If you love frogs, grab a friend or your significant other and make a pilgrimage to the old textile town of Willimantic. There are frog-themed businesses, and you’ll find homages to the amphibian all over town, including four giant sculptures atop huge spools of thread on the town’s main bridge. Tomorrow night, New Year’s Eve, they will drop a large paper frog at Town Hall. Why? One hot summer night in 1754, colonists were frightened by sounds they were sure were attacking Indians, only to find hundreds of bullfrogs fighting over the remaining water in a dried-up pond - which forevermore became Frog Pond, in a community nicknamed Frog City.
Willimantic has no lodging, but four miles away is Fitch House
(563 Storrs Road, Mansfield, 860-456-0922, www.fitchhouse.com
, rooms $125-$145). Looking like a miniature White House, this gorgeous Greek Revival B&B was built by Colonel Edwin Fitch in 1836 and boasts three luxuriously-appointed rooms, all with four-poster beds, one with a wood-burning fireplace. If a full-service hotel is more your cup of tea, a good option is the nearby Nathan Hale Inn
(855 Bolton Road, Storrs, 860-427-7888, www.nathanhaleinn.com
, doubles $120-$185), on the campus of the University of Connecticut and named after the Revolutionary War hero. Check out the recently renovated restaurant, which was split into two chunks, one a classy dining area, the other a moody sports bar bearing all things Husky, including UConn’s NCAA basketball championship trophies.
One of the tastiest uses of a former post office is the Willimantic Brewing Co. and Main Street Café
(967 Main St., 860-423-6777, www.willibrew.com
, lunch $2.59-$9.99, dinner $13.99-$19.99), a brew pub housed in a distinctive 1909 granite-and-limestone building. They brew award-winning beer here, rotating eight or nine a month, depending on the season, and with a treasure trove of bottled beers as well. The place is dark and moody, despite the main dining area’s 20-foot high windows in what was the post office’s work space. Immigrant labor made up a lot of the manufacturing work force here back in the day, and with the newcomers came their native cuisines, enriching the local culinary scene. One example is the El Pilón Restaurant
(725 Main St., 860-423-8509, www.elpilonrestaurant.com
, $4.99-$9.50, lunch and dinner), which serves terrific Puerto Rican food such as green banana roll, mofongo with meat and broth, rice and beans, and a host of other dishes at the long counter space.
During the day
American Thread Co. once thrived here (besides Frog City, Willimantic is also known as Thread City), and its former headquarters building has become home to the Windham Textile and History Museum
(411 Main St., 860-456-2718, www.millmuseum.org
). This museum preserves and interprets the history of textile production and highlights the contributions of the workers who made the thread company one of the world’s largest - as well as the first to use electric lighting. A particularly cool exhibit, for those into sewing, is a room with more than 75 antique sewing machines. Shopping downtown includes the Swift Waters Artisans’ Cooperative
(750 Main St., 860-423-1898, www.swiftwaters.org
), a nonjuried group with more than 100 members selling an eclectic mix of art, craft items, jewelry, clothing, and other merchandise, all locally made and reasonably priced. On Valentine’s Day weekend, a must-see is “Romantic Willimantic,’’
) and its fifth annual Chocolate Festival, with an art stroll, crowning of male and female Cupids, and an exotic tea party featuring chocolate tea, chocolate scones, and chocolate frogs. Walk that off at the Willimantic Footbridge, a 635-foot-long span said to be the only footbridge in the East to connect two state highways and cross a road, a railroad, and a river. It was built in 1906 and is on the National Register of Historic Places.
The aptly named Thirsty Frog
(600 Main St., 860-423-3764, www.thirstyfrogct.com
), hard by the Frog Bridge, is a new restaurant boasting Italian food from a Sicilian chef but also home to a vibrant music-and-dance scene. Here they host College Night on Thursdays, and all manner of DJs and live music on the weekends. The Windham Theatre Guild
(Burton Leavitt Theatre, 779 Main St., 860-423-2245, www.windhamtheatreguild.org
) has been producing community theater since 1985, staging five major productions per season and hosting many youth theater events, including a large summer musical at Windham High School. The new year will bring productions such as “Steel Magnolias’’ and “Harvey.’’
Paul E. Kandarian can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
© Copyright 2009 Globe Newspaper Company.