivered themselves only after a determined struggle. The present society was formed soon after the church was built. [. . .] In 1843 the house of worship was considerably enlarged. [. . .]
On the acceptance of the call of Reverend Horace Winslow, the question of a new house of worship was earnestly advocated, and on February 24th, 1869, the society resolved to proceed to the work, and accordingly appointed a building committee composed of John Tracy, Allen Lincoln, William C. Jillson and the pastor elect. In July of that year the corner stone was laid, and in one year from that time the main edifice was dedicated to the worship of God. The expenses of this enterprise were provided for in various ways. To begin with, the society had from subscriptions and the sale of the old house $19,578. This fund was steadily increased by special efforts, so that when the main portion of the building was completed the debt was only a little over $9,000. In May, 1871, the chapel was completed and dedicated to the service of God. In about a year from that time it was proposed to pay off the whole debt of the society, which amounted then to $12,600. This amount was raised by the 1st of October, 1872. The whole cost of church, grounds, chapel, furniture, organ and all, amounted to $46,700, and it had all been paid, so that the society was free from debt. A service of praise and gratulation was held in view of the auspicious financial condition. Since then money has been raised and the chapel and adjoining rooms have been painted, carpeted and seated. The size of the main edifice on the ground is one hundred by sixty-three feet, and the chapel addition and adjoining room is ninety by thirty-six feet.
Happy New Year! The first Mass to be celebrated in St. Mary’s Roman Catholic Church, 46 Valley Street in Willimantic, took place on January 1, 1905. The parish had been established to serve French Canadian immigrants. Over a century later, the church was undergoing renovations when a fire broke out on May 16, 2013. There was extensive fire, smoke and water damage and firefighters had broken through stained glass windows to fight the fire. Closed for two years while undergoing restoration work, the church was rededicated on June 20, 2015.
Camp meetings were a notable feature of religious life in nineteenth-century America and some continue in existence today. This site has already featured the Plainville Campground and Camp Bethel in Haddam. Another religious campground is the Willimantic Camp Meeting Association. It was established by Methodists who held the first meeting here on September 3, 1860. Today it is an interdenominational Evangelical Association. At its height the camp had 300 buildings, primarily cottages built by individual churches or families. A third of them were destroyed by the hurricane of 1938 and another hundred were lost to neglect over the ensuing decades. 100 cottages remain and constitute an architectural treasure. Read the rest of this entry »
The church was organized October 20th, 1827. At first the school houses were used for meetings, but a spirit of opposition arose and they were debarred this privilege. With aid from abroad they succeeded in building a meeting house on the site at present occupied. The site was purchased of Alfred Howes, and Messrs. Reed, Hardin and Fenton, of Mansfield, were contracted with to erect the church. The building, being completed, was dedicated May 27th, 1829. A Sabbath school was immediately organized. [. . .] The church is a neat and commodious building, which, with the lot it stands upon, is valued at twenty-five thousand dollars. Connected with the church is a vigorous Young People’s Society of Christian Endeavor and a large and flourishing Sunday school.
In 1968, the First Baptist Church of Willimantic had an opportunity to sell its building after the Valentine’s Day Fire destroyed the 1865 Union Block. The declining church voted not to sell and to remain a downtown church, which is where it still stands. In 2002, First Baptist voted not to close its doors and instead chose to celebrate its 175th anniversary.
The Italianate house at 4 Main Street (pdf) in South Windham was built in 1871-1872 by Elisha H. Holmes (1799-1886) for his son, Elisha H. Holmes, Jr. (1844-1915), known as “Harlow.” He is described in Vol. I of the Commemorative Biographical Record of Tolland and Windham Counties (1903):
Elisha Harlow Holmes, secretary and treasurer of the Willimantic Machine Company, and a member of the firm known as the Radial Thread Buff Company, is one of the active business men of Willimantic. Windham county.
Elisha H. Holmes, his father, came to Windham in 1818, and followed his trade of cabinetmaker, also engaging in farming. Later he had a grist and plaster mill at South Windham. [. . .] His wife, Lydia, was a daughter of Amos Dennison Allen, a cabinet—maker of Windham, with whom Mr. Holmes learned his trade.
Elisha Harlow Holmes was born in South Windham, Conn., July 13, 1844. [. . .] In 1889 was formed the Willimantic Machine Company, of which he is secretary and treasurer and a member of the board of directors, and to this business he devotes the greater part of his time. The business is one of the very successful institutions of the “Thread Company,” being so great as to necessitate the employment of a number of skilled workmen, about fifty people in all, in the production of silk and thread machinery.
Mr. Holmes is also a member of the Radial Thread Buff Company, of South Windham. The buildings occupied are nearly all of brick, and are located adjacent to the tracks of the New London Northern railroad at South Windham. They are lighted by gas made on the premises, and the works are operated by a twenty-horse-power engine. The products are old-style and patent buffs for polishing silver, bronze and all metals requiring high polish, and the machinery used in their production is of original design. adapted especially for the work. This machinery is unique in its construction, and embodies ideas on which Mr. Binns was granted patents in 1884. The patent buff wheel, while superior to the old style and unlike any other, is made with less labor, at less expense, and its manner of construction is such that almost no waste of material results. The wheels made by this concern are now used by platers, cutlers and manufacturers generally on fine work, throughout the United States and Canada; each year shows an increase in the demand for them, and from a dozen to fifteen people are employed in their manufacture.
On May 7, 1866, Mr. Holmes was married, by Rev. Clayton Eddy, of St. Paul’s Church, Windham, to Miss Sarah Wheeler Johnson, a native of Windham, who was born May 24, 1844, [. . .] In 1871 Mr. Holmes erected a handsome home on Main street, in South Windham, where he has since resided. The beautiful trees on that street were set out by Mr. Holmes’ father.
Built c. 1885, the house at 228 North Street in Willimantic was the home of William Peter Jordan (1863-1953), a hardware dealer who was born in Lebanon, Connecticut. His career is described in A Modern History of Windham County, Connecticut, Vol. II (1920):
in 1884 he directed his attention to commercial pursuits by accepting a clerkship in the drug store of Wilson & Leonard of Willimantic. After a time Mr. Wilson became sole proprietor and in 1890 sold to Mr. Jordan an interest in the business, which was then conducted under the firm style of F. M. Wilson & Company. Mr. Jordan was a partner in the enterprise until 1898, when he joined his brother, Frederick D. Jordan, in a partnership and thus became prominently connected with the hardware trade of Willimantic. He has continued in this line and the business has since been reorganized under the name of the Jordan Hardware Company, of which he is the secretary and treasurer. The company conducts both a wholesale and retail business and their patronage is very gratifying.
William P. Jordan does not confine his efforts to a single line, however, for he is identified with many important business interests which constitute leading factors in the commercial and industrial development of the city. He is now the treasurer of the Windham Silk Company, of which he became a stockholder and director in 1901. He is also the president of the Watts Laundry Machinery Company, engaged in the manufacture of presses and mangles, on which they hold patents, their output being shipped all over this country and also to France under government contract. Mr. Jordan also became a stockholder and one of the directors of the Willimantic Trust Company, which he assisted in organizing in 1915, and he is identified with the Willimantic Industrial Company and is president of the Jordan Automobile Company, which is featuring the Dodge, Buick and Cole cars, their sales territory covering Windham and New London counties in the sale of the Dodge and Cole, while their sale of the Buick cars covers a part of Windham county and of Tolland and New London. Mr. Jordan’s interests have thus become important and extensive and his activities place him in the foremost rank of the leading business men of his adopted city.