The Valley is a special place. The culture, comradery, and the shared efforts to improve the quality of life for everyone in this region are just some of the characteristics of our community. Below are some notable individuals and families who impacted the Valley during their lifetime, upon their death, and established legacies that are still supporting the Valley today and will do so for many years to come. Looking forward to continued growth in local philanthropy, we draw strength from a spirit of generosity and civic mindedness that has been part of the Valley’s identity for generations.
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 several youth programs in her lifetime. When she died in 1987, Matthies left a trust in her estate to support social and community needs in Seymour and the Valley. The Foundation awards more than a half-million dollars annually.
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.
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 Community Foundation for Greater New Haven, enabling it to become the largest grantmaker in the Valley.
When she was only 31, the daughter of Wilbur Fisk Osborne took over the family’s various 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. She donated land along the river for the Derby Recreation Camp. Kellogg entrusted to the state her 350-acre farm which is now the Osborndale State Park and Osborne Homestead Museum. A portion of her estate left in trust to the Derby Neck Library continues to fund the operations of both the Museum and the Library.
George 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 1901, 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. Bruce willed a sizeable 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.
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 David Wells Plumb, Osborne also died before seeing the new library open.
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.
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.
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 with Griffin Hospital, in memory of his first wife, Mary Russ. He later created the Russ Fund, Inc., for the deserving needy of the community.
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 the Valley Community Foundation honors his legacy of encouraging others to pursue their education.
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 Greater New Haven for the benefit of Valley residents.
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.
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, and $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.