Four 11-foot frogs and six oversized thread spools will soon be celebrating their 12th birthday in Willimantic.
They are part of the Thread City Crossing, also known as the Frog Bridge, which first opened in September 2000 connecting Route 66 with Route 32.
Contractor O&G Industries says the bridge’s architectural characteristics “which exemplify some of the town’s history, include arched weathered steel, simulated stone masonry finishes, decorative light standards, luminaries, a metal bridge rail, precast concrete thread stools and four bronze frog statues.”
While funding for a more bland bridge was approved in 1991, pressure from historians and residents for something with more character prompted the state to take the unusual step of hiring an architect for the project.
The $13 million bridge includes frogs that cost about $50,000 each.
The Frog Bridge won an Honorable Mention for Excellence in Highway Design, in the category of Historic Preservation by the Federal Highway Administration in 2002.
In 2004, they were given the names: Willy, Manny, Windy, and Swifty.
Willy and Manny combine for Willimantic while Windy is for Windham (which Willimantic is a part of). Swifty is a reference to Willimantic, Algonquin for “the land of the swift running water”.
And, no, they are not related to Michigan J. Frog, the former mascot of the WB Television Network.
On a hot and dry summer night, Windham residents were awaken by “a shrieking clattering thunderous roar”. Fearing an Indian attack or Judgement Day, some ran in the streets with muskets, while others fell to their knees in prayer. Nobody that night could find the source of these noises. The next morning, a nearby pond had dried up to a puddle. A frog turf war led to hundreds of dead frogs and to the embarrassment of Windham citizens.
Years later, the town embraced the frog legend placing it as the official seal.
While some might think the Frog Bridge is right above the Frog Pond, it is not.
That pond is located a few miles away and is now six acres thanks to a raised water level from a higher dam. It is located in Windham Center off Route 14. A bronze plaque set into a granite boulder signifies the spot were the frog fight occurred.
The Frog Bridge was the original site of an old cotton mill, part of a thriving textile mill industry called “Thread City”.
The industry included American Thread Company, once the largest employer in the state. The fieldstone mill buildings, within walking distance of the bridge, are now home to Windham Mills commercial complex and Artspace condominiums.
The Frog Bridge replaces the 1857 bridge built downstream which was deemed obsolete.
That bridge, renamed the Windham Garden on the Bridge, is home to beautiful perennial and annual plantings.
Whether you visit the bridge, the Frog Pond, museums, mill buildings, or garden, there is plenty to explore in Willimantic.