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August 23: 1909 Aero View Put Numerous Local Landmarks on Display


The 1909 Willimantic view is entitled Aero View of Willimantic, Connecticut 1909, and measures 29 by 33 inches (73.8 by 84 cm).  It was produced by the well known firm of Bailey and Hughes, then of New York. An aerial photograph of Willimantic was traced and then inked by Bailey, judging by the extreme detail in the picture. There is a framed copy in the Willimantic Public Library, and there are copies for sale at the Hall of Frames on Main Street, Willimantic.


Oakley Hoopes Bailey was born in 1843 and lived to the grand old age of 104. He began his city drawing career in the Midwest in 1871. In 1875 he settled in Cambridge, Massachusetts and concentrated on producing views of New England communities, which account for two thirds of his output. He produced no less than 130 views of Massachusetts’s communities. From 1877 to 1879 he collaborated with his brother's old partner, J. C. Hazen, until the latter married in 1879. Oakley Bailey continued to produce views in collaboration with others. He moved to New York City in 1901 after the death of his wife. In 1904 he entered into partnership with Thomas Hughes to create the team who were responsible for the 1909 "aero view," a term apparently coined by Oakley. Bailey produced his last aero view in 1926 at the age of 83.


Bailey's work - an estimated 374 prints, was not of the highest artistic quality, but it does provide a wealth of architectural and business information for modern urban scholars.


Publishers and artists of these views, on average, would ask for between 200 and 3000 subscribers, and each lithographic print would sell for between two and three dollars. Extra income was gleaned by the sales of the prints of the vignettes of businesses and private homes, which bordered many of the views. Door-to-door salesmen sold unordered copies of the views to the communities’ bookstores.


The detail of the 1909 view is exceptional. It reveals Willimantic at its industrial height. To the left of the lithograph, the sheer size of the Willimantic Linen Company's Mill Number Four, which burnt down two years ago, can be appreciated. There is also a good view of Mill Number Three, which stood on Recreation Park, until it was demolished in the late 1920s. It is also interesting to see the density of the built-up area around Temple Street, Center Street and Broad street. This area is better known today as the Major Parcel. The Streets were demolished in 1974. Close inspection also shows the Willimantic High School (burnt 1913) and The Willimantic Normal School (burnt 1940). And if you look really carefully, you can see the Willimantic Colts old baseball stadium which stood on Memorial Field, between Tingley and Watson Streets.


There are also some excellent thumbnail views, including the Windham Silk Company, which stood on North Street until the early 1970s, a number of the Hill District's Victorian mansions, the original Jordan Hardware Building, which burnt down in 1916. Oscar Tanner's Saloon on Union Street is also featured. This was a Willimantic landmark. Oscar Tanner  (1858-1933) was a Bostonian, and an accomplished sportsman who managed the Willimantic Colts professional baseball team in the early 1890s. He was also well known for promoting professional boxing contests in Willimantic. He was also twice mayor (1898-99 and 1903-05), and a close friend of John L. Sullivan, the world champion heavyweight boxer. Sullivan regularly visited his old friend in Willimantic, and could often be found in Tanner's Union Street saloon, the OT Cafe.


Beyond Tanner's saloon, there are other noticeable features on the 1909, such as the wide-open spaces today occupied by Eastern Connecticut State University, and what appears to be a windmill on an undeveloped portion of Lewiston Avenue, just north of The Lutheran Church on the corner of Summit and Oak. Go to the Willimantic Library and take a look. Is it a windmill? Probably. This area, before the development of Lewiston Avenue, served as the market gardens of J. A. Lewis. The windmill most likely powered a water pump.



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