Category Archives: Spirit of Innovation

Connecticut’s early role in the Industrial Revolution and much more on display at the Canton Historical Museum




The name on the side of the large brick building overlooking the Farmington River is faded after nearly 200 years, but in the early decades of the Industrial Revolution, it proclaimed to the world that the Collins Company Axe Factory was located here.

The sprawling industrial complex launched in 1826 by a pair of 20-somethings, Samuel Watkinson Collins, 24, his brother David, 21, and their wealthy cousin, William Wells, made edge tools into the 20th century.  At its peak, the company’s product line numbered 1,300 different types of such tools.

The items produced here were used almost exclusively, it is said, on the Trans-Siberian Railway. Such was their quality, that Collins machetes were widely used in Central and South America. Their axes and picks made their way to the California Gold Rush and later Collins-produced bayonets were used in the Civil War.

The memory of those heady days is displayed in the Canton Historical Museum, housed in a three-story wooden structure that once was used by the Collins Company to finish and assemble agricultural plows.

Its collection tells the story of the company that used hydropower to begin mass-producing axes and other tools in this rural enclave a 30-minute drive from Hartford, the state capital. But the museum collection ranges from early Native American artifacts to the Victorian Age and even some well preserved inventions made by Thomas Edison.

Reminders of 19th century life also include a reconstructed general store, post office and  barber shop, a parlor featuring life-size mannequins wearing period wedding gowns. A hand-pulled piece of fire apparatus and a metal Civil War casket are among the more unusual items on display.


The Canton Historical Museum

11 Front St, Collinsville, CT 06019
(860) 693-2793


Unlocking the Past is Fun at the Lock Museum of America in Terryville

Lock Museum #2   

Eight rooms at the Lock Museum of America in Terryville contain more locks  than you are ever likely to see again in a single setting.  They come in all sizes, shapes and unusual designs.  Some more unusual than others.

Some begin in antiquity. There’s the 4,000 year-old Egyptian pin tumbler lock, for instance. And then there are the ornate locks and associated hardware, some quite dazzling.  In the Eagle Lock Room there are more than 1,000 locks and keys  that were made by that company during the 100-year span ending in 1954. 

The extensive collection is understandable, given that the museum is located across the street from where the Eagle Lock Company began operations in 1854. At one point it was the largest trunk and cabinet lock maker in the world.

The other major collections are to be found by company or theme, including those made by Yale, another old Connecticut manufacturer that traces its history to the 19th century. And then there’s the Bank Lock Room. 21

There are rooms featuring mounted door knobs, a large display of ornate hardware, including some that are gold plated.  There’s even an animated display that shows how a pin tumbler lock works.

And, as if that weren’t enough, the museum’s Antique Lock Room has an impressive display of locks from the Colonial era and some ornate European locks that date back to the 1500s.  And when you’re there don’t forget to see the Cannon Ball Safe and the large number of British Safe Locks.


 Lock Museum of America   (Opened seasonally, May through October)

230 Main Street

Terryville, CT 06786



Mr C’s Connecticut History Question



Photos, Top: Perry’s Victory, painted by William Henry Powell of Cincinnati in 1865; Bottom:  Pawcatuck River with former C.B. Cottrell & Son complex shown.

Q.  What do Oliver Hazard Perry, Hero of Lake Erie in the War of 1812 and C.B. Cottrell have in common?

A.  They both did business on the banks of the Pawcatuck River, which has formed the southern portion of Connecticut’s border with Rhode Island since at least 1636.

Calvin Bryon Cottrell, and his partner Nathan Babcock, were 19th century businessmen whose company C.B. Cottrell & Sons built printing presses into the 20th century on the river’s edge in the Pawcatuck section of Stonington.  Mr. Cottrell had more than 100 American and European patents to his credit.  At one time their company was the second largest pressworks manufacturer in the United States.

Commodore Perry, “We have met the enemy and they are ours”, played on the river as a child living in Westerly (RI) and later built gunboats there for the U.S. government.  That was before he sailed into harm’s way and won the important battle on Lake Erie against a formidable English fleet.

The naval engagement gave the U.S. Navy control of the Great Lakes.  The Perry-led victory severed the British supply lines and forced them to abandon Detroit.

A Virtual Visit to New London’s Stone Fleet


There’s been a lot of water traffic on the historic Thames River. It began with dugout canoes used by native peoples who lived on the river banks when the Europeans made their presence known in the 1600s.

The traffic continues to this day with the most sophisticated undersea craft of the nuclear navy and whole fleets of recreational craft. 

In between, there was all manner of merchant vessels making their way to and from the port of New London. None was more unusual than the Stone Fleet that set “sail” in 1861 bound for Civil War duty in Charleston Harbor, South Carolina.

Never heard of the Stone Fleet that left New London to join other ships, mostly former whalers, from New Bedford and Boston? The University of South Carolina can take care of that for you.  

The Fleet is long gone, but New London’s historic harbor is well worth a visit.

It’s Been Called the Quarry that Built Boston and New York City

brownstone zip           Brownstone little boy

It’s fair to say that not too many recreational water parks are designated a National Historic Landmark, which places it on the National Register of Historic Places. Well, Connecticut has one and it is steeped in history.

Today, the site, located in Portland not far from the Connecticut River, is known as the Brownstone Exploration and Discovery Park  and it is a recreational facility.

But as far back as 1689, the site was used to quarry the distinctive reddish-brown sandstone that was used in landmark buildings in some of this country’s major cities, including the well known “Brownstones” that line street after street in New York City and elsewhere.

Commercial quarrying didn’t begin here until 1783.  At its peak, in the latter half of the 19th century, 1,500 workers were employed in the difficult and sometimes dangerous tasks.  The stone cut out of the ground there was found to contain the tracks of birds, dinosaurs.

U.S. Rep. John Larson made that latter point in a letter supporting the National Register application. Who knows, he may have heard that from his great grandfather who as an immigrant from Sweden worked in the quarry.

Today, it’s all about fun. The adventurous can zip line it over the water after climbing the 80-foot rock wall. There is scuba diving, or just chilling out on or near the water.

Thinking about the history that came out of the ground here is optional as you have fun on the water.

Slater Memorial Museum at Norwich Free Academy


You would be hard pressed to find another museum in such a modest space that covers as much ground, touches on so much history and spans the globe in both history, art and, as it proclaims, wonder. It was founded in 1886 by William A. Slater in memory of his father, John, one of the pioneers of the Industrial Revolution in America.

Your voyage through time, space and art forms, begins with a dazzling display of plaster casts, some 150 important examples done by the masters and replicated from original works. These include examples of Egyptian, Greek, Roman and Italian Renaissance sculptures.

Also, there are examples of Asian art, African art and sections featuring Connecticut artists of the 20th century, as well as an exhibition of art and industry in the 19th century.

Shifting gears and displays, visitors can walk through some pretty nifty collections that tell the story of life in the city and the region over three centuries.  There’s the small cannon from the Revolutionary War era that was dredged from the city’s harbor. The armaments industry made Norwich famous, especially during the Civil War, as did the grandfather clocks, fine cutlery and other products made here.  Displays of all those and more tell the story of a place where innovation and industriousness made Norwich a center of commerce and renown.

The Slater  is a gift that still dazzles. It is located on the campus of Norwich Free Academy, itself a unique institution in Connecticut history.