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Your Silent Neighbors: Harlow A. Wheelock, Civil War Veteran, ‘Estimable Citizen’

December 1, 2017 Community, History No Comments

By David K. Leff 
Town Historian 

Harlow A. Wheelock (1842-1917) was born and raised in Monterey, Massachusetts where he started his working life as a rake maker.  He served for roughly a year during the Civil War with Company F of the Forty-ninth Massachusetts Regiment.

Around 1872, he came to Collinsville and lived on High Street for about nine years, afterward moving to Canton Street where he resided for thirty-six years.  He worked as a carpenter with his brother, John.  He was also employed in the knife handling department of the Collins Company for over three decades.  He was a member of the Collinsville Congregational Church and for many years he served on the Canton school board.

Wheelock was described in one newspaper account as “a man who to rare degree had the esteem of his fellow citizens.”  He died at his Canton Streethome after a year-long illness that ended his working career.  “He passed the years of a long life,” the paper reported, “without a word ever having been said against him as a man and citizen.” … Continue Reading

Our Silent Neighbors: Leslie Terry, 14 Year old Boy Killed by a Friend

November 15, 2017 Community, History No Comments

By David K. Leff
Town Historian  

At age 14 Leslie Terry (1907-1920) was accidentally shot and killed with a .32 caliber revolver by George Douglas, his friend of the same age, while the two were playing “wild west” in imitation of movies they had seen.  The bullet hit Terry in the heart and left lung and sent him crashing to the floor. Distraught at what he had done, Douglas later turned the gun on himself.

On July, 29, 1920, the boys were at the Main Street home of 18 year-old Kenneth Chapin with a third boy, Norman Wheeler. The four had intended to go on a berrying trip. When the other boys arrived at Chapin’s home he was busy with some chores so they hung out in a room on the second floor while waiting.  After a few minutes, a shot was heard and Wheeler ran downstairs to tell Chapin what had happened.

As Wheeler rushed off to get Dr. Kilbourn, Chapin went to a neighbor’s telephone in hope of hurrying a response. When he came back, Terry was on the first floor and had fallen between the dining room doors with Douglas beside him. Chapin went out again looking for the doctor and when he returned Douglas was on the stairs, but unseen. Dr. Kilbourn soon arrived and pronounced Terry dead. On hearing he had killed his friend, Douglasshot at his right temple and the bullet lodged between his eyes. A surprised Dr. Kilbourn and Chapin turned to see Douglas with the smoking gun.  Emergency medical attention was given and Douglas was rushed to St. Francis Hospital where he lay in “serious” condition. Physicians feared he might lose sight in one if not both eyes. Two days later, he was said to be resting comfortably.

Douglas had finished grammar school and was to enter Collinsville High School in September.  He had been carrying the gun for “some time,” though it was not clear where he got it.  The boy had acquired “a sudden mania . . . for wild west stunts, which resulted from attendance at movie shows,” according to the Hartford Courant. … Continue Reading

Your Silent Neighbors: M. Stanley Neal, Collins Company Foreman

November 1, 2017 Community, History No Comments

By David K. Leff 
Town Historian 

M. Stanley Neal (1856-1949) was employed by the Collins Company for 51 years beginning around 1879.  He was mostly with the forging department of which he became the longtime foreman.  Prior to coming to Collinsville he spent a year working for the Gilbert Clock Company in Winsted.  He retired in 1930 and ran an insurance business for 25 years.  Born in Paris, New York in Oneida County, he attended schools in that area.

Neal was active in community life.  He was chairman of the Canton Board of Education, an incorporator of the Collinsville Savings Society, and president of the Collinsville Cemetery Association.  Neal was a Mason and the senior member and senior past master of the Village Lodge, AF and FM as well as past master of the Hartford County Past Masters Association. … Continue Reading

Your Silent Neighbors: Frank E. Wilder, Collins Co. Chief Electrician

October 15, 2017 Community, History No Comments

 

By David K. Leff 
Town Historian 

Frank E. Wilder (1896-1948), chief electrician for the Collins Company, was killed in an explosion at age 52 while at work.  Wilder was standing in front of a newly installed boiler. He died instantly of head trauma when the heavy front plates blew off and struck him. Wilder was attempting to relight the oil burner after it had been turned off for about five minutes. “It is believed that oil fumes collected during the lapse in operation and were ignited when Mr. Wilder applied a torch to the lighting vent,” according to The Hartford Times. State Department of Labor investigators were called to the scene.  The factory sustained minimal damage although windows were shattered up to thirty feet away.  The explosion could be heard for some distance, perhaps by his family living on lower South Street.

