While Willimantic’s Frog Bridge might be eastern Connecticut’s most familiar bridge, there is a far more historically notable bridge close by that has provided access to Willimantic’s downtown for over a century: the Willimantic Footbridge. As the Willimantic textile industry grew in the 1800’s, so did it’s neighborhoods on the south side of the town’s namesake river. A single road provided a pedestrian route across. The need for a second river crossing was recognized and debated for more than fifty years, and finally approved in order to “to curb the dangerous pass of children and adults across the nearby railroad yard bridge spanning the river.”
A road crossing was desired, but plans for such were started and stalled from 1872-1904 due to cost considerations. Importantly, the footbridge served as an immediate pedestrian link to Willimantic’s southern neighborhoods. It took one year to construct, and it was opened on November 19, 1906 by Mayor Daniel Dunn. Five trusses, made by Owego Bridge Co. of New York, were shipped by rail. Designed by local engineer Robert Mitchell and completed at a final cost of $12,240, the 8 foot wide, 635 foot long Pratt-through-truss bridge also featured the stonework of another local contractor, Charles Larrabee.
The most often-heard claim about the bridge references its uniqueness: it crosses a road, a river, and a rail depot, and is purportedly “the longest footbridge of its kind east of the Mississippi.” The footbridge is still in use today, although foot-traffic has diminished substantially with the addition of nearby highway bridges and their sidewalks. In it’s heyday, the footbridge brought pedestrians from the south side of the river to the trolleys of Main Street which ran until the 1930’s. On April 19, 1970, the footbridge was listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
Does a sidewalk on a highway bridge adequately accommodate pedestrians? Moreover, would the construction of interurban footbridges still be a worthwhile purpose in 2015?
Credits: Images by Dan Malo and data linked to sources.