A Factory becomes “One Man’s Museum” built on Yankee Ingenuity
“History Lives” in Canton, thanks to Frederick Robert Widen. Fred was employed as a pattern maker in the Edge Tool Factory (Collins Company) all of his life, beginning at age 16. He had a great love for this town, as well as an understanding of the historical role the Collins Company would play for future generations. He cherished the idea of preserving the “fast dwindling relics of bygone days.” In the 1930s, Fred became a collector of “junk” including artifacts and memorabilia that he thought might be of value to the town’s history. By 1940, his basement could house no more, so he sought larger quarters for his collection. The Collins Company had the foresight to loan him space in the recreational building and Fred moved his collection into its new home.
Collinsville Museum of Connecticut
“One Man’s Museum” included Fred’s collection of “Antiques – Curios and Oddities”. The public was rarely allowed inside the museum back then. Fred opened it up to the public once a year or by request. Bit by bit, the museum, bulging with items, took over practically the entire first floor. Fred’s collection of Company memorabilia (3,500 artifacts) became the “Collinsville Museum of Connecticut” in 1939.
Canton Historical Society, Inc.
The Collins Company closed in 1966, after 140 years in operation. A group of townspeople concerned with the fate of Fred Widen’s collection met November 17, 1966, and later formed the “Canton Historical Society, Inc.”. On April 5, 1970, the Society opened the “Canton Historical Museum” to the public, with a reception and open house. By the 1980s, the Canton Historical Museum featured a wealth of authentic 19th century Collinsville artifacts in displays and exhibits.
In its prime in the mid-19th century, the Collins Company was the “largest edge-tool manufacturer in the world.” Admiral Robert Peary’s expedition to the North Pole, the Harper’s Ferry raid by John Brown, and the Russian Trans-Siberian Railway all featured tools manufactured in the buildings of the Collins Company. It is the mission of the Canton Historical Museum to continue to highlight the contributions of the Company, its founders, and the town that grew up around it.