… Continue Reading

Your Silent Neighbors: Fred R. Widen, Musician & Museum Curator

October 1, 2017 Community, History No Comments

By David K. Leff 
Town Historian 

Fred R. Widen (1884-1952), a pattern maker for the Collins Company, had an interest in history and began collecting objects related to the factory and Canton. His collection grew rapidly. In the 1930s, he was given space to display his artifacts in the Company recreation hall that had once been a shed for assembling and painting plows. At the time, the building still contained a bowling alley on the second floor and a shooting gallery in the basement. Eventually, the collection filled three rooms in the south end of the first floor. Today the building is home to the Canton Historical Museum.

Widen’s museum contained a variety of Collins tools including axes, machetes, shovels, and hammers. He also displayed a blacksmith’s forge and tools, old fire trucks, a Victorian barber shop, and nineteenth century costumes. He collected and cataloged relevant articles about the Collins Company and the town.  In Widen’s time, the museum was rarely open to the public, and only on request. News reports indicate the collection received rave reviews and that people came from some distance to see it. … Continue Reading

Your Silent Neighbors: Arthur Olson, Selectman

September 1, 2017 Community, History No Comments

By David K. Leff
Town Historian 

Arthur Olson (1894-1958) was one of Canton’s most respected citizens when he died at age 64 at Hartford Hospital after a brief illness. Born in Worcester, Massachusetts, he served as a private in the army during World War I and was honorably discharged in June 1919, having spent his military career stateside. He lived in Canton for 45 years and served as second selectman and foreman of the highway department for 19 years.  Olson was also an ex-officio member of the Canton Planning Commission in his role as town engineer.

Olson “was the kind of man who made you proud to be a member of the human race,” wrote L. K. Porritt in a letter to the newspaper. “Few towns have ever been so fortunate to have had so tireless and conscientious a servant as he was.” This sentiment was echoed by John B. Wright who noted in the same paper that “with gay banter and cheerful industry he pursued his rounds. His Yankee good sense got things done and done right without fuss and feathers.” For Olson, Wright observed, “fellowship with all men of good will was as natural as breathing.” … Continue Reading

Your Silent Neighbors: Clair M. Elston, Last Collins Company President

August 15, 2017 Community, History No Comments

 

By David K. Leff 
Town Historian 

Clair M. Elston (1894-1978) was appointed president of the Collins Company in July 1956, and was the last to wear the mantle of Samuel Collins. He was a lifelong resident of Collinsville and his great-grandfather and father worked for the company.  Elston graduated from Yale in 1916 and joined Collins as a chemist in 1919. He was named assistant superintendent in 1921 and assistant general manager in 1927 before becoming vice president for manufacturing in 1941.

As vice president, Elston’s job was to run the production side of the business.  “To maintain Collins’ reputation for high quality and do it economically is the lifework . . . of fifty-one-year-old Clair Elston,” wrote Fortune magazine in 1946. “To keep the company’s costs down, Mr. Elston must practice all sorts of special economies.”  Although union president George Soucy complained to the Fortune journalist of low wages and long hours, he spoke “with particular warmth of Mr. Elston as a man who goes out of his way to help workers in difficult situations.”

