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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.

Widen loved music and played the tuba. Collinsville had had a series of bands since the nineteenth century, and in 1941 he reorganized the existing musical group into the Farmington Valley Band and was its co-leader for many years. Widen also established a men’s choir.  Before schools had much in the way of music programs, he started a boy’s band composed of high and grammar school students. Soon thereafter they were sponsored by a fraternal club known as the Red Men and were given flashy uniforms that included a light blue cap and matching pants along with a red and white cape.

Born in Collinsville, Widen attended local schools. Shortly after completing his education he began work for the Collins Company where he was employed for 25 years until just a few weeks before his death.  Widen was a member of the Collinsville Congregational Church where he served for a time as choir director.  He was a member of the Independent Order of Odd Fellows and Cawasa Grange.  Widen was 67 when he died at Hartford Hospital.

Fred R. Widen is buried in Southwest Cemetery, Collinsville.

For more about the history of the Canton Historical Museum and the Farmington Valley Band, see Canton Remembers: Incidents in Local History, Dr. and Mrs. Lawrence S. Carlton, editors, p. 209, “History Lives!” and p. 169, “Bands: Farmington Valley—Canton /Collinsville.”  The book is available at the Canton Public Library and the Canton Historical Museum.

“Your Silent Neighbors” introduces readers to people out of Canton’s past.  It will appear on the first and fifteenth of each month. Readers are encouraged to visit these gravesites and pay their respects to the people who have helped make our community what it is today. Any suggestions, questions, or corrections should be addressed to Town Historian David Leff at onktaadn@comcast.net

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