With warmth and a keen eye for the nuances of history and place,
David K. Leff offers this affectionate, insightful portrait of his
adopted home of Collinsville, Connecticut, a village that looked
perfectly ordinary until he fell prey to its rhythms and charm. The
town taught him a new way of seeing his environment, and through
this process he discovered what many Americans long for amid the
suburban sprawl decried in James H. Kunstler's The Geography of
Nowhere and many other recent books: 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
historical 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 small 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 familiar decrepitude of many New England mill
towns. In spite of its half-alive state, Leff found in its battered
factory buildings and struggling main street an extraordinary
place. Built before the restrictive zoning codes that today keep
most Americans in their cars for hours on end, 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 here at a time when Samuel Collins, the socially
minded founder of the company, was laying out his ideal village for
workers and managers.
Leff feels Olmsted's presence as he walks the village's uneven
streets, often in the company of his children, musing on its
history, politics, and architecture. Living at the center of
Collins's 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
that are still on the drawing boards of developers and
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