About Windham Historical Society
The stated aims of the Windham Historical Society are “to discover, collect and preserve whatever pertains to the History of the Town of Windham (and) to make available to the public, the results of this research.” (Society By-Laws). In keeping with this charge, the Jillson House Museum welcomes visitors who wish to appreciate its architectural beauty and to discover the many objects of historic significance on display there.
In 1825, William Jillson was putting the final few touches on his Stone House. Only a few years before, William, his brothers, Asa and Seth, and their father Luke had come to the village of Willimantic Falls to seek their fortunes. The Jillson’s were already experienced clothes-makers before they came. Luke Jillson had made his reputation as the inventor of the first water-driven satinet machine. William, though primarily a banker, must have known something about manufacturing, since the Windham Manufacturing Company hired him shortly after coming to Willimantic, to repair and reset the machinery in their first mill along the Willimantic River.
Construction of a mill complex along the Willimantic River was vital to the development of Windham’s textile industry. The River itself was essential to the manufacturing enterprise since not only did rushing waters provide the power to drive the machinery, but they also flowed through a channel made of an ideal material for the construction of new mill buildings. The masons who built mills and houses quarried this workable and long-lasting granite stone called gneiss, right out of the Willimantic River.
Not surprising then, is that William Jillson also built a home for his family out of the same durable and readily available gneiss stone. More unusual though, is the type of masonry design that he chose for his stone house.
Architecture of the Jillson House
Jillson’s House, built in 1825 of stone quarried from the nearby riverbed, was the finest in the city. It’s distinctive appearance and extraordinary structural strength result from the use of uniform blocks of granite with carefully dressed edges lain in an ashlar pattern of alternate broad and narrow courses. Notice the carved stone arch around the fan-light over the front door.
The Rooms on the first floor of the house are furnished with items typically seen in a family home of a Willimantic industrial entrepreneur in the early 19th century. The room at the west-rear corner of the House has been specifically designated as the Jillson Family Memorial Room.
Neglect and Restoration
Not long after the untimely death in 1831 at age 39, there began a period of benign neglect and steady decline of his Stone House. The building was divided into apartments for a time, and becams used as storage spaceby a local mill operator. In 1920, it was bought to become a single family dwelling, but was again abandoned when the last family member died in 1965.
In the 1970’s, urban renewal was planned for Willimantic, with the Jillson Stone House among those buildings under threat of the wrecking ball. However, through the untiring efforts of the late Dr. Brae Rafferty, a former President of the Windham Historical Society, there was hope for preservation of this valuable historic and architectural landmark. Through his meticulous research and unwavering tenacity, the Jillson Stone House was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1971.
In the early 70’s, the House was fully restored under the urban renewal project by the Willimantic Redevelopment Agency. It was turned over in 1975 to the city of Willimantic, which in turn sold it for a token amount to the Windham Historical Society. Ever since, the Housed has served the Society well as a home for its activities and collections.