FROM NOTES BY D. B. HALE AND LEVI CASE.
CANTON* measures eight miles north and south, with a breadth east and west varying from one and a half miles at
the north to three miles at the south. It is bounded north by Barkhamsted and Granby; east, by Simsbury; south,
by Avon, Burlington, and New Hartford; and west by New Hartford and Barkhamsted. It has in its territory four post-offices,
seven churches, eight school-houses, fifty-five miles of public highway, and about four hundred dwelling-houses.
The Hartford and Connecticut Western Railroad, and a branch of the New Haven and Northampton Railroad, commonly
called the Canal Road, pass through the town.
The surface of the territory is much broken by hills. There are Rocky, Rattlesnake, Onion, Crump's, and Wildcat
mountains. The valley of the Farmington River in the southwest part of the town is fertile, and Cherry Brook valley,
where Canton Centre lies, is noted for its fine farms, though the most valuable agricultural land in the town limits
is said to be in the low plain near the eastern boundary. The great "Jefferson flood" of 1801, which
made many changes along the Farmington valley, washed away much of a very valuable tract, called the Hop Yard,
that lay between Cherry Brook and Farmington River, and the river at that time took permanent possession of the
channel of the stream.
Rattlesnake Mountain derives its name from the fact, or tradition, that an early settler, Mrs. Wilcox, while driving
home her cows, met near there a very large number of rattlesnakes. She killed forty of them (all full grown) and
came unharmed out of the conflict; but the mountain, by a curious freak of history, takes its title from the defeated
forces. Crump's Mountain, one and a half miles north of Canton Centre, is named from Crumpus, a noted Indian who
had. his wigwam on its summit for many years after the whites came. Indian Hill, near the New Hartford line, was
for some time the home of a band of Indians, - a peaceful set who were much troubled by other Indians, that lived
in and gave the name to that part of New Hartford known as Satan's Kingdom. Cherry Brook and Cherry Pond - the
latter a considerable body of water a mile south of Canton village, extending into Avon - were named from an Indian
called Cherry, who, it is said, acquired that name from his fondness for cherry-rum. He was finally horsewhipped
and driveii from the place, because when intoxicated he threatened to scalp Oliver Humphrey, keeper of the public-house,
for refusing to sell him more ruin. He lived on the bank of the brook. Indian relics are frequent in the town and
Indian traditions abound. One is that Silas Case, of East Hill, received from a dying Indian instruction in the
nature of herbs and diseases that made him for years a famous healer of the sick.
The first permanent white settler in West Simsbury was Richard Case, who in 1737 took possession of land on East
Hill, granted to his father, Richard Case, of Weatogue (Simsbury). A part of this grant has remained ever since
by direct inheritance in the possession of his descendants, and so has never been deeded.
The following historical sketches of the first settlers were prepared by the late Ephraim Mills, Esq., and they
were published in Phelps's "History of Simsbury, Granby, and Canton," in 1845. They are now revised for
Richard Case removed from the old parish to West Simsbury in 1737, and is supposed to have been the first settler,
and to have erected the first dwellinghouse. His son, Sylvanus, has ever been reputed to be the first English child
born within the limits of West Sirnsbury. He had ten sons and two daughters. His descendants are numerous in Canton,
Granby, awl Barkhamsted.
There were four brothers of the Barber family, who removed from the old parish in 1738, - Samuel, Thomas, Jonathan,
and John, - all of whom settled on lands contiguous to each other, within the limits of the old Centre school district
in Canton. Dr. Samuel Barber had eleven sons and three daughters, all of whom lived to adult years. Some of his
descendants are now living in this town.
Sergeant Thomas Barber had five sons and five daughters, all of whom lived to adult years. Some of his descendants
now reside in the town.
Jonathan Barber had two sons and one daughter. He died in early life (1745), at the siege and capture of Louisburg.
None of his descendants reside in this town.
