History of Schools in Willimantic, Connecticut

Willimantic has shown great liberality in the management of its schools. For this purpose the borough is divided into two districts known as No. 1 and No. 2. The grand lists of both amount to nearly four million dollars. The value of all school property in the borough is about fifty thousand dollars. The new school building in District No. 1 is commodious, cheerful and convenient. It is located in a large yard occupying the corner of Valley and another street, and in the -yard are two other school buildings. The oldest one of these was erected in 1857, and has a seating capacity of 250; the second one was erected in 1865, and has a seating capacity of 150: and the’ third, a high-school building, was erected in 1.8.84, and has seats for 200. This school, occupying the three buildings, has an average attendance of about five hundred. The dividing line between the two districts is at North street. District No. 2 covers that part of the borough lying east of that street. This is sometimes called the Natchaug district. The school building is situated on Jackson street, adjoining the Roman Catholic church. It was built in 1864, – and it has a seating capacity of about six hundred, with an average attendance of about five hundred. The building is in excellent repair and is in an ample yard, ornamented with shade trees. . The furniture of the school buildings is nearly all modern and of an excellent model. The physical and chemical apparatus with which the high-school department in each district is provided is nearly all that could be desired for the special work to which it is adapted. The school libraries contain 1.000 or more volumes. Globes, maps and books are there in commendable numbers for the use of the primary and grammar grades. There are twenty-one teachers and seventeen school rooms, besides recitation and ante-rooms. In each district there is a high-school department where pupils have been and still are successfully fitted for college. From these high schools nearly one hundred have graduated.

St. Joseph’s Parochial school is located at the corner of Jackson and Valley streets. It is under the care of the sisters of charity connected with St. Joseph’s Roman Catholic church. This school has twelve teachers and its attendance numbers about six hundred pupils. The buildings contain ten school rooms. The teachers are sisters of charity belonging to the local “Convent of our Lady of Lourdes.” This school also has a high-school department, from which several pupils have graduated. A special advantage of the pupils of the’ parochial school is an opportunity of learning the French language in connection with the English.

In addition to the educational advantages of Willimantic already mentioned, we may name two public libraries, one conducted by the borough and the other by the Linen Company. The former is located in the bank building, corner of Main and Bank streets, and contains over 2,700 volumes. It is open certain hours on specified days of the week. The Linen Company’s library, in Dunham Hall, at the lower junction of Main and Union. streets, contains about 2,000 volumes, and files of the leading American and English periodicals. It is free to all, and is open from noon to nine o’clock at night daily. The books of these libraries comprise standard works of permanent value in the various departments of literature.

All that part of the town of Windham lying west of the junction of the Windham and South Windham roads leading out of Willimantic, and– extending west as far as the cemetery, was early organized into two school districts. The first school house in the First district was a one-story structure about 20 by 30 feet, located about where the Windham Manufacturing Company’s east dwelling house now is, on Main street. The increase of scholars, however, soon demanded increased accommodations, and the school house was removed to the lot now occupied by the district for their several school houses. The building was enlarged, making two rooms and employing two teachers. This accommodated the district until 1847, when the district contracted with General Baldwin for the erection of a new school building some 36 by 60 feet, two stories in height, with three rooms for the different departments. The first teacher employed by the district was John G. Clark, of Franklin, who became a prominent resident of Windham. The next teacher employed was Horace Hall, coming here from Sterling in 1825. The next teacher was that veteran in the ranks of schoolmasters, Leonard R. Dunham; after him Doctor William A. Bennett, long a resident here; William L. Weaver, a native of this place; Saxton B. Little, E. McCall Cushman, Jabez S. Lathrop and Perry Bennett successively filled the position of teacher in the First district in the early days of Willimantic.

The first school house erected in the Second district occupied the location on the south side of the river near the residence of Dennis McCarthy. It was a small one-story building, and was soon replaced by a larger structure located on the north side of the river, between the Linen Company spool shop and what is now their thread-mill No. 1.. The site being wanted for the second cotton mill erected by the Messrs. Jillson, a new location was provided by the district. From opposite of the store now occupied by Edward F. Casey the roads diverged, the north one about on the present line of travel, the south one extending almost to the bridge, being a part of the old Windham and Coventry turnpike, thence eastward along the north side of the river past Shackel dam, uniting with the main road near the Linen Company store. On this triangular piece of ground between the roads on the river side, the Second district located their school house. It was a wooden structure with two rooms. It was, after a few years replaced by a two-story stone building affording additional accommodations required by the growth of the district. Of the early teachers a few are. the following: Roger Southworth, some three terms; Samuel L. Hill, one term; Doctor Calvin Bromley, Doctor Eleazer Bentley, William Kingsley, Robert Stewart, Leander Richardson, William L. Weaver and Frederick F. Barrows.

Source: History of Windham County, Connecticut, Bayles, Richard M.; New York: W.W. Preston, 1889

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