With a little over 10,000 residents, Canton is one of the last towns in Hartford County before the Massachusetts line. It’s the kind of place where many of the original settler names on street signs match families living there today.
It’s also the kind of place people might assume is not worth a visit. True, Canton doesn’t offer the bustle and variety of more urban settings, but dismissing this spot would mean missing out on some great offerings. There’s a reason, after all, Canton — which includes the villages of Canton, Canton Center, North Canton, and Collinsville, each with its own post office — was named one of the Ten Coolest Small Towns in America by Budget Travel magazine in 2007.
9 a.m.: All rise for breakfast
If you want to get a feel for the spirit of Canton, the place to start is LaSalle Market & Deli. Located right on Collinsville’s Main Street, it’s where locals and visitors alike start their day with from-scratch casual food. On any given day you can find cyclists, hikers and, in the summer months, farmers market visitors hunkering down on the mismatched tables and chairs to eat. The chalk list of specials is long each day and everything is made on the premises. It’s hearty fare served on paper plates.
My other favorite breakfast spot is Giv Coffee, just a short drive away on Route 44. If lighter breakfast fare and outstanding coffee is your thing, Giv, which serves fair trade coffee roasted on site as well as a small selection of baked goods, is your place. Or stop by to pick up fresh coffee beans to take home.
One more breakfast side note: Nodine’s Smokehouse has a restaurant in Canton. If you love meat, go here. They smoke their own in their Goshen operation and this is meatlovers’ Eden. (You can also get lunch and dinner here.)
10 a.m.: Retailing it
Canton is not a shoppers’ mecca. But if you like boutiques, Collinsville has plenty to offer, all within walking distance outside LaSalle’s doors. Carol & Company across Main Street has fiber art, jewelry, home goods and more. America the Beautiful Country Store specializes in custom-made, solid-wood furniture built by Amish and Mennonite woodworkers in Pennsylvania. The store also has a plethora of one-of-a-kind gifts and home decor items such as braided rugs, soaps and linens. Blumen Laden is another eclectic shop, with everything from clothes and jewelry to dried flowers and other home decor items. Collinsville Artisan Co-op, right next door, celebrates all things local, from home decor to tote bags and more.
If you need a mall fix but with a village feel, Canton has that, too. The Shoppes at Farmington Valley, located on the former Canton Golf Course, is an outdoor shopping mall, with everything from Barnes & Noble to J. Jill, Old Navy and the Hitchcock Chair Co.
11 a.m.: Oldies and goodies
Antiquers won’t be disappointed in Collinsville. Antiques on the Farmington, appropriately located inside one of the former Collins Co. buildings, features more than 70 vendors with collectibles and antiques on two floors for just about every interest. It’s open 10-5 daily.
12:30 p.m. An ax to find
After antiquing, stop by the Crown & Hammer, located just across the parking lot in the former Collinsville Train Depot. Its name comes from the iconic symbols of the Collins Axe Factory. The fare is American with a twist. The goat cheese quesadillas are one of my favorites. Open for lunch and dinner, the pub hosts an open mic night on Tuesdays and live music on Fridays and Saturdays.
2 p.m. Get outdoors
Canton has something for serious outdoor enthusiasts or those just interested in walking off a bit of that lunch. The Farmington River Trail, which can be easily accessed right from the center of Collinsville, is an 18-mile loop trail that also links the towns of Farmington and Simsbury. It winds along the Farmington River, tracing the old “Canal Line” railroad and is an easy walk for all ages and stroller-friendly.
If you want to get into the woods, the Canton Land Trust oversees six properties in the town open for hiking at levels from easy to challenging. Another option is taking a hike up Sweetheart Mountain. The site of a former ski slope, you can still see remnants of the equipment if you hike up the side of the mountain that starts off Dunne Avenue. That’s also the spot where a young girl in the ’70s got her hair tangled in the rope tow and, when the tow started up again by accident, lost most of her hair. True story. Anyway, the mountain (a hill to any serious hiker) has wonderful views of Canton, the Farmington River and Nepaug Reservoir, depending on your trail.
