The entire 50-mile Airline Rail Trail is located within the Quinebaug-Shetucket Rivers National Heritage Corridor (Last Green Valley) in eastern Connecticut. It travels in the path of the New York & New England Air Line Railroad which operated in the good old days from 1873 to 1893. It's name is derived from the fact that it followed a straight line route, as if drawn through the air, between New York and Boston.
It is divided into two sections: The Airline Trail South and Airline Trail North. A close cousin is the Thompson Extension which provides a 6.6 mile connection from the Airline Trail North's northern terminus to the Massachusetts border.
The Airline Trail North runs for 21 miles from Route 66 in Windham / Willimantic and passes through Chaplin, Hampton and Pomfret to Town Farm Road in Putnam where you can hook up with the Thompson Extension.
The Airline Trail North is a mountain biking trip through northeastern Connecticut and it's colonial and industrial heritage and scenic landscapes. The route travels through state parks and forests; wildlife management and conservation areas including a rare Atlantic White Cedar Bog; farmland edged with stone walls; and the City of Windham / Willimantic. Trail bridge crossings lead over rivers and sparkling streams. Some sections of trail are edged by drop offs that allow for panoramic views of the Connecticut countryside.
While much of the Airline Rail Trail North has been improved, it's not as well "polished" as the Airline Rail Trail (South). The different stages of development make for a rougher ride better handled on a mountain bike. That being said, it does depend on which section of the trail you plan to ride.
There are miles and miles of trail with compacted earth and crushed rock to gravel and stone dust. While unfinished and "rougher" trail sections may prove to be challenging, it's always fun to explore by mountain bike or even a hybrid bike. The smooth crushed stone dust and paved sections are fine for bicycles.
There are three main ways to get across the Willimantic River from the Airline South Trail and visa versa.
The Willimantic River
The Willimantic River, a tributary of the Shetucket River, begins at the confluence of Middle River and Furnace Brook in Tolland, CT. Along it's southern course into the city many streams feed into the river including the Hop River and Ten Mile River. Shortly upstream from it's confluence with the Natchaug and Shetucket River in Willimantic, it drops a whopping ninety-feet in just one mile.
This part of the river was called "Wilimentuck" (land of swiftly moving waters) by the Algonquian speaking Native Americans who found that this area of the river and it's stream tributaries provided an excellent supply of trout. The entire river is a series of riffles, runs and pools that hold trout year-round. Native American trails leading in from Boston, MA; Providence, Warwick and West Greenwich, RI; Norwich, CT; Plainfield, NJ and New York crisscrossed the area.
The "Willimantic Falls Village", slowly grew into a major industrial center, it's initial development powered by early European settlers and the falls and later by the resolutions of "Revolutionary War Patriots" to place an embargo on imported goods from England. Cotton, silk and other mills sprang up all along the river from Stafford Springs to the Willimantic, including the American Thread Company from which the city derives it's current nickname, "Thread City".
The river was also one of America's Revolutionary War byways. The Continental American and French armies used the river as a route; and it's banks for encampments.
Today, the waterway is a designated contiguous 22-mile National Water Recreation Trail. It begins in Stafford CT, just south of the downtown on Route 32 and continues parallel to Route 32 with launches and landings for paddlers in Tolland, Willington, Coventry, Mansfield, Columbia and Willimantic CT. There's only one short portage necessary along the entire route.
Airline Rail Trail North Connections
There are several parking options. At the northern terminus of the Airline Trail South in Lebanon near Route 66 or along the Hop River State Park Trail. You can also find parking in Willimantic City. There is a small parking area at the Windham Mills Heritage Park.
From the Lebanon northernmost trailhead of the Airline Trail South, the route to the Airline Trail North travels on a smooth, crushed stone-dust path over the Willimantic River and the New England Central Railroad via the Willimantic Footbridge. The 635-foot bridge, built in 1906 was listed on the National Historic Register in 1979. It includes five spans with a through truss construction. Now, once again, for the first time since the trains stopped running in the 1950's, the bridge connects Lebanon and Windham.
