It's a pretty big deal for any town to see its own history come undone. The vacant buildings known as Ideal Forging are now inextricably linked to their proposed future called Greenway Commons, a large mixed-use complex consisting of both residential and retail components.
Many long-time residents have ambivalent feelings about the project. The structures sat empty for decades. The project itself has been slow to start since its initial plans were first introduced in 2005.
To see any change at all stirs up memories of a time when many gathered there, not to witness demolition, but instead to make a life by steady employment.
Howard Schlesinger of Meridian Development Partners LLC of New York is the man behind the project. The firm touts several accomplishments of huge proportions.
The potential Greenway Commons may look good on paper, but for some residents, envisioning a completed development prompts reservations to fully embrace the idea.
"I'm happy to see a beginning take place. Schlesinger's high plans are ambitious and I only hope they come to fruition. Sometimes projects as big as this start out OK, but then remain 'half done' for years as a result of the funding not coming through," said Angie Nonemacher, referring to the state funding aspect Schlesinger is trying to secure to pay for site remediation. Nonemacher worked at Peck, Stow & Wilcox Co. for 20 years.
While the building bears remnants of the name Ideal Forging, the complex known as Peck, Stow & Wilcox Co. employed numerous residents for decades dating back to 1785-1795 under iterations of the combined names, Roys & Wilcox, Solomon Stew and Seth Peck.
In 1870, the consolidated Peck, Stow & Wilcox Co. expanded their business manufacturing various tinware, tools and household goods to international markets.
World War II initially benefitted the company, causing a demand for products like gun mounts. Women were hired to replace men at war. Later, changes resulting from competitors such as Stanley Tool in New Britain caused cuts in hours and a lay-off of 400 employees. Ideal Forging Co. bought the land much later, past the heyday of the industry in the 1970's.
Walter Hushak a 30-year employee of Peck, Stow & Wilcox Co., seemed philosophic about Greenway Commons projections.
"Any best-laid plan is dynamic in the sense that it's always changing. At Peck, Stow & Wilcox Co., change happened gradually and it seemed well intended at the time. Businesses need to do their due diligence, and even with that, no one really knows how the outcome will be. Progress in the world can only come about by trial and error," said Hushak.
Both Hushak and Nonemacher referred to a letter to the editor written by Walter Cook and published in the Record Journal. There, Cook spoke of Pexto, (singular company name) being more like a home to the burgeoning immigrant population at the time. With no overtime pay or pension plans, workers excelled in their jobs nonetheless, and often encouraged their children to seek better opportunities. Cook called this generational urging the "human element" aspect to the Pexto story.
The human aspect of Greenway Commons is how people feel about it. Will it be a positive opportunity for Southington? The change will be a gradual one and hopefully completed with state funding. The only way of knowing if it will be better, is when it succeeds and brings new life to something that ended a long time ago.