Four New Plaques for Downtown
The second set of plaques highlighting significant places and events in Derby highlight an era when Derby was the financial center of the entire Valley signified by the thriving financial institutions along the north side of Main Street. Starting at the corner of Main and Olivia Streets, the plaques are being installed on the current Cohen & Thomas office building, the Senior Center, the Twisted Vine Restaurant and Derby City Hall. Many don't know the origins of the current structures prior to their current uses, but the plaques installed by the Department of Public Works tell the story. The Cohen & Thomas building was once the home of the Derby Savings Bank. The Senior Center housed The Home Trust Company and the Twisted Vine Restaurant was The Birmingham Savings Bank. The current city hall is much newer, but prior to being converted to City Hall, it was the home to a later Derby Savings Bank office and its successor Webster Bank. The plaques at City Hall and the Senior Center were funded by the city while the plaque at Cohen & Thomas was sponsored by Cohen & Thomas. Bill Malerba paid for the plaque at Twisted Vine as an example of the public-private partnership that is making the Historic Signage Project possible.
Earlier story and project description:
The Historic Signage Project for Derby's 350th Begins
May 13, 2023 marks the 348th birthday for the City of Derby and it also marks the beginning of the countdown to Derby's upcoming 350th on May 13, 2025 with the official start of the Borough of Birmingham Historic Signage Project. The Borough of Birmingham is better known today as "downtown" and it is undergoing a major redesign and redevelopment along Main Street/Rt. 34. Once the area was the retail hub of the Valley with thriving businesses and industry. A slow decline after World War II left the south side of Main Street devastated as every building was eventually torn down. Today however. the landscape is undergoing a transformation as the State Department of Transportation is remaking Main Street/Rt. 34 and the first new development in decades is underway. The Derby-Shelton Bridge is also getting a makeover and the train station will be getting a complete renovation starting in 2024 to help complement the transit oriented development expected to flourish in the old Borough.
Earlier this year the Board of Aldermen/Alderwomen approved the historic signage project designed to help preserve the rich history of the area by placing signage throughout the area over the next two years to help tell that story. On May 13 plaques were placed on three of the buildings in the area that are currently listed on the National Register of Historic Places - The Harcourt Wood Memorial Library, the Sterling Opera House, and the Birmingham Green Historic District A fourth plaque has also been placed on the Brian Dennehy Bridge over the canal on Roosevelt Drive. The Board of Aldermen had named the bridge for Dennehy in 2005, but no signage had been placed until now.
Each of the plaques is 8" X 10" and includes the seal of the city designed by Derby High School art teacher Marianne Feroce in 2006 and a summary of the site's historical significance. Members of the committee in addition to Aldermen DiGiovanni are Jack Walsh, Randy Ritter, Dr. Joseph Dirienzo, Mike Kelleher, City Clerk Marc Garofalo, and Alderwoman Dr. Anita Dugatto. In addition to researching the sites, the committee will also be working with future site owners to develop the language for their plaques.
Alderman DiGiovanni took time from his schedule over the last three days to plan and implement the installation of the bronze plaques at the entrance to Derby Public Library, on the front of the Sterling Opera House and on the remnants of the old fountain base across the street at the entrance to the Historic Birmingham Green. He also restored the stone work on the base of the fountain which was badly deteriorated.
These plaques will be added to over the next two years to commemorate other people, places and events in the area. The Historic Signage Committee has developed and continues to add to an interactive Google map highlighting possible future locations to be included.
The goal of the committee is to have all of the plaques installed in time for the official birthday in 2025not only as a celebration of its rich past, but also a sign of future growth with much of the south side of Main Street being developed or in progress by 2025. Owners of individual properties would be able to purchase appropriate plaques for their properties and the city would handle those on municipal properties. we'll have more information about that process in the weeks ahead. However, if you are interested in learning more simply send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org and a member of the committee will contact you to discuss the process and costs.
For an earlier news article about the origins of this project, click here.
Story updated on October 2, 2023