Once across the river, your direction of travel will depend on which point of the compass (or GPS) you arrived from. The following choices assume you are heading in a northerly direction from the Airline Trail - South:
East: To the east a new paved trail was constructed that skirts the edge of the Connecticut Eastern Railroad Museum to a parking area west of Bridge Street. From here, you walk-a-bike along Main Street down to the Frog Bridge where you can access the start of the Northern Branch of the Air Line Trail that runs through Willimantic and Windham into Pomfret.
At Mile 0 - there is a yellow diamond warning sign with big, bold lettering: FLOOD - In times of high water access may not be possible or the trail may be very wet.
There's a trail head kiosk off of Bridge Street. You can find paved off-street parking in this area.
West: Head west along the river to Route 66.
Route 66, Hop Brook State Park Trail
To the west, the trail travels along the river to Route 66. From here you can connect to the Hop River State Park Trail.
The Thompson Extension, connects With the Airline North at it's northern terminus and continues for 6.6 to the Masachussetts border where it connects to the Southern New England Trunkline Trail
East Coast Greenway
Actually, the entire northern section of the Airline Trail is a segment of the East Coast Greenway Trail System which will eventually connect 3,000 miles from Maine to Florida.
Windham / Willimantic to Windham/Chaplin town line
This section must for history afficionados of all ages. This is the most developed stretch of the Airline State Park Trail (North). The entire section of trail in Windham has a smooth stone-dust surface except for the southern end of the trail in Windham which is paved. The Windham / Willimantic area provides an insider perspective of northeastern's Connecticut's significant mill, textile, railroad and architectural history spanning a period of 200 years.
From the intersection of Union Street and the Airline Trail, there is a lot to see and do. Within a few blocks radius is the Main Street Historic District which encompasses Willimantic's central business district and Jillison Square which contains the circa 1825 William Jillson Stone House located at 561 Main Street. William was a pioneer of the milling industry having been one of the first people to purchase industrial water rights at the falls of the Willimantic.
Make the historic Willimantic Footbridge one of the stops on your bike trip. It was built in 1906 to connect the business side of Willimantic to the residential side across the river. If you're ready for "eats", you'll find lots of restaurant and cafe options in "Thread City".
Nearby, to the east is the Windham Textile and History Museum and just across the street from the museum is Windham Mills Heritage State Park and the beautiful Double Stone Arch Bridge (Garden on the Bridge).
The Willimantic River in these parts powered the mills of an entire textile industry. Today it is a popular Whitewater River Recreation Trail with put-ins and take-outs at various intervals along the river.
Heading north out of the Historic District, the trail crosses the Natchaug River and parallels Route 66. After passing under Route 66 the trail heads northeast and travels through a patchwork of commercial and residential areas, green space and around the Joshua Trust Atlantic White Cedar Bog. Watch for beaver and bird activity in nearby ponds and surrounding wetlands.
The route crosses Route 6, runs along the southeastern border of Mansfield Hollow State Park, passes the Two Sisters Tract Conservation Area and arcs east to cut between Beaver Brook State Park and CT State Forest / Park Wildlife Area. This section ends at the Intersection of Chewink and Lynch Road.
Windham/Chaplin town line to Wrights Crossing Road, Pomfret
From the intersection of Lynch and Chewink Road the path travels just within the eastern edge of the CT State Forest / Wildlife Park, heads east and crosses S. Brook Road. A short distance after going under the Hartford Turnpike, the route heads north to the James L. Goodwin State Forest.
The 11-mile stretch beginning at the Goodwin State Forest Conservation Center to Route 44 in Pomfret is smooth, scenic and suitable for most bicyclists, hikers, and equestrians. This route affords scenic views of the Goodwin State Forest and Conservation Center, the Hampton Reservoir and the opportunity for a short detour to visit Trailwood, an Audubon bird sanctuary onced owned by a naturalist and Pulitzer Prize winner.
The trail travels through the middle of the James L. Goodwin State Forest, paralleling Pine Acres Lake, arcs around the northen end of the lake and heads east out of the park.
