The Washburn Mill
Behind and to the west of the Visitors' Center was the Washburn foundry and silk mill which operated from 1841 to 1908. There are no existing pictures of the mill, though a survey map (see insert) exists. from 1908. The site held an early falling and scouring mill, from about 1815, that operated on and off until 1841. Fulling is a process to tighten, soften and shrink cloth by pounding it in a bath of soap or fullers earth. In 1841, mill owner John Boynton, sold the mill to H. Converse, Earl Smith and Alanson Washburn, all of Coventry. They built a dam across the brook near the existing "fire pond" and diverted the water through a new dug channel just behind the Visitors' Center Building to a shop they erected. It was a separate water course from the brook that existed until it was filled over in the 1950's. Their foundry made stoves, pipes, kettles, sinks und gear blanks. It was two stories and about 30x90 feet in size. A tail race returned the water from the eight horsepower water wheel to the main brook.
The Visitor's Center
The Visitors' Center 1876 Building
This building was ordered built by Town Meeting to provide space for Town officials and security for Town Records. It was to be finished and opened during the Nation's Centennial Year,
1876, in recognition of that Event. Norman Boynton was hired to do the work. His home and brickyard lay on Flanders Road, about a half-mile southeasterly from the South Street junction. The bricks were made from his clay-lot clay pit. Boynton used coke for fuel drawing it in his wagons from the freight cars in Willimantic.
Boynton and his son, Lyle, both expert brick masons, began work on the new Town Hall in the Spring of 1876. It was finished by fall. Here were located the Town Clerk, the Assessor and Tax Collector; the Probate Court and the then Justice Courts. Here met the Selectmen. A secure fireproof vault protected, with a combination lock in a heavy steel door, all of the Town Records that, for the first time, were brought together. The building served its intended purpose until the panic year of 1929 that saw the Tracy-Elliot Mills fall bankrupt. In lieu of back taxes, the Town took over the mill properties, including its large office building on Main Street (now the Bidwell Tavern). This building was refurbished, offices were built for officials, and a large vault was built inside for Town Records. Shortly, the 1876 Building was vacated and the Town Offices were moved into the new facility.
In 1932, George Hersey Robertson was appointed Postmaster, and the Post Office was moved here from the Phillip's Drug Store on the corner of Mason Street. The
1876 Building was the Coventry Post Office through World War II. The Sebert Block was built shortly after in the lot located next to the Congregational Church on Main Street, and the Post Office moved into that facility. The 1876 Building was used, sporadically afterwards by the Justice Court and by civic groups from time to time, but gradually fell into disrepair. Several attempts were made to sell the building so that the property could go back n the tax rolls. Town Meeting and Councils, however, did not respond. Town budgets contained meager funds to provide minimum maintenance on the property.
With the coming of the Nation's Bicentennial in 1976, an Official Commission was formed and the 1876 Building was designated its headquarters. The building was restored and extensively used by the Commission and civic groups during and afterwards. Most recently (1989), at the request of the Town Council, the Coventry Historical Society refurbished the 1876 Building. It is now a Visitor's Center containing a changing series of interesting displays and items reflecting Coventry's history - and is one of the very few local operating visitors centers in Connecticut.