by Pete Zizka


Unless you are an older Willimantic resident you may not have heard the term “down Sodom” and if you have, you may have wondered how this section of town got its name. Recently the term generated a great deal of interest on a local social media site. Research into the origin of the name and especially its usage is interesting. Today, “down Sodom” is roughly Main Street from Dunham Street to Club Road although the boundaries changed over the years. But back to the name. Historian Tom Beardsley once write that the term “Sodom”,  “ was actually coined in the early 19th century by pious Windham Center villagers who were shocked by the energetic behavior of the workers in nearby Willimantic's first cotton mill, built in 1822 by a Rhode Islander named Perez Richmond. The mill was located adjacent to the Willimantic river in the western section of what is today Recreation Park. A small community grew next to Richmond's mill, and was called Richmond Town. It soon boasted saloons and brothels. All this was too much for the moral residents of nearby Windham village, who referred to Richmond Town as worse than Sodom and Gomorrah.” Allen B. Lincoln’s “A Modern History of Windham County”, says,” In the early 1820s the Village of "Willimantic Falls" began to assume proportions. A paper mill was built by P. 0. Richmond near the junction of the Willimantic and Natchaug rivers. A village with the suggestive name of Sodom sprang up about the mill.” The “village” to which Lincoln referred was probably  the six tenement buildings that Richmond had erected on his property.. In his series called “Willimantic before 1850”, General Lloyd Baldwin said, “Extensive alterations and repairs were made to (Richmond’s)  factory. Additions were made to the six tenements,,a large two story dwelling for a boarding house was erected, a store was built frontlnting on Main street, very much improving the property,' and a new era seemed to have dawned upon Sodom, a name by which· it had become known”.  The map with today’s article shows what the approximate original boundaries of “Sodom” were. In the area of the horseshoe created by the river, there were evidently several small farms but also several other boarding houses with varying degrees of “repute”. Plentiful newspaper articles refer to arrests made there due to drinking, illegal liquor sales, brawling, domestic disputes and “unsavory” activity. The surnames of people arrested for various reasons did not have any predominance of nationality. But as the mills and surroundings owned by them grew, along with the accomodations for workers, little by little, the area called Sodom expanded, eventually crossing Ash Street and moving East. From 1900 until at least 1926, according to police reports,there was always a police officer assigned to “the Sodom beat”.   By 1905, most references to Sodom centered around the “Sodom Stars” baseball team. Evidently between 1820 and 1900, the term Sodom had lost its perjorative connotation as far as Willimantic residents were concerned. It referred exclusively to a section of town and not a biblical village.  The area also began to be referred to as “Lower Main Street”.


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