Where the trail crosses Station Road, you have a choice. Continue on the trail or take a short detour to the Audubon Trailwood Bird Sanctuary on Kenyon Road. Just head south on Station Road, West on New Hill Road and north again on Kenyon Road. Visit Trailwood - then retrace and continue your ride.
End Detour ---------
When the trail heads out of Goodwin State Park it curves north, kisses the border of Natchaug State Forest. and travels along the west side of the Hampton Reservoir. Then the trail heads diagnally towards Pomfret. After crossing Hampton Road / Route 97 it travels along the western border of Pomfret Recreation Park. Mashamoquet Brook State Park is to the east. The trail passes under Mashamoquet Road / US 44 and around the northern border of the park. From Covell Road to Railroad Street in Pomfreet, the trail has been resurfaced.
From Route 169 to Wrights Crossing Road, the trail surface has been upgraded to smooth stone dust. In the near future, expect to see more trail improvements such drainage work and new signage.
Wrights Crossing Road, Pomfret up to Town Farm Road, Putnam
Totally undeveloped and overgrown. Not for the faint of heart. It is necessary to climb steep embankments, where they obstruct road crossings.
Note: The rail bed is privately owned North of Town Farm Road. The Connecticut DEC is working towards purchasing it, which would allow access to Kennedy Drive in Putnam, where there is already an existing footbridge that travels over the Quinebaug River providing a connection to the Putnam River Trail.
The Thompson Extension connects with the Airline North Rail Trail at it's northern terminus and continues for 6.6 to the Masachussetts border where it connects to the Southern New England Trunkline Trail. The Thompson section is a work in progress. Most of the extension has been rough graded. Some sections still have the original ballast and hike-a-biking it may be necessary. Gravel has been installed from Sand Dam Road to the Massachusetts line and new parking areas with information kiosks are located where the trail crosses East Thompson Road, Sand Dam Road and the trail terminus at Route 12.
Trail Highlights & Nearby Points of Interest
Start the Air Line State Park Trail at the James L. Goodwin State Forest. At 3.5 miles, stop in at the Audubon’s Trailwood Sanctuary in Hampton. Cycle another 7.5 miles and end your ride at the Connecticut Audubon’s Bafflin Sanctuary in Pomfret.
James L. Goodwin State Forest
The 2,000 acre James L. Conservation Center is an environmental education facility owned and operated by the Connecticut DEC. There are 3 ponds, gardens, picnic pavilion that seats 50 people overlooking Pine Acres Pond, a small nature museum and 14 miles of well maintained trails for hiking, cross country skiing and horseback riding. Ideal for birdwatching.
Connecticut Audubon — Trailwood Sanctuary
168 acre Trailwood, is the former home of writer-naturalist Edwin Way Teale and his wife Nellie. Edwin was the author of 27 original books on natural history, science, and photography. He won the 1966 Pulitzer Prize for his book "Wandering Through Winter".
The couple left their home on Long Island in New York City and purchased their "oasis" - Trailwood. They named each trail, pasture, and corner so they could share news of their rambles and what they discovered. Beavers in the moonlight, the blue butterflies that signaled the return of spring, winter owl sightings of screech, barred, and great-horned owls.
Tour's of Teale’s writing cabin and study are open by appointment.
Location: 93 Kenyon Road, Hampton, CT
Website: Audubon TrailWood
Connecticut Audubon — Bafflin Sanctuary
Birdwatchers will enjoy a detour to The Audubon Society's Center at Pomfret for some of the best birding in the state on former farm fields, now managed to provide habitat for hard-to-find grassland birds. Explore the rolling meadows, forests, streams and grassland habitats of the 700-acre Bafflin Sanctuary which adjoins the Center. There are miles of hiking trails, including access to Air Line rail trail. Participate in guided bird walks, environmental education programs and other events.
Location: 218 Day Road (off Route 169), Pomfret Center, CT
Website:Audubon Baffin Sanctuary
The 55 acre White Atlantic Cedar Bog along Route 6 in Windham, CT is part of the Joshua's Trust roster of properties. The bog is listed on Connecticut’s Natural Diversity Data base as a unique site.
