Two grand hotels on historic Main Street of Willimantic, Connecticut, hosted movers and shakers from New York and Boston during the golden age of train travel. The hotels fell into disrepair when travelers took to the highways. Cheap rooms, cheap heroin and social services drew addicts, sex workers and the unemployed. A plan to demolish the buildings may force the town to reconcile its grand history and troubled past.
Today, historic Willimantic has all the markers of an up-and-coming neighborhood: a craft brewery, a high-end coffee shop – even a food co-op. State Representative Susan Johnson says north Main Street still struggles with homelessness, unemployment and empty storefronts.
“Walk on this side of the street because there’s a crumbling building over there,” Johnson warns.
Johnson belongs to the Victorian Neighborhood Association, so it’s a bit surprising that she wrote legislation that would let owners demolish historic properties.
“I don’t know what anybody would try to preserve here,” she says as she points out two vacant buildings that inspired the bill: the Nathan Hale Hotel and the infamous Hotel Hooker.