About This Place
Willimantic is a census-designated place and former city located in the town of Windham in Windham County, Connecticut, United States. The population was estimated at 15,823 at the 2000 census. It is home to Eastern Connecticut State University, as well as the Windham Textile and History Museum. The city was incorporated in 1893 as a section of the town of Windham. The city government was dissolved in 1983 with the area reverting back to the town. It is also the birthplace of U.S Senator Christopher Dodd of Connecticut.
Willimantic is an Algonquian term for “land of the swift running water”. Prior to 1821, the village was known as Willimantic Falls, home to about twenty families and a single school district. In 1822, Charles Lee erected a factory on Main Street made of stone quarried from the Willimantic River. Although small shops and manufacturers had been built on the banks of the Willimantic before, this was the beginning of industrialized Willimantic. In 1825, the three Jillson brothers built a factory along the Willimantic, and in 1827, they built a second building. By 1828, there were six cotton factories in Willimantic, all built within a seven year span. Willimantic became known as “Thread City" because American Thread Company had a mill on the banks of the Willimantic River, and was at one time the largest employer in the state as well as one of the largest producers of thread in the world. Its factory was the first in the world to use electric lighting. In 1833, Willimantic was a borough of Windham; in 1893, it would become a city.
From the end of the Civil War to the outbreak of World War II, Willimantic was a center for the production of silk and cotton thread. Immigrants from Europe arrived to work in the mills -- Irish, Italians, Polish, Germans and French Canadians. Later, Estonian, Ukraine, Latvian, Lithuanian, and Puerto Rican immigrants moved to the town in search of mill jobs.