Atlantic White Cedar is found most frequently in small dense stands in fresh water swamps and bogs. The trees ate very slow growing and can potentially live to 1,000 years of age. They grow on hummocks with water pooling in the depressions surrounding them.
Atlantic White Cedar bogs are considered endangered and important wildlife habitats. Unusual plants such as the carniverous sundew and venus flycatcher are associated with these bogs. These areas have become increasingly rare due to environment change and habitat loss.
While there is no boardwalk through the bog, the Airline Rail Trail travels around it's circumference. Please stay on the rail trail.
Where the The Airline Trail crosses Rt. 203 in Windham, and if you follow it across 203, in .86m you will reach the Two Sisters Tract, another Joshua Trust property.
Website: Windham White Cedar Bog
Bikes & Battles
The Route to Victory: Washington–Rochambeau Revolutionary War Trail
680-mile National Historic Trail comprised of a network of roads, trails and water routes used by colonial and their French allies during the Yorktown campaign. The trail was designated in March 2009 to promote a greater understanding of Revolutionary War Era Sites. It connects cities, national and state parks and historic sites. Bike, walk, paddle or drive along the same routes the American and French soldiers took in 1781 and 1782.
These routes were used by General Washington and French General, Jean Baptiste Donatien de Vimeur, comte de Rochambeau. His arrival with an army of 450 officers and 5,300 men in Narragansett Bay off Newport, Rhode Island, on July 11, 1780, marked the beginning of a successful military cooperation that helped in America's fight for independence.
Lebanon Green: 4th Connecticut Encampment
On June 20, 1781, Rochambeau's army arrived at what is called the "4th encampment" via Route 14. The camp was located by the Shetucket River, just west of Windham Center. They left camp on June 21 and marched past the village of Willimantic, roughly following modern Route 14 and Route 66. While most of Route 14A and Route 14 have lost their 18th-century character, several short road segments remain preserved.
There are several National Register Sites on the Airline Trail. Most notably - Lebanon Green. From November 1780 to June 1781, Lebanon provided winter quarters for 220 French cavalry soldiers known as hussars of Lauzun's Legion. It was the longest of the French encampments in Connecticut.
This site is unique because of its size, its preservation as an example of an early town settlement, and its association with great events in the American Revolution.
Trail Brochure: Washington–Rochambeau Revolutionary War Trail
Things To Do
Historic Districts & Architecture Walking Tours
There are two distinct Historic Districts. The Willimantic Main Street & Prospect Hill Historic District showcases Willimantic's Industrial Heritage and the more rural and residential Windham Historic District focuses more on early Colonial and Revolutionary War period architecture and residents of the times.
Willimantic Main Street & Prospect Hill District
In 1982, the central business district area of Willimantic, CT was designated "Main Street Historic District" and added to the National Register of Historic Places in 2003. The boundary was increased to add more side streets in 1990 and the Jillson Stone House, located within "Jilson Square" within the southwestern corner of the central town green, was added a year later.
The district includes 993 Victorian style homes and is bordered by Washburn Street and Bolivia Street in the north, Jackson Street in the east, Valley Street in the south, and by Birch Street on the west (excluding the campus of Eastern State Connecticut University.
Start at the Jilson Stone House museum. From here, within walking distance you can visit the Windham Textile and History Museum, The Windham Mills State Heritage Park and Garden On The Bridge, The Willimantic Frog Bridge, the Connecticut Eastern Railroad Museum and the Hooker Hotel.
The house was listed on the Register of historic places in 1971, It was purchased by the Windham Historical Society and restored in 1976. It is now used as a museum their headquarters. Exhibits include artifacts, antique furniture, and local memorabilia.
The house was built by William Jillson, who along with his family were pioneers of the Windham / Willimantic milling industry. The house, constructed of gneiss/granite stone taken from the banks of the Willimantic river, was situated on top of a rocky gorge to provide views of the Willimantic River falls. There were few or no other houses in the immediate locality. The Jilson family established several mills at that location including a textile mill that was later purchased by the Willimantic Linen Company and later by the American Thread Company.
