Willimantic Victorian Neighborhood Association WVNA Newsletter Archive

2019 Victorian Willimantic Home Tours

The Oaks Neighborhood has significance to the history of Willimantic.

The Victorian Era Cottages are an important piece of that history.

The houses in the neighborhood were built in an attempt to improve the lives of certain millworkers and their families. When William E. Barrows was General Manager of the Willimantic Linen Company, he championed progressive ideas, popular among some industrialists at the end of the nineteenth century. The company built the cottages in 1880 to attract skilled workers such as loom fixers, mechanics, and trades workers and, to a certain extent, to diffuse potential industrial unrest. The Oaks were not the only contributions by the company to the community: a school was built, a library established, a park was created and Barrows insisted that all workers be taught to read and write.

There are four styles of houses, no two of similar style placed next to each other. The streets are curved, and lined with trees. "Mr. Barrows has a fixed idea that by placing people among pleasant and beautiful surroundings, they will become more careful, cleanly, tasteful, and intelligent and therefore, as he is never tired of insisting, more valuable to their employers."

Rents were set at equivalent to 12.5% of a worker's wages at that time, and stayed very low until the Mills sold the houses in 1938. The cottages were provided with a garden, and tenants instructed on cultivation and planting. Awards were even given for "handsomest appearance."

Barrows himself lived in the Oaks Neighborhood, and built an ornate mansion on a bluff on Grove Street. The house was demolished in 1960, but you can still see stone walls, driveway and the foundation.
Over the past 20 years, homes, businesses, gardens, and churches in the Hill Section, South Windham and Windham Center have opened for tours as part of Victorian Days.

This year, we will showcase the Oaks Neighborhood in the Victorian Willimantic Homes Tours on September 21. We are hoping to allow visitors a glimpse into this special part of Windham's past.

 

Ticket information will be avialble soon. Please check back.