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At least one Collins Co. structure slated for demolition

Timeline not yet clear, but additional fencing slated to go up as early as this week

By John Fitts

Staff Writer

COLLINSVILLE – It appears nearly certain that at least one structure – known as the “lower forge/triphammer shop" – at the former Collins Company complex will very likely be torn down following the Town of Canton’s notices of violations for three structures at the site.

In early February, the town’s building official and fire marshal notified the property owner At Collinsville, LLC concerning unsafe conditions for some of the buildings on site.

“Specifically, the structures as numbered 65, 45 & 15 [Canal Street] have become unsafe, insanitary and deficient due to abandonment, lack of maintenance, lack of utilities, constitute a fire hazard, and are otherwise dangerous to human life and public welfare, thereby deemed as unsafe condition,” a letter from building official Rand D. Stanley to James W. Tilney, managing partner of At Collinsville, LLC, stated. “As noted in Code Section 116.1, unsafe structures shall be taken down and removed or made safe, as the building official deems necessary and as provided for in this section. The current condition require far more than a fence or barrier. These structures are currently in a state of collapse. Foundations, columns, beams, joists, rafters, roof sheathing and coverings, etc. have all suffered from years of neglect and must be dealt with.”

The structures referenced include the Granite building (#65) immediately south east of the rails to trails bridge over the Farmington River on the Farmington River Trail and the connected wheelhouse structure (#45). Additionally – behind those – is the former “lower forge/trip hammer shop (#15).

Town officials said the property owner has cooperated with the town – almost immediately covering some potentially dangerous points of entry with plywood.

Additionally, the owner has agreed to set up fencing around the buildings as early as late this week.

“They’ve agreed to fence the property which should be done by the end of [this] week. They’re just waiting for their contractor to get out there and set up a fence,” said fire marshal Timothy Tharau.

“Fencing is a temporary measure,” Stanley added. “It is a temporary barrier intended to protect the public – and the land owner. The building code requires when properties reach this stage that the owners either repair or remove. They make the decision. We don’t. They’re given the option.”

It seems clear that the structure known as #15 is coming down – although a timeline for that is not yet clear.

“They have indicated that they have been in discussion with a number of demolition contractors in order to secure pricing,” Stanley said.

“Yes, we are complying with the Fire Marshal/Building Official’s letters regarding the buildings on site,”James Tilney’s daughter Lisa confirmed in an email to The Valley Press. “A fence will be installed starting late [this] week to protect the area and ensure public safety while we work through the environmental and permitting issues associated with the demolition of the sheds.” In a follow-up email, she confirmed that the demolition for the "sheds" was for the structure known as the lower forge.

Additionally, At Collinsville, LLC engaged James K. Grant Associates, which specializes in structural engineering and historical preservation, to further assess the buildings. The report agrees that the #15 should be demolished.

“At this time, the Owner has decided to demolish Building 15. I agree with that decision,” Grant wrote in a report. “There are partial roof collapses in both buildings and portions that remain standing have deteriorated severely. Selective demolition in an attempt to preserve some elements of these two buildings will be more costly than total removal and will limit opportunities for future development. The objective is to take them down to the existing concrete floor slabs.”

The lower forge/trip hammer shop was originally built in 1859 as a 54 x100 feet and later extended to some 247 feet in length, according to "The Collins Company of Collinsville Connecticut," a history of buildings on site authored by Thomas Dunmore Ayres and Kathleen McLeod Taylor with photography by Gregory Kriss. (Taylor is Canton Town Historian and current property manager of the complex). The building was also heavily damage in the flood of 1955, but the book’s authors believe the company replaced many sections in ensuing years.

There seems to be better news when it comes to the granite building.

So far, all evidence suggests that the granite building, which is a prominent structure highly visible from the Farmington River Trail, will be spared.

