Franklin Hall

Franklin Hall

“If only these walls could talk.” A remarkable space preserved from the victorian era that most people will pass without notice, in a building that holds incredible historic significance for Willimantic. Franklin hall is located on the third floor of 796 Main Street (historically known as the “Franklin Block” named for Benjamin Franklin and now the location of “A Cupcake for Later”). The original building was completed in 1848 and was constructed of wood. This was Willimantic’s first public space, a place for meetings, rallies, concerts and plays. Having been burned to the ground in 1868, the block was rebuilt to the same design, becoming the first all brick block on Main Street in Willimantic.

Franklin Hall

What’s truly remarkable about this space is the fact that it has been so lightly used over past 90 years. The detail that still exists in the original unpainted plaster, the remaining portions of the proscenium, the original wood floor that is still in remarkable condition and the benches that were built into the balcony. The fact that this space was once crammed with hundreds of people on a regular basis (imagine climbing up the tiny staircase behind a sizable crowd). And the fact that this space never fell to the many eras of redevelopment in Willimantic’s past and has never been renovated to destroy what’s truly special about this space.

Franklin Hall

This was the place that held the first Catholic Mass in Willimantic, and was a major center for the community for a long time. In the offices below, Willimantic’s first high school operated, and this was the original location for the Willimantic Chronicle. Many traveling vaudeville and minstrel shows would have performed in the hall and was Willimantic’s main outlet for entertainment until the much larger Loomer Opera House was constructed in 1879 (which seated 1,100). It was a space of worship and organization, and for meetings and lectures. Franklin Hall is truly a relic and an incredible artifact preserved from Willimantic’s past.

Hosmer Mountain Beverage Comapny

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“100 Years and Still Afloat” – Hosmer Mountain has been a household name throughout eastern Connecticutt for generations. Started in 1912 by W.E. Clark, the Potvin family is now the fourth to own the brand and the company. Hosmer started out bottling the water that originated from springs at the base of Hosmer Mountain. Soon turning to softdrinks, Hosmer Mountain was just one of many private soft drink companies that existed in the state before WWII. Now there are four private companies that produce soda in Connecticutt.

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The company was bought by Potvin family in 1958, who has since expanded the company, growing out of their garage on Mountain Street and into a tiny plant in Columbia. They now produce over 30 separate flavors, including many diet flavors and seltzer. Hosmer is a unique company, built out of an age that in a lot of ways, was a lot more efficient with the use of materials. All bottles are glass, and instead of being recycled, are continuously washed and re-used. Their cases too, are built out of heavy fiber and designed to last through many use cycles. Hosmer was green way before it was hip and trendy.

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Hosmer is also a throwback because all of their flavors are hand blended, their water is non-chlorinated and freshly carbonated and their cheif interest is producing the best quality product for their customer. Like-wise, Hosmer has one many awards for their products and has consistantly placed higher in root beer competitions than more popular competitors. A tiny company that offers home delivery, direct sales to many area restaraunts and shops in Manchester and on Mountain Street right here in Willimantic.

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You can find more about Hosmer Mountain products by following:

Zok’s Homebrewing and Winemaking Supplies

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Decades of knowledge, dozens of awards, and an incredible dedication to craft and service. Zok’s Homebrewing and Winemaking Supplies is a thoroughly unique shop that offers everything for the home brewing enthusiast and is one of less than ten in Connecticut. According to owner Paul “Zok” Zocco, Zok’s has the most complete selection of any homebrewing and winemaking supplier in CT. Talking to one customer, Zok is said to be one of the most knowledgeable people in the business.

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Zok warns customers to be weary about buying stuff on the internet, that it is easy to make a mistake and order the wrong gear. Zok’s is a place where the novice can go and feel comfortable that not only are they buying the right equipment, but that they are walking away with a tested recipe, complete directions and a person that they can turn to if they have a question. Zok also brews his own beer and regularly competes in brewing competitions. His shop is absolutely smathered with ribbons and trophies that he has won over the years.

