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Improvements in the City's Transportation Infrastructure
Department of Streets
Willimantic had a department for the upkeep and development of the transportation infrastructures of the city, the Department of Streets. One of the main goals of this department was to get the streets, roads, and sidewalks in good conditions for public use. The Superintendent of this department in 1909 was Charles H. Latham.
Street and Road Improvements
The 1908 Sanborn fire insurance map indicated that Willimantic's street were unpaved. According to the 1909 Annual Report of the Mayor of Willimantic, money was appropriated by the street department to place the principal streets of the city in fair conditions but there was not enough money for the side streets which showed signs of neglect. Street work was done on the following streets according to the annual report of the superintendent of streets:
- Columbia Avenue - A six-inch coat of cobble stone was put in Columbia Avenue from the city line to the Hartford railroad crossing, with a top covering of gravel, and rolled.
- Parts of the following had trap rock laid in 1909: From the Railroad crossing to mill No. 1, North St., Church St., Jackson St., Windham Ave., and Spruce St.
- Parts of the following were graveled in 1909: Jackson St., Ash St., Chapman St., Natchaug St., Turner St., Spruce St., Manners Ave., Mansfield Ave.
According to the report of the superintendent of streets, the road roller was used 121 days in 1909, about one third-of the year. This is indicative of how much upkeep the roads needed to be suitable for public use.
The 1909-1910 city directory lists Charles E. Leonard as "Street sprinkler", presumably needed to minimize the amount of the dust coming from unpaved streets.
A charter for the city's sidewalks was approved in July 8th, 1909. The act contemplated dividing the city's sidewalks in three or more districts with reference to uniformity and general appearance of all walks in each district. The city was to design the sidewalks and maintain them at their own expense. This project was expected to take years for the city to complete, therefore, in the meantime the city stayed with deplorable streets.
According to Horace Smith, during the 19th century there was an increasing need for streetlighting as moonlight was not a sufficient nor reliable light source. For that reason, street lights were first incorporated to Willimantic's streets at some point between 1850s and 1860s when kerosene lamps would be placed on light posts at corners of principal streets. From kerosene lamps, there was a swicth to gas jets. By the end of the 19th century, arc lamps which emitted light from carbon tips and electric ligths were in use. By 1911, Willimantic had 116 arc lights on the streets but were inconvenient because of the frequent maintenance they required - the police report for 1910 listed that electric street lights were out for 514 hours, and were reported to the city treasurer for deduction. By 1914 there were 15 incandescent lightbulbs and 100 arc lamps. During World War I, electric lights had to be turned off earlier because of fuel shortages. Over time, arc lights would be retired and incandescent lightbulbs became the lights used in Willimantic for many years to come.
More information on the early history of incandescent lights in Willimantic can be found this exhibit created by Richard Freebairn in Fall of 2020.