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Sources like the U.S. census and city directories can also give us a geographical perspective of Willimantic's population. Once census data is fully released to the public, it tells us the street address of each person, which 'family' (not only biological) they live with, as well as the larger 'household' which they were a part of. For the 1910 census we have information on each person, but for the 2020 census we only have basic demographic information at the level of the census block, largely equal to a street block. Historians often mention how our knowledge of the past decreases the further back in time we go, but in this case we actually have more public information about the makeup of individual households in 1910 Willimantic than we do for 2020 Willimantic.
1910 Population Density
Assuming the geographical locations of street addresses did not change radically in Willimantic over the past 110 years,* we can geocode the location of each person's residence, assigning latitude and longitude coordinates to each street address. We can improve the accuracy of using modern addresses by comparing these locations to contemporary maps like the Sanborn fire insurance map series. With that information, we can map out where individuals lived, illustrating the density of Willimantic's population across the town.
* This is generally true, although we need to use older maps to locate the coordinates for house addresses where those houses no longer exist. Among other locations, this includes:
- The tenements along Main Street, street names often ending in Row
- The area now known as Jillson Square, five blocks that were razed in the early 1970s. This includes the no-longer-existing Temple, Center and Broad Streets.
- Residences on Union Street west of Jackson Street, which intersected with Main Street near the First Baptist Church
The resulting map displays a circle for each street address, with larger circles indicating more residents.
In the map above there is a visible concentration of residents in the eastern side of Willimantic. The areas closest and surrounding manufacturing buildings (black symbols) are the most populated, this is true in both the east and west sides of town where there are manufacturing structures. The higest concentration of residents can be found along Main Street heading east, Jackson Street, and Valley Street. On the other side of the river The Oaks, Pleasant Street, and Bridge Street are the most populous. Smaller pockets of town that are also densely populated can be found along parts of Main Street heading west. The more densely populated an area/street is likely because of multi-family homes, tenements, and mill-worker housing. Much of this housing was owned by the mills. The large circle in the west (intersection of Columbia Avenue and Main Street) is the location of Town Farm, the Windham almshouse.
2020 Population Density
Due to privacy concerns, we have less information from the 2020 census about where individuals lived. Instead, we have information on individuals combined together (aggregated) into census blocks, so that we cannot identify the details of specific individuals. As a result, we cannot create a map for 2020 like the above map for 1910. However, since we have modern geographical information on where these census blocks are located, we can create a dot density population map that combines modern census block boundaries with modern census block aggregated data. This type of map takes the number of people in a census block and visualizes each person as a randomly-placed point within the block - a dot density map. The dots are distributed randomly rather than located in a specific building, because we don't know where exactly each person lived, unlike the 1910 census. But the dot density map does give us a general sense of which parts of Willimantic were more heavily residential. The 2020 Willimantic population density map looks like this:
1910 vs. 2020 Population Density
We can directly compare the 1910 and 2020 population densities of Willimantic if we overlay the 2020 census block boundaries onto the 1910 population figures. The resulting 1910 map allows a direct comparison between 1910 and 2020, and gives us an indication of the geographic changes in population density over the past century.
Over the last 110 years, the population in Willimantic has not experienced any significant decline. In every census the growth of the population has been documented. Today in 2023, there are 8,000 more people than there were back in 1910. As can be seen in comparing the population density maps for 1910 and 2020, the population of Willimantic has expanded substantially north up the hill district and to the west past High Street. Central Main Street has become significantly less populated today, possibly because of the shift of apartment complexes to the periphery of town in the north and west. Only the eastern side of Main Street remains populated as a whole. Another street that has also remained populous over the last 110 years is Valley Street. Aside from these areas, other peripheral "pockets" of Willimantic have become densely populated with developments for apartments, new neighborhoods, and Eastern Connecticut State University which brings in a substantial number of residents to the area.