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The Garden On The Bridge

Four Years In: A Progress Report

The Friends of the Garden on the Bridge, a committee of the Garden Club of Windham, 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’ play area. They wanted to use local materials 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 tradespeople to do the work, and find funding.

Over the last four years, significant progress has been made. In the first phase of the project, the Friends tackled the Hillside. This weedy, overgrown slope just off Pleasant Street was tamed, hardscape was added, and plantings were refreshed. Low stone walls and terraces were constructed, granite benches installed, and a small amphitheater built into the hillside. New lighting and decorative pavers echoing the designs on the rest of the Bridge are planned. 

A grant from the CT Department of Energy and Environmental Protection will fund bollard lighting and repair of cracked planters on the Bridge itself.  The Friends will be able to purchase new benches, bike racks, and other amenities, and plans call for eventual lighting of the river and waterfalls. Meanwhile, the Town has removed vegetation that was threatening the integrity of the stonework, and missing sections of railing on the parapet have been replaced.

 

When repair of the Bridge planters is complete and the dust settles, plantings will be refreshed and a pollinator pathway created. Improved signage at both the Main Street and Pleasant Street ends of the park will welcome visitors to this beautiful public space – free and open to all – and direct visitors across the Bridge and into downtown Willimantic, with its nearby museums, eateries, shops, and other amenities.

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With the Hillside and Bridge designed and funding mostly in place, the Friends are now turning their sights to the Threadway and Plaza (see the map below). The challenge of these spaces - now open, bleak, and lacking shade or amenities -- is  significant, but so is their potential. The Friends are hoping to hire a landscape architect in the next year who can design an inviting, functional, people-friendly space that will appeal to all of Willimantic/Windham's diverse population. The Friends welcome 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?

The Friends have been fortunate to receive significant funding for the first phases of our Bridge makeover. In December 2020, and again in 2021, the project was awarded generous grants from the Pageau Trust. We benefited further from the generosity of local residents, including  the Foster family, who contributed to two successful crowd-funding campaigns. Those funds were matched by Sustainable CT. The Friends received grants from AARP in 2022 and 2023, and a CT DEEP Urban Green and community Garden grant in 2022.  Not least of all, the Town of Windham has designated repair and capital improvement funds. Other grants are in the planning.

The Friends of the Garden on the Bridge are Jay Osborne (chair), Dan Phipps, Jean de Smet, and Barbara Wright.

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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