The only church of this village is an offshoot from the Congregational church of Windham. For twenty-five years, more or less, services have been conducted here on occasional Sabbaths or on week-day evenings. The old Fitch school house is used for religious services. This is a building once intended for a private school, and is rented of private owners for religious services. It stands near and is connected with the Warner House, a hotel of commodious size standing near the depot of the New London Northern railroad. It is now owned by Alfred Kinne. For a few years back religious services on Sunday have been omitted, but in March, 1888, a Society of Christian Endeavor was formed here, and in the following December a church was organized, which now numbers eighteen members. During the winter a revival occurred. Since December 7th, 1888, preaching services have been held every Sunday afternoon by the pastor of the old church at Windham Centre. A Sunday school is also maintained here.
Once this church, which was a branch of the Windham Congregational Church, was established in the village in 1888, a Ladies’ Missionary Society was also formed which began collecting for a fund to erect a church edifice in South Windham. As related in the Hartford Courant (“Church Dedication,” October 22, 1902):
President Guilford Smith of the Smith Winchester Company became interested in the project and it was very largely through the generosity of Mr. and Mrs. Smith that the branch society is now possessed of the beautiful church. The donations of Mr. and Mrs. Smith were supplemented by those of almost every one who resided in the village and by many who lived out of the place, but had it not been for the generous gifts of land and money by Mr. and Mrs. Smith it is not likely that the society would have realized its long cherish[ed] hope for many years.
The Courant article further concluded that “probably no manufacturing village of the size can boast of so finely appointed and convenient a church building.” The church, located at 361 South Windham Street, was dedicated on October 21, 1902.
The Windham Textile and History Museum (411 Main Street in Willimantic) presents the nineteenth and early twentieth century history of Willimantic’s textile industry, focusing on the Willimantic Linen Company, whose former mill buildings are located just across the street. These mills were later owned by the American Thread Company. In 1985 they were acquired by developer Jonathan Dugan. The museum opened in 1989 in two buildings erected by the company in 1877 and donated by Dugan in 1986. One is the former company store (pictured above), which had a library for workers on the third floor called Dunham Hall. The other (pictured below) is called the Dugan Mill, the upper floor of which was added during the first decade of the twentieth century to be used as the headquarters for the American Thread Fire Brigade. It later became a meeting hall which was recently restored for use by the museum.
The house at 84 Windham Street in Willimantic was built in 1898 and was the home of Lorenzo Litchfield, a station agent for the New York, New Haven & Hartford Railroad. His wife, Lizzie Amelia Pomeroy, widow of John Bliss Fuller, was a member of the D.A.R. and the General Society of Mayflower Descendants.
St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, 220 Valley Street in Willimantic began as a mission of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Windham in 1865. Services were held in a rented hall until 1883. The history of the church can be found in A Modern History of Windham County, Connecticut, Vol. I (1920), edited by Allen B. Lincoln, from which the following details are excerpted:
In the year 1884, however, a small frame church building in Central Village was moved to the site. of the present edifice, on the corner of Walnut and Valley streets. [. . .] With the building came also the altar, the old communion set, and vestments. And thus after thirty years St. Paul’s, Willimantic, became a corporate parish, the first resident rector of which was the Rev. Isaac W. Hallam. From that time on the positions of the little mother church in Windham and her sturdy offspring in Willimantic were partially reversed; Willimantic becoming the residence of their mutual rector and absorbing the greater part of his time. [. . .] Meantime, a fund known as the Isabella Tracy Eaton Fund, was left to the parish, and from this the Missionary Society purchased a plot of ground adjoining the church property and erected a rectory thereon. [. . .]
A movement was started during Mr. Hatch’s incumbency to build a new church. A legacy of $20,000 had been left the parish by Mrs. Boardman of New Haven toward the erection of a new edifice for St. Paul’s parish, Willimantic, with the proviso that the parish should raise the needed balance. Pledges were secured for the amount, but the actual cash had not been turned in and Trinity College, Hartford, another beneficiary under the will, raised the legal technicality that the letter of the proviso had not been met, and the courts allowed only $10,000 of Mrs. Boardman’s estate to be applied to St. Paul’s legacy. This proceeding was regarded by many as a new proof that law and justice are not as close as hand and glove. As a local paper stated warmly, “Pledges as good as the Bank of England were secured,” but the law took its bland course and Trinity College was as triumphant as the cat that swallowed the canary.
However, the Missionary Society of the Diocese, deeming that the spirit of the will had been kept by the parish, added $9,500 to the $10,000 and the balance of $22,000 was raised by the people, with the consequence that the new church was built, and on September 24, 1913, was duly consecrated by Bishop Brewster.
The new structure is of gray stone, the interior finished in quartered oak. The old building was turned into a parish house, while the old chancel with its altar was enclosed and is used as a sacristy. [. . .]
Seven years after the new church building was completed, it was found necessary to partly rebuild the same as grave fundamental faults of construction had grown more and more evident. During the year 1919-1920 the work was done at an outlay of some $15,000. At the same time the parish house was enlarged and renovated. A new kitchen was built, a G.F.S. room added and furnished by the members of that society, who for the most part have shown themselves enthusiastic and conscientious church workers. The rectory was also thoroughly repaired. On Easter Day, 1920, the church was re-dedicated by Bishop E. C. Acheson.
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 »