Historic Piano Returns to Canton

Canton Historical Society Acquires now has piece originally purchased by North Canton family.

The Canton Historical Museum’s recent acquisition of an 1830s Whittlesey piano, a gift of the Connecticut Historical Society who have had it in their possession since 1966 but decided it should be returned to Canton from where it originated.

It was bought in 1834 by General Ezra Adams, Jr. of North Canton, for his daughter Mary who married Warren Humphrey. However, she died at an early age and the piano was returned to General Adams house on West Simsbury Road, where it remained until around 1937 when the house was sold. An Adams family member acquired the piano, and in 1966 it was given to the Connecticut Historical Society where it was on exhibit until 1992. The piano was delivered by the Connecticut Historical Society to the Canton Historical Museum on May 17, 2012 and placed under the existing portraits of General Adams, his wife Abigail (Hurlburt), and son Elmer, all of which have been recently restored.

The piano was made by Oramel Whittlesey and his brothers from Salem, Connecticut. It is all hand made even to the cutting of the ivory and ebony keys. It is made of mahogany and rosewood with six hand-carved legs and ornate gold trim. Oramel Whittlesey was also gifted musically and founded the Vale Music School in Salem, which became quite prominent and flourished for many years until it burned to the ground.

In the Revolutionary War, Ezra Adams joined the Connecticut Militia with headquarters in New London. He rose through the ranks to become a general, and in 1824 he was appointed Brigadier General. His home in North Canton became a hub of activity. Being on a stagecoach route, North Canton thrived on all types of business activity of the times.

At the age of 25 Ezra Adams decided a general store was needed so he put an addition on the house and it became the main trading and social center of the village. Customers in addition to the amenities of a tavern could purchase all kinds of household items, cloth, clothing, farm implements, coffins, rum, tea and sugar, and they could also barter with butter, cheese and eggs.

The house served as a tavern and hostelry and was until the last Adams member passed away, the North Canton Post Office. Besides being a store owner, he owned a tannery nearby, made shoes and other leather goods, made buttons and button molds, manufactured and repaired harnesses, rented sleighs and wagons, hired out day laborers, employed 15 or 20 men, and performed many of the functions of a lawyer or notary. He represented the Town of Canton in the Connecticut General Assemblies of 1816, 1825, 1826 and 1832.

The piano is on permanent exhibit at the Canton Historical Museum in Collinsville and may be viewed during open hours of Wednesday through Sunday from 1 to 4 p.m.