It’s a conversation many Connecticut towns are familiar with: what to do with their shuttered factory, a focal point of their community.
Those conversations are back on the table again in the Canton village of Collinsville after a redevelopment plan was pitched in May.
While the factory closed decades ago, memories of Connecticut’s laboring past linger wherever you look.
“The Collins Company was founded in 1826,” explained deputy town historian David K. Leff. “They made hundreds of different kinds of edge tools.”
While the community was built around the Collins Axe Factory, “Workmen needed places to live, they needed places for their children to go to school.”
It’s how to repurpose these buildings that’s been a pressure point on the town since the mill’s closure.
“There’s been little maintenance since 1966 and a lot of the buildings are falling apart,” said Leff.
Over the years, community members have heard redevelopment pitch after pitch, but the most recent one seems to be sticking.
And while it’s still very early in the process, it’s sparking a lot of discussion among locals because it’s a place they love.
“The mentality, the feelings, the spirit of this town, the community, it’s around this building,” said Chris Corso, Collinsville resident and owner of Bridge Street Rustics.
More than 50 businesses, like Corsos’, already call one habitable spot of the factory home.
Some have questions about the proposal for more than 200 apartments and where current businesses will go.
“If we can develop this responsibly maybe a few less apartments and a few more mom and pop type shops, that’s what this town needs, that’s what this town was built on and what this town was going to thrive on,” said Corso.
But it’s tough to deny parts of the property need major TLC.
“Everyone who comes in here and sees this thing for the first time, says, ‘Look at this thing. It has huge, huge potential it could be a regional magnet for so much development,’’ said Canton First Selectman Bob Bessell, who says community members will be able to voice their opinion this fall.
Bessel sent a letter to residents earlier this week.
“There’s a lot of controversy. It’s a big change and it’s a project could be done right and less that right,” said Leff.
This summer there's already much talk about taxes, tradition, keeping the town quaint, and not too crowded, while not letting this historic spot spoil.
“We’re a practical town and we’re going to make this decision the practical way, if it makes sense, we’ll do it,” said Bessell.
Practical just like the pre-sharpened axes made by Collinsville laborers 100 years ago.