YOUR SILENT NEIGHBORS, Walter J. Soudant, Main Street Merchant
by David K. Leff
Town Poet Laureate and Deputy Town Historian
Born in Falls Village, Connecticut, Walter J. Soudant (1850-1928) moved with his family to Goshen as a child. He came to Collinsville at age 17 and went to work as a clerk in the store of George H. Barber. Three years later, the business was sold and in 1872 Soudant went into partnership with Jules E. Goodman who ran a dry goods and grocery store in the southeast corner of the first floor of the Valley House. Goodman moved into the space in 1867, the year the Collins Company-owned hotel opened.
In 1875, Soudant bought out Goodman’s interest, and a few years later expanded into the adjacent storefront. After 52 years, he sold the concern to Carl Svenson, not for a lack of confidence in the business climate of Collinsville, he said, but due to ill health.
Soudant worked long hours in the store and relaxed at home, especially on Sundays. He wasn’t much of a joiner and didn’t indulge in hobbies. Nevertheless, he was civic minded and served in a variety of capacities. Among other activities, he was on a committee in 1917 to make Christmas gift boxes for soldiers during WWI, and the following year took castoff clothes and other items to Hartford for shipment to destitute people in Belgium. In 1919, he chaired a town meeting and served on a committee to look into the donation of a library by Mrs. Howard Collins. He was an election moderator in 1922, and the next year was on a committee to recommend whether the town should establish a board of finance.
In 1915, two poems appeared in the Farmington Valley Herald under the initials W.J.S. Apparently, some thought Soudant was the author, and he endured “some good natured chaffing from his friends.” But on July 9 of that year, the Herald advised readers that the “old time merchant . . . has not turned to writing poetry in his older days.”
Soudant was surprised when he was nominated to run for state representative on the Republican ticket in 1924. He served in the 1925 legislature. During his term in office, he was approached by state librarian George Goddard who wanted him to convince the Collins Company to donate a John Brown pike to the state library.
Married to Julia Williams, the couple had two daughters and a son. They lived at 13 South Street. The family attended the Collinsville Congregational Church.
Soudant died at home after a long bout of “pernicious anemia,” according to the Herald. Although he had been in pain for some time, the end came suddenly. The funeral was held at the family home and conducted by Reverend William Merriman of the Collinsville Congregational Church.
“His business career was characterized by hard work, sound judgement and the highest integrity in dealing with his fellow men,” according to a tribute by G. A. Beers that appeared in the Herald.
Walter J. Soudant is buried in the Village Cemetery, Collinsville.
“Your Silent Neighbors” introduces readers to people out of Canton’s past. Readers are encouraged to visit these gravesites and pay their respects to the people who have helped make our community what it is today.
A special thank you to Town Historian Kathy Taylor who generously shared information on Mr. Soudant.