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In the back of Zok’s, you’ll find shelves crammed with all kinds of exotic ingredients. Everything from starter kits to bags of grains and extracts and syrups. This is also where Zok brews and samples his own beer. In the alley between buildings and just outside the back door, you’ll find a beer garden that offers a quiet place to relax and sample Zok’s hard work. Zok also organizes classes and trips and has thus has built an oustanding resource for the local home brewer. Zok’s Homebrewing and Winemaking supplies is located at 18 North Street and is open Wednesday through Saturday, 9am to 5pm.

Windham Town Hall – third floor

Relics from the not so distant past. These spaces are looked into from the outside everyday, but are hardly ever walked through by the general public anymore. The courtrooms, the offices, the law library and the balcony looking over the Bellingham Hall all represent an era when important men established their legacy, not only in the buildings they built for their own consumption, but in the stores, factories and the public spaces that were built for the community. Decades have past since these rooms have seen practical use.

These spaces offer a window into the past, when people took great care to build things with lasting value, despite the cost. When buildings were entirely built out of brick, wood, metal and plaster, with hard labor and skilled craftsmanship. A time when Willimantic had become a major center of wealth, this building was the cities’ first to combine the town offices, a public hall, the courthouse, the jail and the police station. The jewel in the crown for a city that had grown to become one of Connecticut’s wealthiest and most important.

Windham Town Hall third floor

Windham Town Hall third floor

Windham Town Hall third floor

Windham Town Hall third floor

City Side Deli

Cityside Deli

Cory and John Fernandes came from Woonsocket Rhode Island to start the City Side Deli right here in downtown Willimantic. Offering cold sandwiches, homemade soups, salads and daily specials, the City Side Deli is one of the newer places to grab breakfast and lunch. Here you’ll find fast service and a cozy atmosphere to sit with friends, or you can grab a grinder or some deli meats and cheeses to go.

Cory grew up in the area and said she always wanted to start a coffee shop on the Western end of Mainstreet. With that idea taken, she and her husband decided a deli would be a welcome addition to the businesses on Main Street. They wanted to contribute to the growth of the community and be part of the expanding downtown. She said she’s proud to be a new business on Main Street and part of the “wonderfulness” that is happening in Willimantic. You can find the City Side Deli at 750 Main Street, open Monday 8am to 3pm, Tues through Friday 8am to 4pm and Saturday 8am to 3pm.

Cityside Deli
Tuesday’s special: Stuffed roasted pork

Thomas McNally

Thomas McNally has been an extremely active member of Willimantic’s community. His past accomplishments ave included founding the No Freeze Hospitality Center and he was integral to the conception and starting of the Third Thursday Street Festival. Tom also sits on the board of the WRTD, and has added services to the Danielson county court, and the City Bus route that runs between Gateway Commons and Walmart. Tom has also been involved with Harm Reduction efforts in Willimantic for the past 6 years.

Thomas McNally

Thomas McNally – Willimantic is a unique town where people from diverse backgrounds can come together and work towards making the community a better place to live. Individuals can have a great idea such as the Third Thursday Street Festival, but unless a group works together it can’t happen. I have watched and participated in several initiatives in this town and always have been amazed with the energy community members and activists have in getting things done. Whether it is a festival, meeting a social need or standing up at a town meeting and letting the policy makers know what the community thinks of an issue.
Willimantic is a poor town and we have many persons who are well below the poverty level. On the other side, we have a very caring community who will step up to the tasks and support well needed services such as the Covenant Soup Kitchen and the No Freeze Hospitality Center Shelter, neither of which receives any state or federal dollars. It is this caring that makes Willimantic a great place to live. I feel fortunate to be part of this community

Sabroso Coco

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Text written by Jorge Santos

Guadalupe Hernandez emigrated from Mexico to the United States nearly twenty-five years ago, and has spent the majority of those in Connecticut with his wife, Bertha. Together, they run Sabroso Coco, an Italian Ice truck on the corner of Jackson St. and Milk St.

When they moved to Willimantic, Guadalupe worked as a traffic controller. After an accident six years ago put him on disability, a friend turned Guadalupe and his family on to the Italian Ice business as a stop gap before finding a more stable form of income. He started out with only two large tubs – rainbow and coconut – and sold out in a single outing at a local kids’ softball game.

Since that afternoon, Guadalupe and Bertha’s selection of flavors has blossomed to a variety of single and blended flavors (try the cherry mango), and has expanded to include traditional ice cream treats and other snacks. Guadalupe says that as the business “sube y baja” – rises and falls – with does his heart.

