(From The Campus Lantern – October 4, 2012)
I’m going to be completely honest, when I first heard that my FYI Non-Profit Organizations class was going on a trip to the Windham Textile and History Museum on Main Street, I was not excited in the least bit. Museums aren’t exactly associated with fun. However, after going on the culturally- and historically-rich trip, I whole-heartedly appreciate everything that I learned about my new home, Willimantic.
Before moving to Willimantic, I had heard some scary rumors about the town: That it’s in the middle of nowhere, that its inhabitants are not pleasant (to say the least), and that it’s the heroin capital of Connecticut. Let’s face it, other than being the hometown of Eastern Connecticut State University, Willimantic does not have a great reputation. Thankfully, the Windham Textile and History Museum, also known as “The Mill Museum”, changes its visitors’ view of the town. It educates its sightseers on a time when Willimantic was at its peak – when it was a booming and successful Northeastern mill town.
For over twenty years, the museum has been running exhibits on the mills that used to be active in Willimantic in the late 1800s. It used to be open during the week, but, because of lack of visitors, it is currently only open on the weekend. I think this is a shame! I’ve told a few of my friends here at Eastern about the trip, and none of them even knew what the Mill Museum was. It’s sad to me that so many students don’t know about a museum that is so significant to our town – it educates about the cotton boom, mill life, and immigrants and women in the 1800s. I know those aren’t the most intriguing topics to some, but I think it is important to know about your surroundings, their history and the impact they have on our lives.
On the trip, our class was led on a tour by the enthusiastic Bev York, who is the director of education for the Mill Museum. During the whole tour, Bev spewed eye-opening facts at us. I bet you didn’t know that mill workers were paid with alcohol, that the mills had separate stair cases for men and women, that the Mill Museum may or may not be haunted, or that immigrant workers could take English lessons at the mill’s library? On the tour we learned all those enthralling facts, and so much more.
As I stated before, the Mill Museum is open on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays, and I encourage you to visit. You can either explore at your own will or take a guided tour. However, I advise you to take advantage of a guided tour – it’s an enriched learning experience that you will never forget. For some of you, Willimantic will be your home for the next four years, and learning about the town’s past will make you appreciate living here so much more – I know it did for me.