Giant Frogs! Sew?
The Thread City Crossing, Windham
August 25, 2007
“Oh c’mon, Steve,” you’re saying. “A bridge? In Willimantic?” Yup. Like YOU have a bridge with giant thread spools and giant frogs all over it in YOUR town?
Of course you don’t. And besides, this “Frog Bridge” has become famous in its own right… it is featured prominently in the book, “Weird New England.” Furthermore, it has spawned several website entries – which do not lack for wives tales, quirky explanations, and fruitless searches for truth.
But that’s why you have CTMQ – THE authority on such important matters. So why the frogs and the thread? Sit back, relax, and learn… First, the easy part.
Willimantic is known as the Thread City. (Connecticut is fond of historic manufacturing nicknames… Bell Town, Brass City, Silver City, Hardware City – these are all real, by the way.) The town was once a very important textile town but since has fallen on some very, very hard times. In fact, Willimantic became somewhat infamous after a 2002 series in The Hartford Courant called “Heroin Town” led to a “60 Minutes” feature on it, also called “Heroin Town.” It’s quite sad, actually, because there is a University here (Eastern CT State University) and UConn is only a short drive away.
2020 update: it’s better now.
In the late 1990’s, the town earmarked some money to build a new bridge here; one that would spark town pride and speak to its rich history. It is 476 feet long and cost $13 million (each frog was $50K). The brass frogs are 11 feet tall on top of the huge spools. In 2002, the Federal Highway Administration awarded the Frog Bridge an Honorable Mention for Excellence in Highway Design, in the category of Historic Preservation. Leo Jensen of Ivoryton, Connecticut is the sculptor of the frogs.
The frogs actually have names: Manny, Willy, Windy and Swifty. One assumes they are named for Mansfield, Willimantic, Windham, and… the swift current of the Willimantic River?
Blah, blah, blah… why the dang frogs?! This harks back to the legend of the Frog Fight, a harrowing night in 1754 when townspeople rushed outside with their muskets to defend themselves from an unseen screeching menace. The next morning, they discovered scores of dead frogs, who had fought for the last remaining puddles of water in a drought-stricken lake.
The frogs have catapulted the bridge to the forefront of American roadside kitsch (if such a thing exists). Bill Griffith even devoted a “Zippy the Pinhead” comic strip to the bridge in June 2001. It also speaks to the downfall of Willimantic as well.
Not good enough? Ok, I’ll get a bit more in depth – although still a bit hokey: During the French and Indian War in 1754 Windham’s Colonel Eliphalet Dyer raised a local regiment to fight in the French and Indian War. Those left behind felt vulnerable to attack. The Windhamites’ worst fears seemed realized during a steamy-hot June night when unearthly screams emanated from the darkness: Valiant villagers grabbed muskets and fired blindly into the night.’ Some believed that the Day of Judgment had arrived, and gave prayer. Others hid under their beds.
The awful truth was revealed at dawn. Several hundred dead and dying bullfrogs were discovered in a dried-up millpond, two miles east of the village center. They had fought to the death in futile attempts to find moisture in the drought-ridden pond. Windham became forever known as the scene of the “Battle of the Frogs.”
Apparently this is true. Also true, and more tragic, is the tale of the very nearby Hotel Hooker. Thomas Hooker founded Hartford and his family name is actually not as laughed at by Nutmeggers as you’d think. The Hotel Hooker existed for a long, long time and became home to transients and the aforementioned heroin addicts. Recently, the Hotel Hooker was sold and renamed “Windham House” but the infamous yellow building with the impossible name will forever live on in my heart.
It’s impossible to know how true the frog story is, but it has somehow survived for hundreds of years and wound up inspiring a unique bridge and frogs all over the town. I’ll check out the actual Frog Pond someday and see what I can find. For now, let’s just enjoy a bridge with four giant frogs and spools of thread.
Because it’s cool.