John Barber had five sons and one daughter. He died in 1797, aged seventyseven years. His son Reuben died in 1825,
and was the first person buried in the new cemetery in Canton Centre.
Deacon Abraham Case removed from the old parish to West Simsbury about 1740, and died in 1800, aged eighty years.
He had two sons and five daughters. He settled on the East Hill.
Amos Case, brother of Abraham, settled on the East Hill about 1740. He had five sons and four daughters, all of
whom lived to adult years. He died in 1798, aged eighty-six.
Benjamin Dyer, a schoolmate of Dr. Franklin, came from Boston to West Simsbary about 1741. He had five sons and
two daughters. He resided one mile northeasterly from Collinsville. The house built by him is said to be the oldest
Samuel Humphrey came here about 1741. He settled in Canton village. He had three sons and three daughters, all
of whom lived to marry and leave children.
Joseph Mills, aged thirty, married Hannah Adams, aged fifteen, and came here in 1742 or 1743, and settled in Canton
Centre. He had ten sons and four daughters, all of whom he lived to see married and have children. He died in 1783,
Ezra Wilcox came here about 1740, and settled on the west side of the Farrnington River, opposite the mouth of
Cherry Brook. He had five sons and four daughters.
Dudley Case was a brother of Daniel, Zaccheus, and. Ezekiel. He came here in 1742 and built a public-house in Canton
village, afterward long known as the Hosford house. He had seven children. He died in 1792.
Oliver Humphrey, Esq., came here about 1742, and settled in Canton village, and was the first magistrate in West
Simsbury. He had eleven children, all of whom lived to adult years. He died in 1792.
Nathaniel Alford came here in 1742, and settled on the East Hill. He had one son and five daughters, all of whom
were married and left children.
Lieutenant David Adams came here about 1743, and settled in North Canton. He had four sons and five daughters.
He died. in 1801.
Sergeant Daniel Case came here in 1743, and settled in Canton Centre. He had four sons and five daughters. He built
the first grist-mill in the place. He died in 1801, aged eighty-one.
Captain Ezekiel Humphrey came here about 1744, and settled in Canton village. He had five sons and five daughters.
He died in 1795.
Captain Josiah Case came here about 1743, and settled on the East Hill. He had two sons and four daughters. He
died in 1789, aged seventy-one.
Isaac Messenger came here about 1743 or 1744, and settled in Canton Centre. He had ten sons and three daughters,
all of whom were married and left children. He died in 1801, aged. eighty-two.
Ensign Isaac Tuller came here in 1 744 or 1745, and settled near Cherry Brook. He had three sons audi eight daughters.
He died in 1806, aged eighty-six.
Captain Zaccheus Case came here about 1749, and settled in Canton Centre. He had one son and six daughters, all
of whom married and had children. He died in 1812.
Deacon Hosea Case came here about 1752, and settled on the East Hill. He had four sons and seven daughters. He
died in 1793, aged sixty-two.
Captain John Foot came here in 1753, and settled in Canton Centre. He had two sons and four daughters, all of whom
had children. He died in 1812, aged eighty-two.
Captain John Brown came here from Windsor in 1756, and settled in Canton Centre. He had four sons and seven daughters,
all of whom had children. He died in 1776 in the American army, at New York.
Solomon Humphrey came here about 1755, and settled near Canton village. He had three sons and two daughters, all
of whom had children.
Among people born in Canton who have made their mark in the country are judges, college presidents, members of
Congress, mayors of cities, lawyers, doctors, and clergymen, teachers, and successful men of business. The father
and mother of time famous John Brown were natives of Canton.
Canton has never been lacking in patriotism. In the French and Indian War twenty soldiers went from there (West
Simsbury), and only ten came back; in the Revolution there were between seventy and eighty soldiers from the place;
in the War of 1812, about fifty; and in the recent Civil War, two hundred and fifty-seven, - a large number of
whom went never to return, or came home to die from injuries received in the service.