When asked about Willimantic’s recent resurgence, Guadalupe says that the community has figured out something important. “Si vas mal, te va mal. Pero si vas vien, te va vien” – if you go wrong, things go wrong. But if you do right, things go right.

Sabroso Coco is open daily from May to October on the corner of Jackson St. and Milk St., weather permitting.

The Skate Shop

The name pretty much says it all, a store dedicated to skateboards, accessories and skater apparel. Both owners, Greg Williams and Doug Munley have skated for the majority of their lives. These guys took their passion and decided to add a little skater culture to downtown Willimantic. You can find The Skate Shop at 754 Main Street.

The Skate Shop

The Skate Shop

The Skate Shop
Owner and Skater, Greg Williams

Windham Mills Development Project

American Thread Company Mill building #2, reborn into the modern era. It has been over 25 years since American Thread closed their doors here and this building is now operated by TWB Properties. It is rare that you see commercial properties renovated with so much thought put into the details. Here you see no cinder block walls or suspended ceilings. Instead, many of the elements that made this building special when it was built in the 1860s have been incorporated into its modernization. And although thousands of square feet have already been renovated, the majority of this building exists as a blank slate, ready to be built out into the workplace many companies can only dream about. This post only scratches the surface as far as the spaces and views go. This project is likely to showcase much more from The Windham Mills Development and some of the companies and people that do work here.

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40 Bolivia Street

40 Bolivia is a property that represents the true vision for a modern, mixed-use residential home. Owned and started by Stephanie Jane Smith, 40 Bolivia was once her home and continues to be her place of practice. She now shares the downstairs with three other health and wellness professionals, including Donna Nicolino, and rents out the upstairs as a residential apartment.

Stephanie Jane Smith

Stephanie Jane Smith, LPC – 40 Bolivia Street is so much more to me than just a building. Thirty years after coming to Willimantic as a college student, it seemed like a natural “coming home” to be able to buy this little Victorian in 2002 as a home for me and my fledgling psychotherapy practice. I learned early on that the house was built by Swedish immigrant Anna Nelson in 1920, who had owned the property since 1900. She and her husband Charles raised a family here while working at American Thread. After they sold the house, it changed hands several times before I bought it.

Over the past 10 years, there have been changes. The upstairs continues to be inhabited by wonderful creative local folks, while downstairs, I share the space with other healing practitioners. The creative spirit within is reflected, I hope, in the improvements that can be seen from the street. Landscaping, a wrap-around porch in the style of the original design, and new paint and an entry way that does justice to the simple Queen Ann style of the home and others like it in the historic Hill Section.

Most of all, my hope is that this inviting piece of local history represents the possibilities for Willimantic, my adopted home town, and the dreams of so many who make our community special: creative and respectful use of history with an eye to a future of local resilience by creatively mixing residence, entrepreneurship, art, and service.

40 Bolivia interior portal

The door between professional spaces at 40 Bolivia, painted by local resident, Kristin Fortier

Donna Nicolino

Donna Nicolino, LCSW – I’ve lived in Willimantic since 1994; it’s my adopted hometown. I was born and raised near New York City and have lived in Nebraska, San Diego and Santa Cruz, California, and Northampton, Massachusetts. I’ve chosen to settle down in Willimantic because of all the places I’ve lived, I’ve never felt so much part of a community as I do here. For me, that’s the most special thing about the town. I’ve met so many creative, intelligent, resourceful and sincerely caring people here, and there’s also a great acceptance of quirkiness and individual differences. There’s more of a sense of “we’re all in this together” than anywhere else I’ve lived.

I worked in a community mental health agency in town for over 6 years and started a private psychotherapy practice just a few months ago. I wanted to have my office in town, and I love the space I have at 40 Bolivia Street. I got a positive feeling from the room as soon as I saw it; it gets a lot of light and has a nice comfy glow. I love the work that I do. Every day I work with people who are reclaiming their lives and learning to heal and care for themselves. It’s not a smooth road but every day people work at it and their resilience is inspiring to me. It’s really kind of a magical process and I feel incredibly privileged to be a part of it.