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Derby's "Five Million Dollar Man"

Picture from  "The History of the Old Town of Derby, Connecticut, 1642-1880.

Had the City of Derby accepted a generous bequest from Joseph Arnold (pictured above), he might be remembered with many of the other great philanthropists who benefitted the City of Derby. When his will was probated in 1884, the New York Times reported that he had left a very generous and unusual bequest to the City of Derby.

As reported in the Times:

"In recognition of the uniform kindness and consideration of all the people of the town of Derby, of which Birmingham is a part, he gave the town 30 shares of the stock of the Birmingham National Bank".

Now that may seem generous, but not particularly remarkable until you look at the stipulations that he put on the money. He wanted the money to be held in trust and the value to be accumulated until it reached the sum of $5,000,000. He had gone so far as to estimate that it would take 125 years for that to happen. 1884 - 2009 -125 years - Eureka, where's the money? Well, unfortunately, they declined the bequest! The Times reported that a town meeting held in October 1885, some of the local mathematicians concluded that it would take 200 years to accumulate and that was too long to wait! So they voted to give up all claim to the money and it reverted to the donor's heirs!! No $5,000,000, not even the $5,000 in 1885 value! If the City had not declined the offer, a trustee board consisting of the President and Treasurer of the Bank and the Selectmen (now Aldermen) and Treasurer of the town would have served without pay. Would the value be $5,000,000 today? Several on-line services can calculate the value of a dollar in 1884 with today, and at least one of the services claims it would be $5,100,000 in 2009! Since it was in stock, it would be a bit harder to calculate, but the bank did survive the depression, and has gone through a number of mergers and acquisitions since, but the fact that the money was to be put in a trust and not touched until it reached $5,000,000 makes it very likely that Mr. Arnold's wishes would have come true!

"Here is a biography of his life taken from "The History of the Old Town of Derby, Connecticut, 1642-1880" when he was still alive:

Was born at Hadham, Middlesex county, Conn., September 16, 1811. He descended from Joseph Arnold and Daniel Brainard, two of the original twenty-eight who settled the town of Haddam.

Joseph, the subject of this sketch, was son of Jared and Susan (Brainard) Arnold ; received his education at the common and high schools of his native town ; made a sea voyage with his father when only fourteen years of age; was placed as clerk in a country store when fifteen, and at nineteen opened a dry goods store in Middletown in company with the old firm of Pease and Hayden The next year he bought out the other partners ; took another partner, and added the clothing business under the name of Arnold and Buckingham. Their business was highly prosperous until 1838, when the partnership was dissolved, Mr. Arnold remaining at the old store and Mr. Buckingham going to Portland, Me.

Finding himself threatened with serious pulmonary difficulty, in 1844 Mr. Arnold sold his business at Middletown and spent the next four winters in the West Indies, the Southern states and New York City.

His health being restored he accepted a position in the American Exchange Bank, New York city, but a few months after, being elected cashier of the Meriden Bank at Meriden, Conn., he removed to that place in 1849. In 1853 he was elected cashier of the Manufacturers' Bank of Birmingham, which was  reorganized in 1865 as the Birmingham National Bank. This office he accepted, and from that day to this has retained it with great credit to himself and satisfaction to the company and community.

In 1841 he married an estimable lady, Mary L., daughter of the Hon. Noah A. Phelps. She died in 1851.

Mr. Arnold may be classed among the self-made men. Being little aided by his primary education, but possessing an active, vigorous mind, which he has well stored with useful knowledge by reading, he has, by his own exertions, worked out thus far his successful career in life. In addition to his present responsible position in the bank he has occupied others, such as treasurer of school district, borough and town, and for a long time has been president of the Derby Savings Bank, the people having never found in him confidence misplaced. In his habits he is a model for imitation. Strictly temperate in all things, although physically infirm, he has been his own physician, discarding generally all drug medication. For twenty-six years he has scarcely been absent a day from his post of duty in the bank. Independent in his principles, circumspect in his daily walk, liberal without ostentation, faithful to his word in financial dealings with all persons, he has won for himself a most enviable reputation."


Correct answers were received from: Jack Vagnini, Ann Searles, Bob Ahearn, Fred Grant, Joe Dedo, Kimberley Shelton, Joe Melewski,  Millie Fatterusso, Robert Pasquini, Nick from Terryville, Jean Malone, Stephanie Anne D'Onofrio, Eileen Krugel, Sharon ?, and Jeffrey Tracz.

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