David K. Leff's The Last Undiscovered Place, (2004, University of Virginia Press, Charlottesville) unveils his experiences living in Collinsville and provides an entertaining and insightful metaphor for many Americans' perennial, aspirational search to discover meaning by attempting to find a "better place" to live.
From the book jacket ...
"With warmth and a keen eye for the nuances of history and place, David K. Leff offers this affectionate and insightful portrait of his adopted home in Collinsville, Connecticut, a village that looked perfectly ordinary until he fell prey to its rhythms and charms. The town taught Leff a new way of seeing his environment, and through this process he discerned what many Americans long for: a sense of community.
"When Leff began to look for a suitable place to raise a family, his criteria were familiar: an affordable fixer-upper with some character, pleasant neighbors, good schools, walkable streets, and attractive, natural surroundings. The suburbs around Hartford were uninviting, so he settled sixteen miles away in Collinsville, a village that grew up around — indeed was largely built by — the Collins Company, once the world's leading maker of edge tools.
"Collins, which supplied the pikes for John Brown's raid on Harpers Ferry, went out of business in 1966, and Collinsville settled into the decrepitude of many New England mill towns. But Leff found in Collinsville's battered factory buildings and struggling main street an extraordinary place. Built before the zoning codes that today keep most Americans in their cars, Collinsville's mixed use center has been preserved by industrious residents and a hilly topography marked by the presence of the Farmington River, which once drove the mill. The landscape designer Frederick Law Olmsted Sr. lived in the town at a time when Samuel Collins, the company's socially minded founder, was laying out his ideal village for workers and managers.
"Living at the center of Collins' creation years later, Leff has come to believe, like Olmsted, that human beings are deeply affected by their experience of landscape, and that local interaction — between parents and teachers, store owners and customers, bar regulars and volunteer firefighters — matters. The Last Undiscovered Place argues quietly but forcefully for looking at our landscapes more carefully, as Leff strives for a metaphorical Collinsville that can serve as a way to rediscover other places, those that already exist, and those still on the drawing boards of developers and planners.
"David K. Leff, author of numerous essays and stories for the Hartford Courant, and other periodicals, is Deputy Commissioner, Connecticut Department of Environmental Protection. He has served as chairman of the Collinsville Historic District Commission and as a volunteer firefighter, among other civic activities."
Bridge Street • Canton Road • Center Street • Main Street • Maple Avenue • Route 179