The people of West Simsbury began holding Sunday services in private houses about 1741. In September, 1746, at
the house of Richard Case, they organized an ecclesiastical society; and a.t the May session, 1750, the legislature
created West Simsbury a distinct parish and the First Congregational Church was formed. Between 1747 and 1750 there
was preaching by the Rev's Adonijah Bidwell and Timothy Pitkin. When the church was formed, the Rev. Evander Morrison
was called, at a salary of £250, "old tenor," and thirty cords of wood, - the church to build him
a house if lie would furnish nails and glass. As the result of a quarrel he was dismissed in eleven months, and
the house was not built. Succeeding pastors have been the Rev's Gideon Mills, 1759 to 1772, when he died; Seth
Sage, 1774, to his dismissal in 1778; Jeremiah Hallock, 1785, to his death, after forty-one years' pastorate, in
1826; Jairus Burt, 1826, to his death in 1857; and since then, the Rev's W. C. Fisk, Charles N. Lyman, A. Gardner,
and David B. Hubbard. There was a secession from the church in 1778, led by the Rev. Mr. Sage. Meetings were held
in private houses in the north part of the town for some years, and in 1783 a meeting-house was built on the Granby
road, half a mile north of the present North Canton Methodist church. The organization was scattered at Mr. Sage's
death. In 1783 another schism occurred, when the "Separatists" left the church; and in 1785 these again
separated, and the Baptist society was then established. Their first pastor was Elder Jared Mills. Their church
was moved and rebuilt in 1839. A Methodist church was built in North Canton in 1871, and one in Collinsville in
1868; but this was closed in 1878. As early as 1751 there was a movement into the Episcopal church, but the withdrawing
members joined the church in Scotland (Bloomfield). It was not until 1875 that a society was organized here. The
Episcopal church was built in 1876. The Roman Catholic church in Collinsville was built in 1852.
Congregational service in Collinsville began in 1831, with preaching in Collins & Co's hall by the Rev. George
Beecher, who died in Ohio from the effects of a gunshot. He was a son of Lyman Beecher. The church was organized
in 1832 by the Rev's Dr. Joel Hawes. of Hartford, Allen McLean, of Simsbury, Jairus Burt, of Canton Centre, and
H. N. Brinsmade, who had been preaching there since 1831. Time Collins Company built the first Congregational church
in 1836. Among its pastors have been the Rev's Cornelius C. Van Arsdalen, Frederick A. Barton, Charles Backus McLean,
Alexander Hall, and E. E. Lamb. The Cherry Brook meeting-house was built in 1763, and the present house of worship
took its place in 1814.
Canton was incorporated by the legislature as a town in 1806, because of the inconvenience that its inhabitants
suffered in having to go to Simsbury to vote. James Humphrey was town clerk until 1829; William H. Hallock succeeded
him. In 1837 Hallock's house was burned, and all the town records destroyed.
As Collinsville grew in size, its inhabitants, like those of West Simsbury at an earlier date, objected to going
to Canton to vote. In 1860 the people of both villages agreed to hold their meetings alternately at one and the
other place. In 1866 Collinsville was made a separate voting place for "electors' meetings," that is,
general elections ; but the old New England town-meeting is still held alternately at Canton and at Collinsville.
As in all Connecticut towns, schools have formed from the beginning an important feature of life in Canton. Until
1796 the Ecclesiastical Society managed them, appointing the school committees yearly. Then the School Society
was created, and appointed committees, inspectors, and even district committees. In 1839 the districts were allowed
to choose their own committees, and in 1856 the general supervision of school matters was given to the town. The
school question has been at the bottom of many of the most exciting controversies that the town has known, and
the interest in it has been constant. The early schoolhouses, with their huge fireplaces for burning four-foot
wood, are yet remembered by some of their surviving scholars, who recall how, before matches were introduced, great
endeavors were made to keep the coals alive over night; for if there were none there in the morning, some one must
go to the nearest house for "fire." Not only in school-houses, but in all houses, the fire had to be
kept burning, or else new fire must be got outside. The town of Canton appropriates about $5,000 a year for schools,
including the allowance from the State. Careful of their schools, the people have always been orderly and law-abiding.
