Dennis Shea - Part 1
by Pete Zizka
 From the 1890s through at least 1910, other than politicians such as Mayor Danny Dunn, my guess is that Dennis Shea would have been recognized as one of Willimantic’s best-known Irishman and citizens. Shea was truly an entrepreneur and had his hand in many businesses, real-estate transactions and other ventures, sometimes alone, sometimes with others. Nor was he a stranger to the courtroom, having sued and been sued several times. In 1886, he and P.J. Brennan opened a drug store in the European Block on the corner of Railroad and Main Streets.He would soon become the owner of the building, purchasing it from Street Superintendent Flynn.Another of Shea’s ventures, the one that would be a springboard to many others, was the opening of a soda bottling business on Main Street. In 1892 he was granted a liquor license and expanded the business to include bottling ale, wines and mineral water. He also opened the first of the several saloons he would own. But by 1894 he would be in court after Willimantic’s Sheriff J.H. Hills found that Shea, as well as several other bottling establishments were misusing bottles belonging to the Bottler’s Association of New York City. The bottles were confiscated but it was decided not to prosecute. In 1895, after the failure of the Dime Savings Bank, Willimantic’s second bank failure in three months, Connecticut’s former banking commissioner and Willimantic citizen Edwin Buck was elected the bank’s new president and Dennis Shea was named a board member. By 1896, Shea was back in court. In 1895 he had purchased what was known as the Moulton property in Windham Center. “The property is probably the finest and most elaborately finished in buildings and grounds in the Town of Windham”. Shea had purchased the 90 acres using E.S. Ricker of New York as the broker. The property was fed water by a spring that Ricker later found was located on another property and the Moulton had only the right to use the water from it. Ricker then contacted the Moultons and asked them to transfer the rights to the spring to him (Ricker) and then he tried to sell the rights to Shea for $1500. Shea refused and said it was part of the deal. Ricker then cut the pipes and Shea sued.Shea won the suit. By 1905, Shea was one of Willimantic’s wealthiest citizens and the largest landowner in the business district. It also led to two serious and interesting lawsuits. Shea was about to erect a building to the right of his European Block building. A fire earlier in 1905 had destroyed the west half of the frame-built European Block and Shea was going to replace the burned out section with the new building.There was a rumor that Shea intended to build four feet beyond the line of other buildings on the street. Shea said that he had purchased “certain well-defined land on Main Street” and therefore had a right to build. He claimed that if the city established the building line, he would be due $17,000 in damages. Shea began building his new brick block and in August, 1905 the city started criminal proceedings under the ordinances and due to the encroachment over the building line. A warrant was issued for Shea’s arrest. The city’s contention was that all the other buildings within 300 feet of Railroad Street were in a straight line that was four feet back from the “curb  line”. A series of hearings was held. A problem for the city was that the council had begun proceedings to establish a building line after Shea had begun construction. Shea claimed that the city’s only purpose was to prevent his “setting the building beyond the line of other buildings on that side of the street”. It should be noted that the city acted slowly and that the resolutions establishing the building line were not signed by the Mayor who had let them “lay on the desk” for six days so that they would become operative without his signature. Toward the end of August, Shea appeared in Police Court and posted a bond of $100. At that time he said his building was nearing completion and in about ten days, the glass would be installed in the front. Shea’s trial was held on August 28 with Shea’s son, Deputy Judge James A. Shea, representing him. After a daylong trial, Shea was found guilty and fined $100. He immediately appealed to the Superior Court. Todays 1963  photo shows the Shea Building (Terry’s) on the left. Notice how it juts out beyond its neighbor on the right. To be continued.

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