Eagleville Mill c. 1907
This preserve offers an easy one-mile loop trail through 20 acres of Ct. DEEP and Mansfield town lands along the river. The first section of the trail is uneven and can be wet in high water conditions. Most of the trail is on a level terrace along the river. In springtime, frogs in vernal pools are calling and migrating birds are singing. In summer, riverside benches offer a cool spot to enjoy the river. A future connection north to Mansfield's River Park is planned.
There is a canoe/kayak launch on the south side of the Route 275 bridge. The river downstream of Route 275 is classed as flatwater, but there are a few tricky river bends. Check the Canoe and Kayak Map for details about the river’s hazards, features and launch sites.
The entrance is on Route 275 about one-half mile west of its junction with Route 32 in Mansfield. Park in the lot by the Eagleville Lake dam.
See Lower River Map
Winter Walk Along the Trail
The parking lot is on the foundation of the former Eagleville mill (see the photo of the mill from Coventry side of river). Walk up the steps to the top of the dam for a view of Eagleville Lake, which was created as a reservoir for the mill's water power. Imagine a four-story mill rising above you. The lake's water flowed underneath the mill through a race (channel) to turn a water wheel, then back into the river downstream.
The water wheel powered the mill, which was established as the Willimantic Cotton Manufacturing Company in 1814, one of the first in Connecticut. When the Eagle Manufacturing Company took charge in 1822, the village became Eagleville. Rifle parts were made during the Civil War, then the mill returned to cotton production under several changes in ownership. When the textile business failed in 1931 during the Depression, inner-soles for shoes were made at the mill until it was abandoned in 1953 and then burned in 1956. Today the mill site is part of the Eagleville Lake recreation area managed by the Connecticut Department of Energy & Environmental Protection.
The Mill Race
Walk across Route 275 to enter the Ct. DEEP part of Eagleville Preserve. Follow the white-blazed trail to the left. (The trail to the right leads toward the canoe/kayak launch site by the bridge.) The area south of Route 275 was used to store raw materials for the mill. Where there were once piles of cotton, a floodplain forest has grown up. It is now being overtaken by invasive plants, such as Oriental bittersweet vines.
The trail leads to Eagleville mill’s tailrace channel. A footbridge over this channel rests on the old stone abutments of a former bridge. The purpose of the original bridge is unknown, but it may have linked the nearby railroad with the storage area along the river. On the footbridge, you can imagine water from the lake flowing through the race under the mill, then under Route 275 and through this tailrace, which returned the water to the river. Water power was abandoned in the late 1800's when steam engines became a more reliable source of power. The upper part of the old race is now buried under the parking lot, and the tailrace under the footbridge is now a quiet backwater filled with forget-me-nots. From the bridge, follow the trail over earthen mounds (origin unknown) and along the east side of the tailrace.
An Old River Farm
Where the tailrace channel meets the river, the trail enters Town land and climbs to a dry terrace featuring an oak forest. This area was once a pasture in an old riverside farm. Take the right fork to follow the white-blazed trail along the river, passing benches where it is pleasant to sit and watch the water flow by. Large oak trees along the river have been gnawed by beavers that live in burrows in the riverbank. Cross under the power line and descend to a moist floodplain, where a variety of wildflowers thrive in spring. At the river's bend, there is a scenic bank across the river with mountain laurels and azaleas blooming in early summer. An old farm road leads away from the river bend. This road can be used as a shortcut for the return trip.
To continue on the main trail loop, follow the white blazes along the river. The trail turns left and crosses a boardwalk through a ferny glade to the bank of Dunham Pond Brook, which is south boundary of the preserve. When the trail approaches a corn field, turn left and into the woods (the field is not open to the public). The wooded hillside slopes down to a swamp and vernal pools, where wood frogs and spring peepers come to call and breed in spring.
Where the trail meets the old farm road, turn left onto that road, then immediately right onto the trail, which leads under the power line and back to the parking lot.
A park map with notes about historical and natural features is available at the Mansfield Parks and Recreation Department (Note that these guides take a long time to download on a dial-up connection.)
Photos: Top photo courtesy of Mansfield Historical Society. Bottom photo: P. Vertefeuille
This Willimantic River Greenway Parks and Trails Guide was produced by the Willimantic River Alliance and WINCOG. Information in this guide reflects conditions and features as of Spring, 2008. Since conditions change over time, the Alliance is not responsible for changes at this site. This guide was funded with support from the The Last Green Valley (formerly known as the Quinebaug-Shetucket Heritage Corridor, Inc.).