Location: 627 Main Street, Willimantic
Phone: 860-456-2316 (Call ahead for hours of operation)
Website: Jillson House Museum
Windham Textile & History Museum - The Din Of Machines
The Windham Textile and History Museum (also known as the Mill Museum of Connecticut) tells and preserves the history of the rise and fall of the textile industry in Willimantic and the rest of eastern Connecticut. It features both permanent and temporary exhibits. Replications of rooms such as the Workers House, Mill Managers House, The Sewing Room bring to life experiences of the craftspeople, industrial workers, manufacturers, inventors, designers and the townspeople of those times.
Location: 411 Main Street, Willimantic, Connecticut.
Website: Connecticut Eastern Railroad Museum
Thread City Crossing - Willimantic Frog Bridge
The 500-foot, four-lane bridge, which opened in 2000, is officially known as the Thread City Crossing. It connects Routes 66 and 32 across the Willimantic River and a rail line. This whimsical but impressive bridge's four 11-foot frogs atop giant spools of thread are reminders of the city's history and the legend of the "Battle of the Frogs." The story goes like this:
On a June night in 1754 the residents of Windham Center were awakened by a tremendous ruckus. They rushed outside, some screaming, some running for their lives, others firing guns into the darkness. When morning came it was discovered that the noise was bullfrogs fighting over the last drops of water in a pond that had dried up in that rainless year.
This bridge is a connection between Airline Trail South and the Airline Trail North via the Veterans Highway.
Location: South Street, Willimantic. Just outside downtown Willimantic where routes 66 and 32 come together.
Windham Mills State Heritage Park
This riverfront pocket park in Willimantic is located across the street from the Windham Textile and History Museum. You are right the midst of the Windham Mill Complex and some of the most impressive mill structures in the area.
The park offers a great view of a 150 year old stone arched bridge and Mill #1. Both were built in 1857 by the Willimantic Linen Company. The smaller of the two bridge arches allows water flowing through Mill #1's race to return to the river. The water powered the mill until the advent of hydroelectric power.
The bridge carried vehicles until it was replaced by the Frog Bridge in 2001. The bridge is now called "Garden On The Bridge Park" which can be reached by climbing the stairs or by walking out to Main Street and up to the bridge entrance.
Mill # 1 has been converted into residential and studio space. The mill building next to the park is Mill #2, the largest of the granite structures in the Windham Mills complex.
Location: From the junction of Jackson and Main Street (at the Frog Bridge) in Willimantic, go east on Main Street for a tenth-mile and turn right into the entrance of the Windham Mills complex. A parking lot and the park are to the right.
Fun for railroad history buffs young and old. The museum is operated by the Connecticut Eastern Chapter of the National Railroad Historical Society. It is located on the original site of the Columbia Junction Freight Yard. The collection includes locomotives and rolling stock, as well as vintage railroad buildings and a six-stall roundhouse reconstructed on the original foundation.
Guided tours of the museum are possible with the opportunity to a operate a replica 1850's-style pump car along a section of rail that once was part of the New Haven Railroad's Air Line.
The museum is closed seasonally.
Location: 55 Bridge Street, Willimantic, Connecticut.
Phone: 860-456-9999 (Call ahead for hours, guided tours)
Website: Connecticut Eastern Railroad Museum
We found this peice of Architectural History fascinating and list it here for your reference.
The Hooker Hotel
The 4-story turn of the century brick hotel was opened by Seth C. Hooker, in 1884. In it's heyday, it was considered state-of-the-art with every modern convenience. 9 foot wide corridors ran through the center of the building on each floor. A hydraulic elevator, steam heat, hot and cold water, electric bells and speaking tubes were among the hotel's advanced features.
With the closing of the mills, the hotel became a seedy long term residence that fell into serious disrepair. It was re-purposed as a transitional living facility called the Seth Chauncy Hotel. It was later renamed Windham house, and now has been closed.
Location: 1819 Main Street, Windham, CT
Windham Center Historic District
This area encompasses a microcosm of American Colonial and Revolutionary War history. Among the 78 major structures within the district, only 17 are non-contributing, and these are mostly constructed in a modern "colonial" style.