"Building 65, known as the Granite Building, is one of the oldest buildings still standing on the Collins Company property. Building 45, the Wheelhouse, is actually the east wing of the Granite Building and was built at the same time. Unoccupied for decades, it has experienced some deterioration, notably, partial collapse of an area of the north wall,” Grant noted. “There is substantial community interest in preserving this building, as well as focused concern by the State Historic Preservation Office that demolition may be recommended. In recognition of its historic importance and community support, the Owner is determined to save the Granite Building.”

Grant’s report also includes a detailed narrative of the building’s condition and states the property owner plans to repair a large opening in the north wall of the structure.

Rand said he is certainly in favor of the idea of securing the granite building.

“Our concern was the condition of the granite building and with the assessment by a licensed structural engineer we’re more than happy to work with Mr. Tilney on the securing of that building to prevent any further degradation,” Stanley said.

The three-story granite building was built in 1846, according to "The Collins Company of Collinsville Connecticut" book. It is the oldest standing building at the complex and was “built to power Elisha Root’s die forging machines for making solid axe bodies,” according to the book.

The Wheel House is one-story, measured 33x34, was "built over a penstock" and "contained a water wheel," according to the book.

It's not immediately clear if the wheelhouse structure (#45) that Grant references as part of the granite building will remain standing.

As the town and property owner work through the issues, Stanley praised At Collinsville for its cooperation.

"They showed an absolutely understanding and willingness to work with the community and the town," he said.

The structures have been posted in accordance to the legal aspects of the building code as a means of protection for the community and for the building owner, he added.

"That’s really what this is about…. What we don’t need is a tragedy that affects the community in a negative way. ...It’s always a process and as long as there is clear communication and understanding there’s no reason why the town wouldn’t continue to work with the property owner.”

Set on approximately 19 acres along the Farmington River, the complex – from 1826 to the mid 1966 – was home to The Collins Company, a world-famous manufacturer of edge tools. Some in the area sometimes incorrectly think the area is abandoned as some 45 to 55 small businesses operate in several buildings, particularly from the center of Collinsville to the Farmington River Trail bridge.

The property itself has long been the subject of debate in town as several developers have looked to re-develop the site. In May of 2021, New York based developer Sheldon Stein proposed a mixed-use plan for the site. In August of 2021, the Canton Planning and Zoning Commission made changes in the Industrial Heritage (IH1) zone that regulates redevelopment of the complex, many of which were requested by Stein. And while Stein is no longer pursuing the project – reportedly for personal reasons – those changes are the subject of an ongoing appeal.

In February, a state of Connecticut Superior Court judge heard arguments in that case and a decision is expected soon.

Over the years, the town and the state have taken several steps to facilitate redevelopment, including the town’s Tax Increment Financing plan that would allow a portion of an increase in tax assessment that results from a project to go back into the project or related public improvements. Another example is 2021 $195,000 state Department of Economic and Community Development Municipal Brownfield Grant that funded the latest phase of environmental assessment and a final report should be available soon.

Meanwhile, potential developers continue to look at the property.

"We do continue to get developers who express an interest in the property and we meet with them and let them know all the incentives that are available and the benefits that they would incur from owning the property and developing it," said Canton Chief Administrative Officer Robert Skinner. "Obviously it’s the town’s hope that at some point the property would be developed and preserved.”

Editor's Note: Some reports and past studies of the Collins Co. use a different numbering system for its buildings.

Part of what is being referred to as #15 Canal Street is seen at the left of this photo, as well as the wheelhouse and Granite building. All three buildings were the subject of town action but the granite building - and potentially the wheelhouse - are likely to stay standing. In fact, according to an engineer's report, the wheelhouse is part of the granite building.

So far, indications are that the granite building will be secured.

A portion of 15 Canal St., the building slated for removal.

This building shows a small piece of the granite building at right (#65), the attached wheelhouse (#45) and the lower forge/trip hammer shop (#15).

A portion of 15 Canal Street.

This 2019 aerial shows the factory buildings that were recently the action of orders from the town of Canton. The long building in the rear - #15 Canal - is likely to be torn down at some point.


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