Ever civic minded, Elston served as chairman of the Canton Board of Finance and was a Board of Education member.  He was a trustee and president of the Collinsville Savings Society and president of the Canton Library and Ratlum Mountain Fish and Game Club. … Continue Reading

Your Silent Neighbors: A. Arthur Vincent, Firefighter and WWII Veteran  

July 15, 2017 Community, History No Comments

By David K. Leff
Town Historian 

Arthur “Art” Vincent (1922-1987) served our country as the highest ranking enlisted man on a B-17 Flying Fortress in World War II, was a machinist with Pratt & Whitney Aircraft for 42 years, and a charter member of he Collinsville Volunteer Fire Department. He was killed in the line of duty at a fire department drill when struck by a vehicle driven by an 18-year-old who had been drinking.

Vincent was born in Central Falls Rhode Island, but lived in Collinsville most of his life and was a graduate of Canton High School. During the war, he was stationed in England as a member of 305th Bombardment Group of the 8th Air Force. He held the rank of sergeant. When the Collinsville Volunteer Fire Department was formed in 1966, after the Collins Company Fire Department was disbanded with the company’s closure, Vincent was among the first to join. He served the department as administrative captain and as lieutenant of the fire police. He had retired from Pratt & Whitney in 1983, and was 64 years old when he was killed.

In his role as a fire policeman, Vincent was directing traffic on July 12 along Albany Turnpike (Route 44) where the town’s then three fire departments were engaged in a training exercise, burning a building slated for demolition. It was a long drill and Vincent had been there most of the day, leaving only briefly to take his wife to church. Around 4:30 p.m., as firefighters were readying to leave the scene, he stepped into the westbound passing lane to stop traffic for a fire truck entering the road.  He was hit by the oncoming car while the truck was across both westbound lanes. Vincent was rushed to St. Francis Hospital by ambulance where he died in the emergency room from multiple trauma around 6 p.m. … Continue Reading

Your Silent Neighbors: Zera Hinman, Mail Carrier

July 1, 2017 Community, History No Comments

By David K. Leff
Canton Town Historian

Zera Hinman (1859-1923) was the first rural mail carrier out of Collinsville.  He died in the performance of his duties less than a month before he was to turn 64.

Hinman was born on March 3, 1859 in his family home.  He attended school in Canton, and was married in 1884 to Jennie Hinman of Ohio.  He worked the ancestral farm until 1906 when he sold it and joined the postal service, moving to Collinsville on the west side of the river.  “He was one of the most useful citizens of Collinsville and was better known to more people than any man living in the village,” according to one newspaper.

Hinman had not been his usual self for a week, but that did not deter him from his route.  On February 19, 1923, he stopped at the home of Irwin Mills in Canton Center, took out a bundle of mail and remarked to Mills that he was not feeling very well.  On reaching for a second bundle, he collapsed.  The coroner found apoplexy (stroke) as the cause of death.

Hinman was survived by his wife and two sons.  He was a Mason and a member of the Cawasa Grange.  His friend, Mrs. Ida L. A. Pattison, wrote that “his was a sunny jovial nature and always had a cordial greeting for one whenever he met them, and his character and spirit ever endeared him to his family, relatives and other friends. . . . His place on the R. F. D. Route after 17 years of service will be hard to fill and it is there that he will be sadly missed as well as in his home.” … Continue Reading

Your Silent Neighbors: Chauncey Griswold, Pharmaceutical Manufacturer

June 15, 2017 Community, History No Comments

By David K. Leff
Canton Town Historian

Chauncey Griswold (1792-1864) was a schoolteacher who serendipitously became a maker of medicines beginning in 1841. He was born in what is now Canton or Bloomfield (the record is unclear), one of thirteen children. At age 24, he married Ruth Mills whose father had suggested the name “Canton” when the town was created in 1806. He is said to have taught school in Ithaca, New York, Hartford and Wethersfield.

One Independence Day, a son of Griswold was badly burned by gunpowder that ignited in his pocket, according to Dr. Larry Carlton’s story in the book Canton Remembers. Having heard of a man two or three miles distant who had a salve good for burns, he obtained some. The results were so good that Griswold supposedly purchased the formula for $5. Originally made in small quantities in a skillet, after trial and error Griswold succeeded in producing about two dozen rolls of salve at a time.  Nevertheless, “his wife often told him that if he expected to get their living from making that stuff, she guessed they would go hungry more than once,” Dr. Carlton wrote. … Continue Reading

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