About The Portrait of a Town

The Portrait of a Town – Willimantic USA is a photo and digital media project exploring the story about a small city with a big personality, Willimantic, Connecticut. Willimantic was built out of industry, and grew to become one of Connecticut’s wealthiest cities. Now almost 30 years have passed since Willimantic’s main economic engine, the American Thread Company, closed its doors, leaving Willimantic with a large economic deficit. This story is about post industrial America, localized in a 5-square-mile slice of eastern Connecticut. Still a depressed community, Willimantic is now growing into the shadow of what it once was. True to the spirit of social media, I welcome anybody to help contribute to this story about the fabric of a community that is diverse and independent.


My very best,


Gregory Hartzell



For those that don’t know Willimantic


I’d like to welcome you to a wonderful place called Willimantic. No longer are the streets paved with silk, and the thread industry that built this town (correction: “Census Designated Place”) into a glorious and beautiful city has left for good. You might know of this place as “Heroin Town,” but I know this place by the taste of authentic Mexican food, the flavor and smell of the best beer brewed on the East Coast and the sound of music echoing through the streets on a warm Thursday summer evening.  You might think that this place is dangerous, but I can assure you that the frog statues won’t come alive at night and that they keep the street lights on well past the time the bars close.


All joking aside, the story of this city is truly amazing. Willimantic was one of the few one-company towns. The men who built this city were once some of Connecticut’s wealthiest residents. These men built amazing legacies that can be seen today in the architecture of Willimantic. The mills shut their doors many years ago and many buildings are now left empty.


The people who live and work here are an outstanding group of individuals. These people have gone on to build wonderful businesses and organizations. There are artists, musicians, writers, builders, brewers, and bakers, and the list goes on. Willimantic enjoys a spirit of independence and diversity that is rare in the hype of today’s national media and the power of multi-national corporations. Many people enjoy Willimantic as their home and many more as their center.


To the people who discount Willimantic as dangerous or violent, and a haven for drugs and prostitution, this story is for you — to share everything that you are missing about a place that many are unwilling to give a chance.


As this project progresses, we will meet the many personalities, explore the beautiful buildings, the pieces of history and the unique businesses. This is a testament to all that is great about this city. This is the Portrait of a Town, Willimantic USA.




  1. Elsie says:

    I discovered this site through Neal Beets’ informal newsletter and think it’s a great idea that needs support.

  2. Denise Matthews says:

    Thank you Greg for putting heart, soul and beautiful images into telling Willimantic’s story . . . the story of a creative, compassionate community.

  3. Hello Greg, this is a great idea! anything to help Willimantic and I am in. I have linked your blog from my website, so hopefully I can help you increase traffic some. Keep up the great work.

  4. Karin V says:

    Beautiful photos and a wonderful story about the people and places that make up a community. I, too remember the Wllimantic of the past with great memories – Remy’s Grinders before a field trip day with my Dad and 25 cents for penny candy, Halleck’s ice cream, Hosmer Mountain Soda, and watching a movie at the Capitol Theater. It is inspiring to see that someone has taken the time to see the good and possibility in a small town.

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