While four bridges span the Willimantic River in Willimantic, Connecticut, only two of them are available to motor vehicles, while two are dedicated to pedestrians. Willimantic,the urban center of Windham, is an eastern Connecticut town whose borders also encompass the rural villages of Windham Center, South Windham, and North Windham. Willimantic experienced burgeoning growth during the Industrial Revolution in the late 19th century, fueled by the power of the Willimantic River and the expansion of American Thread Company.
As the city grew, the Victorian Hill Section to the north had been expanded to the extent that the distances would have been too great for walking to work, so visionary leaders and real estate developers looked to the farmland to the south. The problem with all that flat land was the Willimantic River and the railroad blocking resident access to downtown Willimantic. In this era of innovation and industrialization, problem-solving was a hallmark of city leaders: A Foot Bridge was planned and built.
According to the historical marker at one of the entrances, the Willimantic Foot Bridge was designed by local engineer Robert Mitchell and constructed on site in 1906 after delivery in five parts by railroad. This was the era of Thursday paydays and Thursday night shopping in urban centers, and the construction of the Foot Bridge led to a further growth of the downtown district of Willimantic. At a length of 635 feet, longer than a modern American football field, the Willimantic Foot Bridge spans a river, a road, a sidewalk, and railroad tracks, the only such foot bridge east of the Mississippi River to do so.
To this day, a walk – not a drive – on the Willimantic Foot Bridge provides a calm, quiet reprieve from the noise and traffic of other bridges. With an open urban landscape on one side and a shaded entrance on the other, a walk across the bridge offers unique views of downtown Willimantic, the rapidly moving river, and glimpses of the past when Willimantic was a thriving railroad center.
This report was written by Peter Leeds, who writes frequently on Willimantic / Windham happenings and "wonders." Peter is an agent with CG Real Estate in North Windham and a veteran bicycle rider, hiker, and walker. He can be reached at 860-377-4433 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Peter continues to coach and referee soccer and is also athletic director at Parish Hill Middle / High School in Chaplin. That said, he insists that he is Not Just The Sports Guy.