There has never been a murder in the town, nor was there one in the parish before it became a town. Agriculture
was the early occupation. Every farm had its flock of sheep, and every farm raised flax, and everybody wore and
used woollen and linen that were made at home by the women of the household. The usual cereals were cultivated.
There were many apple orchards. Immense quantities of cider were made and everybody drank it. What was left was
converted into cider-brandy, and this was sufficient to maintain a large number of distilleries, - at one time,
about forty. The cider-brandy business was an important source of income to the farmers; but it has been practically
discontinued, and the cultivation of tobacco takes its place. rro the moralist, who mourns the spread of tobacco-culture,
this fact is not insignificant. From ciderbrandy to tobacco is certainly no descent in morals.
With the facilities that its ample water-power has furnished, Canton has always had manufactures of more or less
importance, at first to meet the few wants of the local population, and later to supply the growing demands from
outside; until now. with the vast development of the works at Collinsville, it has come to be one of the great
manufacturing centres of the State, whose products are known and used all over the world. The first forge for the
manufacture of iron was started in 1774 by Colonel Talcott and Messrs. Forbes & Smith. It was just below the
present covered bridge, near the house of Julius E. Case. This forge, and that set up in the south part of the
town in 1792 by the brothers Captain Frederick and Colonel George Humphrey, were carried off by the flood of 1801.
There have been grist-mills of Daniel Case, on Cherry Brook; of Ambrose Case, in the north part of the parish;
of Joseph Segur, near the present Collinsville covered bridge (he crossed daily to his mill by canoe); and of Orville
Case, near the junction of Albany turnpike and Cherry Brook road. At one time there were seven saw-mills in Canton.
The blacksmith's trade, of course, and wood-working and wagon-making were among the local industries. There was
a flax-mill about sixty years ago on a stream south of the present residence of G. Woodford Mills. There have been
several carding-mills in the town. Of the industries that have disappeared, time most important were the manufacture
of those two great forces, gunpowder and brandy, which have had so much influence upon society and human history.
In 1825 there were not less than forty distilleries in Canton; now, with double the population, there are less
than half a dozen. The first powder-mills were built by Jared Mills and Edmund Fowler, on the Nepaug stream, near
its junction with the Farmington. Here the mnanufacture was carried on for sixty years, and not less than thirty
people were killed in its successive explosions. In 1834 another powder-mill was built on Cherry Brook, near the
North Canton cemetery, by Swett & Humphrey. This ran about twenty years. The whole business of powder-mnaking
was abandoned in the town about 1865.
The great body of the population of Canton is now gathered in Collinsville, about the extensive works of the Collins
Company, which is practically the source and centre of all the activities of the place. The company directly or
indirectly supports 2,500 of the inhabitants of the towns of Canton, Avon, and Burlington. Nearly all of Colinsville
lies in the town of Canton, but the boundary lines of Avon and Burlington pass through its southern part.
The Collins axes, of which no less than fifteen million have been manufactured, are known and used all over the
world. Before 1826 every axe was the hand-work of the common blacksmith. It was hammered out on the anvil and sold
without an edge, so that half a day's grinding was needed to make it useful. This circumstance is the cause of
the notion which still prevails on many farms, that an axe must be ground before use. The fact is, that no one
can improve upon the edge which the skilled workman puts upon the finished tool. A blacksmith of Somers, in this
State, named Morgan, whose axes had an excellent reputation, bought the steel for them from David Watkinson &
Co., of Hartford. This attracted to axe-making the attention of David C. Collins, a nephew of Mr. Watkinson, and
a clerk in his store, and he experimented in making some all ready for use, ground and polished, when sold. He
soon determined to undertake the business, and formed the firm of Collins & Co., with his brother Samuel W.
