Willimantic River, Views from ATCO Building #2

Well it’s been almost a year since I have last added to this project, and to my amazement this page is still receiving traffic and there are new likes almost on a weekly basis on Facebook. I’m glad to still see interest in my project, despite my lack of producing new content. I started this project because I wanted a means to explore the medium of photography and to build a portfolio of meaningful images. Work and life are often distractions to the things we’d like to spend our time doing and over the past two years, it has been tough to make the time for writing and taking pictures. Despite how time consuming this type of work is, I miss creating the images, meeting new interesting people and telling the awesome stories of Willimantic. My original plan was to produce a multidimensional, multimedia project, and that is something that I would still like to see happen. Truth is, I owe all you fine folks some more content, a more complete website regarding Willimantic and myself a little more than a dormant wordpress page.

I took these two images this past October, from the Windham Mills complex (the old American Thread Mill #2 and attached buildings). Yes, this past fall was less than stellar in regards to wonderful fall colors and no, I did not get the perfect day I wanted to photograph, but I had been bugging the manager of this property for over a year to photograph from the building’s roof. I was able to secure an appointment (on a rather chilly Sunday morning) and these were the photos I took, despite the weather being overcast. Looking West (as in the picture above), it’s amazing to think that just two decades ago, the area that is now parking would have had multiple buildings, the remnants of boilers, dye shops and even narrow gauge rail. The majority of this complex, at least from this view, has yet to be renovated and occupied by new tenants. The pier that the heralded smokestack once stood, still remains almost as to remind us of the industrial power that once drove the heart of Willimantic. Yet, this property is growing and changing at an almost constant pace, with the Eastern wing completely renovated and almost at full occupancy.

It’s amazing to think that a mere fourteen foot damn would have powered this entire building full of machines at one time. The constant flow of the Willimantic River over natural falls, it was almost preordained that human’s would build industry here; the damn and powerhouse below looking almost like extensions of nature. This site represents a lot of progress and production, yet the lineage of a story that has seen neglect and abandon and with the ending still to be completed. As I look forward to adding to this project, please support me by sharing the work I have already produced with anybody who might be interested. I have seen a few people post links to this site around facebook and I’m really happy that people appreciate all of the work I have done to produce this site.

Local Music

Local Music exists as a bit of a rare treat amongst the many shops along Main Street Willimantic. It’s uncommon these days to see somebody open up a new music store. The rise of giants like Guitar Center and online retailers have put many shops that have been open for generations out of business. The joys of walking into a small mom and pop shop, picking up a guitar off the wall and discussing the instrument with an impassioned owner are much rarer today than they have been in times past. Local Music brings that experience back to Willimantic, offering a friendly, open environment for people who absolutely love music.

Local Music stocks a unique selection of new and used instruments, a full selection of strings and accessories, books and offers lessons as well. The store differentiates itself from the mass market Guitar Center by offering high value, highly sought after, but hard to find brands like Recording King, Johnson, Lagg, AXL, and Kala ukuleles. The accessory rack is full with strings, capos, reeds, stands, bags, pedals and everything else you’d require for your passion with music. They have many instruments for the first time musician and their motto is that they stock instruments for everybody.

From band instruments and recorders to harmonicas, percussion instruments and ukuleles, local music has way more than just a few beat guitars on the wall. They often try to source unique models, from 8-string tenor ukuleles, banjoleles, 6-string banjitars and small bodied acoustic guitars. They’ve also put a lot of effort into promoting the local music scene in Willimantic and have helped organize local shows and open mic nights. It’s awesome that this shop is striving to be different and focus on local musicians and it’s great that this shop has been able to stay open for the past two years. Please visit Local Music and see for yourself, located at 888 Main Street right across the street from the public library.

ATCO Mill #2 Timeclock, Windham Textile and History Museum

American Thread Company mill #2 time clock circa 1904

The advent of electric illumination was a revolution for the industrial process. Factories could now be run 24 hours a day, with workers starting and ending shifts at set times, regardless of whether there was sunlight. The principle of time became a major element of a worker’s life, working six days a week, for ten to twelve hour shifts, day or night and regardless of the season. Workers lives were now paced to first the bell or whistle, and soon after the timeclock.

This timeclock remains as one of the original pieces from the American Thread Company’s factories, in The Windham Textile and History Museum’s collection of artifacts. Installed in 1904, it was manufactured by the International Time Recording Company, which later became IBM. It was an essential piece of equipment to the modern industrial process and a relic alluding to Willimantic’s contribution to a modern way of life. An object of little significance at the time and a rare piece that would have been easily discarded by the replacement of newer, more reliable, automatic electric models. It remains as a reminder of  the significance of just how important the concept of time has become to our modern industrial society.

Likewise, time has been a very important element of producing this project. Taking the time to scout, photograph, write and edit stories that are seemingly unending throughout Willimantic. Over the past six months, I have dedicated my time to other projects, work and personal hobbies. This project remains in my mind as one that needs to be continued, knowing I’ve barely scratched the surface. I’m looking forward to increasing the depth of this project and adding to what has been thus far, an extremely positive experience.