Listed on the National Register of Historic places in 1979. The Windham Main Street Historic District & Center (Windham) is a concentrated cluster of architectural styles spanning 200 years centered on a village green and surrounded by open land, either for growing feed corn or as pasture. Four roads radiate out from the center: Scotland Rd (Route 14), to the east, Windham Center Road (Route 203), to the south, Plains Road, to the west and North Road (Routes 14 and 203), to the northwest.
The two following colonial Revolutionary War Era houses were the residences of two of Connecticut's leading Revolutionary War Era "patriots". Both were Yale graduates who became lawyers, pleading their cases in the Windham court house. Both men became large landowners in town, both held the rank of colonel in the militia, both represented Windham at many sessions of the Connecticut General Assembly, and both were members of Governor Trumbull's War Council.
Eliphalet Dyer and Jedediah Elderkin were neighbors as well as good friends.
While both houses have underdone rennovation and outfitted with modern conveniences, the changes have made with due consideration of their historical significance.
Jedediah Elderkin House (c. 1745)
Col. Jedediah Elderkin (1717 - 1793), was born in Norwich, CT and settled in Windham with his family in 1745. In 1967 he was appointed chairman of a "commitee" to promote economic development -- in other words; to decide whether to support the non-importation movement started in Boston, MA with the "Boston Tea Party." Three days later the committee and his friend Eliphalet fully endorsed the scheme and pledged that members of the town and their families were not to buy or use a great variety of imported articles.
In addition to his duties, he was also involved with silk production. He established a plantation of mulberry trees on his farm in South Windham and developed new methods of spinning silk thread and weaving silk cloth.
House details: Two-and-one-half stories, irregularly-shaped, frame, fourbay main facade, fieldstone foundation, clapboards, gable roof over main block with ridge parallel to road. There is a hipped-roof addition to the north side, and a one story kitchen ell to the rear. All roofs are wood shingled and there is a restored, central brick chimney.
Location: 11 North Road, Windham, CT
Eliphalet Dyer House (c. 1705 - 1715)
Eliphalet Dyer (1721 - 1807) was born in Windham, CT. In the French and Indian War he served as Lt. Colonel in the militia. As the revolution began, Dyer was named to the state’s Committee of Safety, and named a delegate to the Continental Congress in 1774.
John Adams, in his diary, characterized Dyer as "...long-winded and roundabout, obscure and cloudy, very talkative and very tedious, yet an honest worthy man; means and judges well."
House details: Two-and-one-half stories rectangular, five-bay main facade, fieldstone foundation, gambrel roof with wood shingles, and one small central brick chimney.
Location: 17 North Road, Windham, CT
Bikes & Scenic Water Recreation Trails
Willimantic River Trails
From the entrance to the Connecticut Eastern Railroad Museum a walking trail follows the river for 1.5 miles to Route 66 on land that the Town of Windham has leased to the Museum. Some sections are wet subject to flooding in high water. This section of the river was formerly the mill pond for the Windham Mills. The mill dam has been breached so the pond has now rejoined the river. There a few benches along the river where you can good views of the river landscape. Best time is the fall when leaves are off the trees.
This stretch is also the last take out for those paddling on the river. Beyond, the river courses over dams in downtown Willimantic.
The Willimantic River Alliance has great info on historic spots all along the river and Canoe and Kayak Maps.
Website: Willimantic River Alliance
Windham / Willimantic - "Thread City"
The story of modern Windham / Willimantic begins:
I, Joshua Uncas, Sachem, son of Uncas, Sachem, living nigh eight mile Island on the river Connecticutt and within the boundary of Lyme, being sick in body but of good and perfect memory and not knowing how soon I may depart this life, do make this my last will and testament (viz:)
Signed and sealed in the presence of: John Dension, Gershom Palmer, William Pratt
The mark of Trusty Slade
Norwich, April 29th 1684, truly entered out of and by the original and therewith compared all. James Fitch, Assistant.
In brief, Mohican Sachem Chief Joshua willed the land to sixteen men, most of whom resided in Norwich, CT.