Collins and their cousin William Wells. This was in 1826. They bought the Humphrey grist-mill privilege, in the
south part of Canton, on Farmington River. In December 1831 the post-office of Collinsville was established at
what had been South Canton. Wages in the new factory, which were paid once a year, ranged from $12 to $116 a month,
with board, and eight forged axes were a day's work. Now, one man with a helper forges from one hundred and fifty
to two hundred.
In. 1829 the use of Lehigh coal was introduced, these being the first edge-tool works in the world to use the fuel.
In 1832 the factory was very much enlarged, and in that year Mr. E. K. Root, from Chicopee, Mass., was made the
superintendent. He was a man of peculiar mechanical skill, and several of his many inventions, though made forty
years ago or more, have never been supplanted or improved. One of these is the very essential machine for punching
the heads of solid axe-polls. Mr. Root remained at Collinsville seventeen years. In 1834 Collins & Co. were
succeeded by a corporation, the Collins Company, with a capital then of $150,000. Its capital has been increased
by cash contributions to $1,000,000, and it has paid a dividend every year of its existence since 1835. In 1867-1868
the company built a number of important works, including one of the most remarkable and finest dams in the country.
It is three hundred feet long and eighteen feet high, and is made of massive blocks of native granite, fastened
together and set into a groove cut in the solid rock-bed of the river bottom. The daily product of the works exceeds
three thousand tools. More than five hundred tons of steel and two thousand tons of iron, a large part of which
is manufactured by the company, are every year made into tools there, and, in grinding an edge upon these, over
six hundred tons of grindstones are worn to dust.
The success of the company is very largely due to the ability of the two remarkable brothers whose name it bears.
Samuel Watkinson Collins and David C. Collins were the sons of Alexander Collins and Elizabeth Watkinson, of Middletown
where the father practised law. He died in 1815, and his widow and family moved to Hartford.
David C. Collins was born in 1805. Upon the removal to Hartford as a boy he was taken into the family and the store
of his uncle, David Watkinson, in the iron business. His energy and keen
business judgment are evident in the manner in which, when only twenty-one years old, he projected the axe manufacture
and organized the firm of Collins & Co. Both brothers devoted their lives to this company.
Samuel W. Collins was born in September. 1802, at Middletown. He went to live with Edward Watkinson, for wimom
he became clerk. Here he developed such capacity for business, amid so much executive ability, that before he was
of age he was taken into partnership, time firm being Watkinson & Collins. In 1826 he became one of the new
firm of Collins & Co., and from that time devoted his great energies to the axe business. Mr. Collins, as the
resident manager and head of the company for so many years, occupied a most imnportant part in shaping its course,
and also the affairs of the community. He was singularly correct in his estimates of men, an admirable judge of
character, and quick to recognize talent and to encourage it. In all his intercourse with his employes he commanded
their respect and secured their affection. He was always interested in their welfare, and was such an earnest opponent
of strong drink, that he bought out at least two hotels and one drug-store to stop their liquor-selling, and paid
one man to sign a promise never to live within ten miles of the town. In all the deeds under which he sold land
to employes or others he inserted a clause prohibiting the manufacture or sale of liquor there, under penalty of
forfeiture of the land. Mr. Collins died in 1871, in the beautiful home which he had built upon the west side of
Farmington River. He had the satisfaction of seeing the work which he began in so small a way reach its great dimensions,
and of having the name of Collins known round the world, and recognized as a synonym for honest work.
* Canton, originally West Simsbury, includes Canton Centre and Collinsville, and. has a territory of about twenty-three
square miles. Settled, 1737 ; made a parish, 1750 ; incorporated as the town of Canton, 1806. Changes of area have
been: the early acquisition of a mile tier from New Hartford on the west, and the setting off in 1873 of about
one eighth of the town, to Simsbury on the northeast. In 1758 there were 64 tax-payers; in 1880 there were 2,299
inhabitants. Principal industries, the manufacture of edge tools at Collinsville, and agriculture.