 

Ben Keller and Melica Bloom

“I see so many empty canvases on walls” proclaims Ben Keller as he reminisces about his collaboration with Melica Bloom creating large murals in public spaces around Willimantic. For the past 10 months, the duo has been working with the town and area businesses to create an added sense of space in our city. In this time they have completed four very large works that are scattered throughout the downtown area and although the themes they chose have been varied, both Melica and Ben show considerable talent and thought in their public portfolio rendered upon a growing number of Willimantic’s exterior surfaces.

Ives Street – A gift of color and light.”

Ben says the desire to create public art stems from the desire to see a space transformed, despite knowing the life of the work is terminal and that a piece of art is likely to get painted over, or changed by another person with a spray can. An image on the side of a building, train car or bridge painted illegally and without permission may have a life of only a few weeks. By cooperating with the town of Windham and with local residents, Ben and Melica have been able to create ambitious and sizable works that will last years and Ben has found a legal way to exercise his passion for changing public spaces.

Riverside Drive – “Guardian of the Yard”

Melica’s background in creating art has been remarkably short, starting just a few years ago when she met Ben. Both are mostly self taught and every large piece has been created with household cans of spray paint. They are now focused to paint anything, anywhere, as long as it’s legal and they have permission. They both are dedicated to supporting local businesses through their work and you can see their art throughout the interiors of Willimantic as well.

Mayo Street – The P & J Sprinkler Co.

Melica and Ben both have gained the courage through their experience to quit their day jobs and start their own mural business. They are currently working on a large commission in Middletown as well as some small projects for local businesses. They both have strong dedications to create personal work as well and have held shows around this state. Up until now, the majority of their effort has been pro bono and both Melica and Ben have been driven by their desire to add color and life to places that are often overlooked or forgotten. They have added a unique flare to Willimantic, a lasting accomplishment that will likely be appreciated for many years to come.

Saint Mary’s Playground looking back at Turner Street and Maple Street

https://www.facebook.com/benkellerart

https://www.facebook.com/melicabloomart

http://mbkmurals.com/

 

Willimantic Records

Over the past 14 months, Willimantic Records has been able to accomplish what was deemed by some as impossible. When you think that most record stores closed their doors almost a decade ago, and that most people today are much more likely to download a song than buy an album from a small shop, the idea of opening a store that sells primarily used vinyl is a proposition that takes a lot of faith. It’s a specialized market that requires a level of dedication and passion beyond that of the average music aficionado. The essence of enthusiasm, Willimantic Records is a unique shop that represents the love of analogue and a passion for independence.

Willimantic Records hosts shows of local and independent artists most weekends. Some of the past bands  and performers to be noted are: Damon and Naomi, Paul Flaherty, Dredd Fool and Randall Colboure. The artwork that hangs above the records was painted by Dan Greene, who played at an opening with his band The Mountain Movers. Willimantic Records holds a stock of about 40,000 different records, a few thousands used cds and a selection of vintage magazines, locally printed t-shirts, used books and electronics. You’ll find this shop in the back of City Side Deli, next to Neriman’s Tailor shop, taking back Riverside Drive. If you see a crowd of people hanging around outside, it’s a good sign that there is a show and that you should pay them a visit.

 

Elsa M. Núñez – President, Eastern Connecticut State University

Elsa Nunez - President, Eastern Connecticut State University

I started my job at Eastern in August 2006 and had been in Willimantic less than a week when I attended my first Third Thursday Street Fest. The greeting I got was amazing. During the two hours it took me to walk the five blocks of the festival, I found the townspeople to be warm and welcoming and I was surprised at the broad range of cultures on display. In fact, much to my astonishment, among the large Latino community in town were families from my own hometown of San Sebastían, Puerto Rico.

Over the years since, I have been struck by how much the Willimantic community works together for the benefit of its people. We have great cultural traditions — events like Third Thursday and the Boom Box Parade, and treasures such as Curbstone Press — and service
organizations ranging from the Covenant Soup Kitchen to the Spanish American Merchants Association. The downtown area continues to sport new storefronts at the same time that the community preserves such elements of its heritage as the thread mills and the Victorian Hill residential section of town.

I am especially pleased that Eastern’s students, faculty and staff are active members of the Willimantic community, continuing a tradition of service that began when Eastern opened its doors in 1889 as the Willimantic State Normal School. Through our Center for Community Engagement, Eastern students work in dozens of community-based projects at social service agencies and nonprofits. More than 1,000 Eastern students also tutor and volunteer in other capacities in the local school system. I am proud of Willimantic and pleased that Eastern continues to be part of this vibrant community.

Kerri Quirk – Artist and Gallery

Kerri Quark

Impeccable vision, a unique way of seeing this world, and an incredible passion for creating meaningful works: Kerri Quirk and Horizons have created a world class gallery right here on Main Street for all of Willimantic and the surrounding communities to enjoy. Opened in May of 2010, the Kerri gallery hosts shows of Kerri’s unique art, along with other local and national artists.