Modern Windham, where the northern section of the Airline State Park Rail Trail begins, was incorporated in 1692. It was named after a town of a similar name in England, "Wyndham". The first European settlers were farmers and an agricultural period prevailed.
The Willimantic River powered a world renowned textile industry. Gristmills, sawmills, a powder mill that supplied the Continental Army during the Revolutionary War, a paper mill and ironworks were some of the early mills that sprang up around the Willimantic River.
From the mid-1800's to the early 1900's, Willimantic (a section of Windham), was known worldwide as one of the finest manufacturers of silk and cotton thread outside of England and was aptly named "Thread City". The first person to engage in textile manufacture was Perez Richmond from Rhode Island. In 1822 he built a small wooden cotton mill close to the junction of the Natchaug and Willimantic Rivers. Houses and businesses were established to service mill workers. This village became known as Richmond Town.
The Jilson's, a prominent family in the history of Willimantics textile era arrived in 1826, after purchasing Richmond's mill privileges. Asa Jillison (1783-1848) along with his brother, retooled the old Richmond mill and built two more mills and a house. In 1845, Asa's son, in conjuntion with two business partners formed the Welles Company. They built a three story mill on the site of Perez's 1822 cotton mill. The expanded mill village then became known as Wellesville.
The Jillison mills eventually came under the ownership of the Willimantic Linen Company. In 1880, the Willimantic Linen Company completed Mill No. 4, a huge brick factory, 168 feet wide by 840 feet long, that was, at that time, the largest cotton mill in the world. In 1898, the Willimantic Linen Company became part of the American Thread Company.
This booming mill and textile industry led to the development of a transportation system that became one of the largest hubs in eastern Connecticut. It served several rail and trolley lines. In 1849, the tracks of the New London, Willimantic, and Palmer Railroad were completed, linking Willimantic to the coastal line that ran to New Haven along Long Island Sound and to points north.
Shortly thereafter, an east-west route, the Hartford, Providence & Fishkill Railroad, ran through Willimantic, connecting it to two of southern New England's largest cities.
In the 1870s, the two earlier rail lines were joined by a third, the so-called "Air Line" (ie., as the crow flies) route between Boston and New York. A cluster of hotels and restaurants developed around the passenger depot. Many of the historic buildings, hotels and Victorian Era mansions in Willimantic and Windham were built during this time.
Then, just over 100 years later in 1985, life in Willimantic, Connecticut – and in the other old industrial cities and towns of southern New England – changed forever. The American Thread Company, the city’s signature industry, closed its Willimantic Mills plant and shifted operations to North Carolina and later Mexico.
The "Din of the Machines" is heard no more and "Hard Times" befell this once bustling center of industry.
Today, several projects aiming to revitalize the town are under way. The Willimantic Whitewater Partnership plans to reclaim the town's riverfront by developing a whitewater park for kayaking and a research facility. A riverside trail will connect the park to the Airline Trail which leads east and west from town. It will also be included as a segment of the East Coast Greenway via a connection to the Hop River State Park Trail.
Some of the town's factory buildings have been turned into business space for technology start-ups and residential space for artists.
Airline Rail Trail North
The following is a list of some of the main parking areas at strategic points along the trail
Northeast Windham / Route 203
Pull offs for a few cars at the Intersection of Beaver Hill Road and Windham Road
Chaplin: Intersection of Chewink and Lynch Road
Large pull off parking area
Pomfret Station: 13 Railroad Avenue (off of Route 169)
Town owned parking lot: adjacent to trail on the west side of Pomfret Town Office: 455 Mashamoquet Road (Route 44)
Pomfret Senior Center: Town owned paved parking lot : 207 Mashamoquet Road (Route 44)
Southern end of trail in Thompson
Large parking lot at 121 Riverside Drive (Route 12, Mechanicsville)
388 Sand Dam Road
Pull off for a few cars at trail crossing
662 East Thompson Road, near the junction of New Road
5 car parking lot
Department Of Environmental Protection
c/o DEEP Eastern District
209 Hebron Road
Phone: (860) 295-9523
Website: Airline State Park Trail