Smart Investment: A History of Giving Back to the Valley
The Valley Community Foundation turned ten in 2014, marking a decade of community leadership, increasing local philanthropy, and support for organizations that lift up the lives of residents throughout the region. In looking to our continued growth we draw strength from a spirit of generosity and civic mindedness that has been part of the Valley’s identity for generations.
Sheldon Smith (d. 1867) & Anson Phelps (d. 1853)
The investment and drive of these two industrialists created a manufacturing center in what became Derby and Ansonia. They dammed the Naugatuck River and built a reservoir and canal to provide water power. And, they set aside a public commons that would become the Derby Green. Smith donated the land on the north and east sides of the new public commons for Methodist and Episcopal Churches, while Phelps donated land on the west side for the Congregational Church.
David Wells Plumb (d. 1893)
An industrialist, State Representative, and major investor in the Ousatonic Dam, Plumb was also an active philanthropist. He paid for the land, plans, and design of Riverview Park. He was also interested in improving educational opportunities. He was the major force behind the creation of Shelton’s first public library on the second floor of the Pierpont block. He died before a permanent home was built, but his widow donated the land and his fortune was used to construct the beautiful Plumb Memorial Library, now listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
Wilbur Fisk Osborne (d. 1907)
At about the same time as Shelton was erecting the Plumb Memorial Library, plans for another public library were underway across the Housatonic River. Wilbur Fisk Osborne, the wealthy member of a prominent Derby manufacturing family, founded the Derby Neck Library first by donating the books and then by persuading Andrew Carnegie to help finance the construction of the building that is still in use today. Like Plumb, Osborne also died before seeing the new library open.
Col. Holton Wood (d. 1912)
The turn of the century was a fertile time for libraries in the Valley. Colonel H. Holton Wood, president of Derby Street Railway Company, and his wife, donated funds for the land, building, $5,000 for books for the Derby Public Library. The gift was dedicated in memory of their son, Harcourt, who died February 1897 at the age of eleven.
George Griffin (d. 1901)
Griffin’s family owned a Shelton factory that was the world’s leading producer of horn buttons at the turn of the century. When he died in 1909, he left more than $50,000 to construct a new building for the Derby Hospital. The trustees were so grateful, that they changed the hospital’s name to honor the benefactor. His brother, Bruce Griffing, served as the president of Griffin Hospital for 20 years.
Gen. Charles H. Pine (d. 1915)
Decades before vocational schools were common, Gen. Charles H. Pine left a portion of his fortune to establish a place to educate boys and girls seeking jobs in the trades. Pine grew up in a family of modest means to become the president of Ansonia National Bank, a director of various corporations, and speaker of the State House of Representatives. The Charles H. Pine Manual Training School building is now the home for a satellite location of the Boys and Girls Club of the Lower Naugatuck Valley.
Bruce Griffing (d. 1933)
The inheritor of the Griffin Button Company, Bruce Griffing upon his death willed a sizable portion of his fortune to establish a trust fund for children’s programs in Derby and Shelton. The fund continues to this day, supporting various local youth-serving organizations.
Friend A. Russ (d. 1933)
A leading Valley industrialist in the first half of the 20th century, Russ was a well-known benefactor of many institutions. In 1915, he presented the Derby Lodge of Elks, with a check to pay off the mortgage on the building. A few years later he funded a new home for nurses the Griffin Hospital, in memory of his first wife, Mary Russ. He later created the Russ Fund, Inc., for the deserving needy of the community.
Katharine Matthies (d. 1987)
Born in 1903, Matthies came from a family whose members were leading industrialists in Seymour throughout the 19th century. The heiress to the family fortune, Matthies was active in the national, state and local societies of the Daughters of the American Revolution, and she served for many years on the Seymour Board of Library Directors. She participated in many charitable activities and supported many youth programs in her lifetime.
When she died in 1987, Matthies left in trust in her estate to support programs that meet social and community needs in the lower Naugatuck Valley, with special consideration to Seymour. The Foundation awards more than a half-million dollars in grants annually.
Frank and Ross Gates (d. 1952 & 1954)
Descended from early settlers of Derby, Frank and Ross Gates both grew up to be highly successful businessmen. While Ross moved to New York, Frank stayed close to home and became known as the “Earl of Derby” for his civic spirit and generosity in supporting many local organizations. In 1918, he convinced Yale University to build a boathouse on the Housatonic River. In 1938 the brothers created trusts in the family name at The New Haven Foundation, enabling it to become the largest grantmaker in the Valley.
Frances Osborne Kellogg (d. 1956)
When she was only 31, the daughter of Wilbur Fisk Osborne took over the family’s various manufacturing businesses against the advice of the lawyers for the estate, and led them to new heights. Stern but compassionate, Kellogg was known to deliver groceries and coal to employees who were suffering hard times. Kellogg also built up the renowned Osborne Dairy Farm, and bred champion Holstein cows. She donated land along the river for the Derby Recreation Camp. Upon her death, Kellogg entrusted her 350-acre estate to the public. The grounds and building are now the Osborndale State Park and Osborne Homestead Museuem. She also left $1 million in trust to the Derby Neck Library, which continues to fund its operations.
Rev. Julian Augustus Taylor (d. 1981)
Serving Ansonia for 42 years as the pastor of Macedonia Baptist Church, the Rev. Taylor is credited with mentoring countless Ansonia residents, emphasizing the importance of education, racial equality and helping youth. The Rev. Taylor founded the Valley Branch of the NAACP in 1944. He helped to integrate the Valley YMCA at a time when racial segregation was prevalent and also founded the Junior NAACP. A scholarship at VCF honors his legacy of encouraging others to pursue their education.
Raymond Lavietes (d. 2003)
The owner of Shelton Products, Shelton Plating Co. and founder of Derby Sponge Products, Lavietes was a civic and philanthropic leader. He was the founder and director of the Boys & Girls Club of the Lower Naugatuck Valley. When the old clubhouse burned down, he donated the property for a new building. He was also a director and president of the Derby-Shelton Community Chest, chairman of the Todd Scholarship Fund, and elected to the Junior Achievement Hall of Fame.
Franklin Farrel III (d. 2003)
The Farrel family’s philanthropic history dates back 150 years. Franklin’s grandfather funded the construction of Ansonia’s Macedonia Baptist Church in 1892 when a group of Farrel Company employees needed a permanent place to worship. He later donated the bell in the Church belfry and the memorial stained glass window in the Church’s sanctuary. Franklin’s father was known to personally deliver food baskets to the sick and needy in his community on his own horse and buggy. Franklin, himself, donated a block of stock to the Church in honor of a loyal company employee and member of the congregation. Franklin made his most lasting gift with a trust that became a permanent fund at The Community Foundation for the benefit of Valley residents.
Special thanks to Randy Ritter, Jack Walsh, Patricia Sweeney and Paula Norton for assistance with locating source material. Photos provided by Derby Historical Society, Derby Neck Library and New Haven Register.