The City of Derby has selected five new members to its Hall of Fame for 2009. They include the two men responsible for the industrial growth of Derby and the development of its downtown, a Civil War hero who went on to be Chief Justice of the Connecticut Supreme Court, America’s first prima donna, and a local doctor renowned for his compassion and personal care.

The Class of 2009:
Sheldon SmitAnson PhelpsSheldon Smith and Anson Phelps were the two men most responsible for bringing industry into the area of Derby that came to be called Birmingham. Smith was born in Derby, but moved to Newark, New Jersey where he made his fortune before returning to Derby and beginning the development of the new “downtown” area in 1833. They put a dam on the Naugatuck River and built a canal and reservoir to bring water to the downtown area fueling the development of industry and retail commerce. For a short period of time the area was known as Smithville before changing to Birmingham. Prior to this, commercial activity had been centered around Derby Landing and Uptown Derby on the eastern bank of the Naugatuck River.

Smith also persuaded Phelps to become his business partner and invest in Derby. One of the first ventures was the recently demolished copper mill built between First and Second (now Main) Streets. The two eventually split as business partners, but they continued as community and business leaders. They were responsible for the layout of the streets in the downtown area and the development of the Derby Green. In fact, Caroline, Minerva and Elizabeth Streets are named for Smith’s daughters, and Olivia Street is named for Phelps wife. In addition there is a Smith Street and an Anson Street. Better known is Derby’s other borough – Ansonia – which was named after Phelps and is today a city of its own!

Phelps and Smith also donated the land around the Green for the churches that surround it and give it its distinctive New England town green mystique to this day.

David TorranceDavid Torrance was born in Scotland, but Derby came to be his home. During the Civil War, he served with distinction as a captain on the Union side. At the end of the war, he settled in Derby and began the practice of law in a prominent firm headed by his Civil War comrade in arms William “Burr” Wooster. Torrance served in the state legislature and was elected Secretary of State in 1879. He became a judge in the state judicial system in 1881 and rose through the ranks to become Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Errors in 1901. He also served as a professor of law at Yale University.

Clara KelloggClara Louise Kellogg was born in South Carolina in 1842, but lived in Derby in her early years. Her study of music eventually brought her to the New York Academy of Music where she starred in their production of Rigoletto launching one of the first great careers by an American opera singer. At the time, many believed that American’s weren’t capable of competing with Europeans when it came to opera. She proved the doubters incorrect by traveling throughout Europe where she became recognized as America’s first prima donna. At one point in her career, she did return to Derby to play a benefit concert in the old Gould Armory on Main Street. She died in New Hartford in 1916, and her career is captured in her autobiography “Memoirs of an American Prima Donna.” The Derby website also has links to a 1937 Dupont Cavalcade radio play about her life.

Dr. Joseph StygarDr. Joseph S. Stygar’s name is well known to Derby residents as one of the city’s senior housing projects, Stygar Terrace, is named for him. He opened his practice on Main Street in Derby in 1934 in the old Howard & Barber’s building and was well respected for the personal care that he provided his patients. He was the city’s health officer and active in many civic groups in town. He also served in the military during World War II. Long before Medicare and Medicaid provided health coverage for the needy, Dr. Stygar was noted for his care of those in need at his own expense. Some say that he literally worked himself to death for the benefit of others.

The new members join 15 others previously elected to the Hall of Fame which was started in 2007. The Hall of Fame is located on the Hall of Fame Plaza on the Division street entrance to the Derby Greenway. Members of the Hall of Fame are recognized with bricks placed around the National Humane Alliance in the Plaza and their achievements are recognized in the Hall of Fame section of the City website.

 

 


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