I would be remiss if I didn’t mention that Canton is a watersports mecca of sorts. Collinsville Canoe & Kayak rents (and sells) canoes, kayaks and paddle boards for use right off their ramp on the Farmington River. The stretch of the river at that point is fairly smooth, so it’s easy for beginners to have some fun too. The company also offers guided moonlit tours, SUP (stand up paddle) yoga and lessons during the warmer months.
And when you’re done on the river, you can head over to Matterhorn Mini Golf for a virtual walk through the Alps. Another spot for easy walks and some lessons in nature is Roaring Brook Nature Center. Located in the middle of a neighborhood in Canton, the center is not a spot for people expecting 21st-century interactive gizmos. But if getting to see some rehabilitating animals and taking a walk into a replica of a Native American longhouse is your family’s speed, this is your place.
5 p.m. A place to un-wined
The perfect spot to unwind after a day of activities or just because is Francesca’s Wine Bar & Bistro in Collinsville. It has tasty food (and makes a good lunch or dinner spot), and is also a nice place to stop for a glass of Sancerre or Pinot Grigio and perhaps a cheese board.
7 p.m. Dinner and a show
Canton has a surprisingly large number of entertainment options for such a small town. Besides the live music at the Crown & Hammer, you could end your day at LaSalle’s for open mic nights on Friday or, on the last Saturday of the month, its Give Back Series in which all proceeds from the concert go to a local charity. But if you want to hear the pros on tour, then Bridge Street Live is the place. Located in Collinsville, the venue features live music and stand-up comedy most weekends of the year and has a speakeasy-style restaurant, the Green Door, on the premises so you can grab dinner and a concert with ease.
If you prefer live theater, Farmington Valley Stage Company is based in Canton and offers five productions a year in the auditorium of Canton Town Hall. On the schedule this season is On Golden Pond and A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum, among others.
Upcoming events in Canton
Stan Sullivan and Sean Della Croce concert — Doors open 7 p.m., concert begins 7:30 p.m., Roaring Brook Nature Center. The nature center has been hosting intimate music concerts for 40 years. Tickets are $20 in advance, $25 at the door. roaringbrook.org
Ricky Nelson Remembered: Starring Matthew and Gunnar Nelson — 8 p.m., Bridge Street Live. The venue offers concerts weekly most of the year. Tickets $35 for general admission, $45 for VIP reserved. 41bridgestreet.com
Nov. 17-Dec. 8
Canton Historical Museum Gallery of Trees — Sun.-Wed. 10 a.m.-4 p.m., Thu. & Fri. 10 a.m.-8 p.m., Canton Historical Museum. Local artists and businesses donate decorated holiday trees for a raffle to benefit the museum. It’s the perfect time to check out this local treasure that includes recreations of a 19th-century barbershop and an entire floor dedicated to two massive model train layouts. cantonmuseum.org
Christmas Champagne Walk — 6-9 p.m. Collinsville green area. Stroll the festive Collinsville streets, wandering from merchant to merchant and enjoying champagne and other beverages. Part of Christmas in Collinsville. visitcollinsville.com/champagne-walk
Christmas in Collinsville — Collinsville green area. Activities include everything from horse-drawn carriage rides to visits with Santa. For the full list, go to visitcollinsville.com/christmas-in-collinsville
5 facts about Canton
1. The first ready-to-use axes produced in the U.S. came from the Collins Co.
2. The Collins Co., founded in the early 1800s, built housing for its workers and their families, a Congregational church, bank, and other structures. The emerging factory town became known as Collinsville.
3. In the 1840s, the company expanded its business abroad with the machete; it sold more than 150 varieties of machetes in 35 countries, supplying 80 percent of the world’s machetes at that time.
4. The town of Canton, once part of Simsbury, was incorporated in 1806 and is comprised of four villages: North Canton, Canton Center, Canton and Collinsville.
5. The first LifeStar flight from Hartford Hospital was to Canton for an accident.
Canton offers homes with everything from multi-acre lots surrounded by woods to homes within walking distance of the schools and library.
For $225,000: A four-bedroom, 2½-bathroom, 2,159-square-foot ranch on 2.6 acres
For $384,000: A four-bedroom, 2½-bathroom, 2,640-square-foot Colonial on 6.01 acres
For $709,000: A five-bedroom, 3½-bathroom, 4,212-square-foot home on .86 acres
Mill rate: 32.03