Started out of the space that once was Oobah’s Deli, Keri Quirk paints here Monday through Friday along with Tom Menard, an accomplished artist in his own right. Kerri has worked as a professional artist for the past 25 years and has become very accomplished. Her works are characterized by an incredible sense of color and design, working mostly in acrylic on large canvases. What’s most inspiring about Kerri is that she’s deaf and autistic; her art is truly the voice she uses to speak to the world. Kerri has also gained critical acclaim and a wide following, regularly showing her work in New York and Chicago.

Kerri Quark's Gallery

The gallery, operated by Horizons, is truly a magnificent space for Kerri to work in and for any artist’s work to be shown. Beautifully restored, the floors tell the story of many of the businesses that have occupied this storefront throughout the decades. A true masterpiece in it’s own right, this gallery is a wonderful addition to Mainstreet’s growing portfolio of businesses. The Kerri gallery is located at 861 Main Street and is open Wednesday through Friday, 10am – 6pm and Saturday, 11am – 3 pm.

The Bench Shop

Bench Shop

“We don’t sell benches.” – 45 years in the making, the Bench Shop is one of Willimantic’s longest continuously operating Main Street storefronts. The Bench Shop is Willimantic’s Halloween headquarters. The place to buy your mask, make-up, blood, scars and accessories. Being local and family owned, they stock a level of selection superior to that of the big box stores.

Bench Shop

No they don’t sell benches. The name refers to the fact that most of the products that they have sold over the years, are handmade on a work bench. Bead work, silver jewelry, hemp, textiles, hand drums and incense.

Bench Shop

A shop born out of the sixties that seems to have never left. Started in 1967 by Ida and Ettore Annati, the shop has now seen four generations of Annatis with Ettore’s son Frank and his wife Eva continuing the legacy. One of the few shops that survived the redevelopment of the 1970s and the promised retail success of the East Brook Mall.

Bench Shop

The Bench Shop is now located in what is likely the oldest storefront on Main Street, built in the 1860s. It’s a shop that fits Willimantic’s hippie stereotype and college patronage. A piece of Willimantic’s past and a icon of it’s present. A unique store to be proud of and a reminder to remember the small things in life.

Bench Shop

The Bench Shop is located at 750 Main Street.

Mayor Ernest S. Eldridge

Mayor Ernie Eldridge

As the first Mayor of Windham, I welcome you to our historic town. Willimantic had many Mayors, but when consolidation came about in the 1980’s, Willimantic was a city no more, but a service district. As the first mayor of Windham, I hope to be included in the history books as is the gentleman seated on the horse behind me. Of course, he’s Theodore (Teddy) Roosevelt who came to visit Willimantic in 1902. Riding in a carriage along with then Willimantic Mayor D.C.Barry . The President made a public address to a large group of citizens. President Roosevelt was not the first president to visit our fair city. U.S. Grant visited in 1880 and toured the Willimantic Linen Company; it was the first mill to have electric lighting. Past President Taft also visited our fine city to speak at the Old School and Home Days in 1915. President Eisenhower stopped here speaking from the platform of a rail road observation car. It’s my hope that rail service will return to Windham so that many other people who may go down in history will visit our great town.

Pam Wright – Keeping Willi Wild

Pam Wright

Pam Wright – I am a Advanced Master Gardener, retired teacher and longtime resident of Willimantic. I have always had an interest in nature, gardening, the environment and their relationship to a healthy and satisfying life. I have created amazing gardens on my own property and have worked with the Garden Club of Windham on gardens in public spaces around town.

When I heard about the National Wildlife Federation’s program to certify entire towns and communities throughout the United States as wildlife habitats, I brought the idea to the Garden Club. The main goals of the NWF program is threefold: to prevent extinction of native wildlife, especially the songbirds and butterflies that need safe habitats as they migrate, to help children appreciate, enjoy and conserve the natural world, and to confront climate change.

My vision was that Willimantic, a small city with many big city problems, was an ideal place to initiate this program. Provisions for clean air, water, and safe habitat is especially urgent in a city environment. Opportunities for children to connect to nature are especially important in a city environment. I believed that Willimantic, a place often maligned and underappreciated, nonetheless had the kind of community spirit that would embrace such a project. The Garden Club agreed and The “Willimantic Wildlife Habitat Initiative” began. Volunteers worked under the logo “KEEP WILLI WILD”, and approached many local groups to act as partners in the successful fifteen month effort.

More than ten organizations, such as Eastern Connecticut State University, The Chamber of Commerce, The Rotary Club, Goodwin Forest, the Windham Recreation and Public Works Departments, signed on as partners. A network of 105 households, eleven local businesses and four schools took the steps necessary to certify their property with the National Wildlife Federation. In addition, the committee certified ten parks and ten community buildings. All these properties provide the four basic requirements for wildlife survival: food, water, shelter, and safe places to raise young. The committee also worked on educating the public about native plants, creating natural landscapes and limited lawn space, the problems of invasive plants, pesticide, herbicide and fertilizer overuse, water quality, and many other environmental issues.

Among the many properties certified are the Town Hall, the Chamber of Commerce, Memorial Park, the Town Library and the Windham Textile and History Museum. Willimantic is one of only two registered community habitats in the State and one of 63 in the Country.

Pam is pictured above in her front yard, amidst her amazing garden.

Pam Wright "Keeping Willi WIld"