Quick Class on Greens and Grass
Updated: Mar 23
• Village Greens Reveal Fascinating History
This article first appeared as the cover story in the March edition of Today Magazine, our monthly publication
By Kathy Taylor • Canton Town Historian
Special to Today Magazine
WHAT IS A GREEN? A green is a gathering place for people and events in town.
However, the greens don’t stand alone — they are often surrounded by the buildings a community cherishes most: a church, a school, an inn and/or retail shops. Canton Center along Cherry Brook Road (Route 179) used to be the center of Canton, but with time the town center shifted to Canton Village and Collinsville.
Following is a short history of two of the oldest greens in Canton and Collinsville, and the emergence of a new green in downtown Collinsville.
CANTON VILLAGE GREEN
Corner of Dowd Avenue and Route 44 aka Albany Turnpike
The Canton Village Green was established shortly after the opening
of the Hartford-Albany Turnpike in 1799 — current-day Route 44 traces part of the old turnpike.
Situated about 10 miles from Hartford and less than 90 miles from Albany, New York, this section of Canton was one of many stops along the way, as well as a convenient connection to Simsbury and Farmington.
The former Elmshade Inn — now Union Savings Bank — is located on one side of this green. The inn derived its name from the large elm tree, believed to be one of the largest in the nation, that was on the green until Dutch elm disease claimed it in the mid-1900s.
A “grandchild” of Connecticut’s legendary Charter Oak, planted on Flag Day in 1914, once stood on the north end of the green.
The Canton Community Baptist Church was built on the green in 1807 and moved to the north side of the road in 1838, and later moved again to a new building on Dowd Avenue.
The schoolhouse on the southwest side of the green was in use from 1872 to 1949. The structure is now home to the Gallery on the Green, run by the Canton Artists’ Guild. So we can imagine that this green area was enjoyed by farmers, traveling vendors, visitors to the inn, churchgoers and generations of children attending the old schoolhouse.
From 1815 to 1825, Canton Village was the main commerce center, until the Collins Company (1826-1966) — manufacturer of axes, machetes and many edge tools — built a factory in south Canton, now known as Collinsville. The company built housing for employees, and shops and businesses sprang up to provide services for the many families who settled there.
In the mid-1950s, the Canton Lions Club built a gazebo on the west side of the green and has maintained it to this day. The Cherry Brook Garden Club provides wonderful flowers and plantings.
The Farmington Valley Band gave well-attended summer concerts on this green for many years, and the Lions Club served refreshments during intermission. Alas, it is no longer safe to host such a large event there, and the concerts were moved to another location.
Due to widening of the roads over the years, the size of this green is smaller than it used to be, but it’s still a lovely place to visit. There is parking on Canton Green Road near Gallery on the Green.
Collinsville section of Canton
The road between Main Street and the front of Christ Community Church (formerly Collinsville Congregational Church) on South Street is actually called The Green. It is believed that Sam Collins of the Collins Company — Canton’s cornerstone business from 1826-1966 — laid out this rectangular greensward with an X-shaped cross path through the center for buggies and wagons.
Collins had elm trees planted on each side of the street, which were well over 100 years old when they succumbed to Dutch elm disease.
David Leff, the longtime Canton Town Historian and Poet Laureate, lived on this street.
Leff died in May 2022 at age 67. He often wondered — both in his book “The Last Undiscovered Place” and in subsequent writings and lectures — whether Frederick Law Olmsted, the famous father of American landscape architecture, was inspired by his time spent in Collinsville.
In 1838, a 16-year-old Olmsted (1822-1903) spent 1-1/2 years studying surveying while living with the Rev. Frederick Barton of the Congregational Church in Collinsville (now Christ Community Church). Barton built a house on The Green. Later, this road was lined with six stately homes, three on each side. Many of them were inhabited by Collins Company executives and local doctors and teachers.
Soon after World War I, a large sign — called the Canton Roll of Honor — was erected at the end of The Green facing the Valley House Hotel, with the names of 119 Canton men who served and never returned, including seven Gold Star soldiers.
Canton celebrated its centennial in 1906 and many of the festivities were held on this green. Parades and other events passed through this area.
Fittingly, The Green was blocked off for Leff’s memorial service last May as family, friends and townspeople remembered his many achievements and his dedication to the town as a historian, poet, naturalist and volunteer for many community organizations, including the Canton Volunteer Fire & EMS Department.
THE NEW GREEN
Ironically, the new Collinsville green — next to LaSalle Market and the Collinsville parking lot — has become the new green center of activities for Canton.
This area has hosted such events as Collinsville Hot, the Canton Main Street Farmers Market, Music on Main, the Christmas in Collinsville Christmas tree and the Canton Arts Council Arts Festival.
This small rectangle of grass, with a concrete square that was installed as part of a streetscape project, is used as a setting for summer concerts and is a wonderful place to eat a sandwich or an ice cream cone on a picnic bench. The old railroad line in town has been converted via the rails-to-trails movement and is now part of the Farmington River Trail that runs right through Collinsville along the Farmington River.
So bicyclists and walkers have a chance to relax for a while and feel as if they have stepped back in time while they view the old Collins Company factory complex and Main Street buildings, which look the same as they did in the 1800s.
These buildings now house small shops and restaurants as well as the Canton Historical Museum and a large antiques business. +
Kathy Taylor is the property manager for @Collinsville LLC — the company that owns the Collins Axe Factory
• Info — www.townofcantonct.org
• Town Hall — 860-693-7870
Today Publishing covers the heart of Connecticut's Farmington Valley — the five core towns of Avon, Canton, Farmington, Granby and Simsbury