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The Garden On The Bridge

One Year In: A Progress Report

The Friends of the Garden on the Bridge, an ad hoc committee of the Garden Club, was formed in May 2020. Why? The Windham Garden on the Bridge is a heavily used public park, much loved by residents and visitors alike. But 15 years had taken their toll. Planters, railings, and paving were crying out for repair, and the two entrances, from Pleasant Street and Main Street, were never fully developed. The Friends of the Garden on the Bridge came together to change that.

Under the leadership of Faith Kenton, the goal of the Friends was to build on earlier work. They knew they wanted to make the entire park more attractive and people-friendly: a real gathering spot with seating, tables, shade, and lighting, maybe even Wi-Fi and kids’ games. They wanted to use local material and pay homage to local history. But there was a lot of work to do, not only to design what these refurbished spaces would look like, but also to collaborate with the Town of Windham, source materials, identify local craftspeople to do the work, and find funding.

Over the last year, significant progress has been made on the first phase of the project, the Hillside. The weedy, overgrown slope just off Pleasant Street has been tamed, and construction of terraces, a small amphitheater, and a new sidewalk are taking place this summer. Granite benches, game boards, new lighting, and decorative pavers echoing the designs on the rest of the Bridge will be installed. In addition to replacing the sidewalk, the Town has designated funds to remove vegetation threatening the granite stonework of the Bridge, and replacing missing railings.

We plan to add a sign on Pleasant Street to mark the entrance and make it more inviting. When the dust settles, plantings will be refreshed and a pollinator pathway created. Signage will welcome visitors to this beautiful public park – free and open to all – and direct visitors across the Bridge and into downtown Willimantic, with its nearby museums, eateries, shops, and other amenities.

The Friends have been fortunate to receive significant funding for this first phase of the Bridge makeover. In December 2020, the Pageau Foundation awarded the project $47,800. A successful crowd funding campaign benefited from the generosity of local residents, including a $5,000 donation from the Foster family, and those funds were matched by Sustainable CT, raising nearly $35,000. Not least of all, the Town has set aside capital improvement funds for long-needed repairs and replacements. Other grants are in the planning.

With the Hillside designed and ready to go, the Friends are turning their sights to the Bridge, the Threadway, and the Plaza (see the map below). The challenges of these spaces are significant, but the group is energized — and welcomes ideas and suggestions from all our friends and neighbors. What kinds of amenities and events would you like to see on the Garden on the Bridge?

Map of Garden on the Bridge

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The Transformation 

Our Bridge Story

(from the Annual Booklet, 2012-13)

The Garden Club of Windham was founded on October 23, 2002. Our founder and first President, Virginia Darrow, had a vision that included enhancing the beauty of the Windham community with gardens and well cared-for public spaces. She saw the potential for creating a garden on the abandoned Jillson Hill Bridge and the Garden Club of Windham as the group to share in that vision and bring it to reality. At the end of 2003 there were 38 paid members, 4 public spaces being beautified, and nearly $2,000 in the bank.

When Virginia Darrow passed away in August of 2004, the seeds she planted had taken root and grown strong. By the end of 2005 the number of public spaces had grown to 9 and we had our logo – Dahlia. In addition, funding was secured and plans for the Garden on the Bridge submitted (thanks to Kim Kelly and Ruth Cutler from the UCONN Cooperative Extension Office; Mark Paquette, then town Rec Director; and Joe Gardner and Brad Wojick, Town of Windham staff). Our efforts in 2006 focused on the Garden on the Bridge, with a dedication ceremony that October.

Club members participated in determining bed designs and plant lists. The gardens, planted in May, were in full bloom for the dedication of the Windham Garden on the Bridge to Virginia Darrow on June 2nd, 2007.

Since then, our members have created more gardens with the tremendous ongoing support from Windham Public Works, volunteer collaborations with Eastern Connecticut State University and the University of Connecticut, Growing Stronger, and AIC. Gardens throughout our community continue to thrive!

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