Dr. Ambrose Beardsley

Dr. Ambrose Beardsley

If you know anything about the history of Derby, it's likely because of Dr. Ambrose Beardsley. He and Samuel Orcutt wrote the definitive history of early Derby - "The History of the Old Town of Derby, Connecticut, 1642-1880." Orcutt was a minister and writer who wrote histories of several towns including this one which he did in collaboration with Beardsley who lived and practiced in Derby.

Ambrose Beardsley was born in Monroe in 1811. At the age of 16, he was a school teacher, but he continued his education under the guidance of Dr. Stephen Middlebrook of Monroe and Dr. Charles Gorham of Pittsfield before graduating with honors from the Medical College in Pittsfield, MA in 1834. He arrived in Birmingham in 1835 and established his life long medial practice in Derby where he was respected not only for the quality of his work, but for the compassion with which his care was administered. He was married in 1837 and he and his wife Mary had two children, a son, Captain A. E. Beardsley who served in the Civil War with Colonel William Wooster and a daughter.  Their home was one of the most prominent in town and years later it became Holian's Inn which was operated for some time by another member of this year's Hall of Fame class, Jerry Denny. Beardsley died of kidney disease in Derby on October 30, 1884. A death notice in an area newspaper said, "By none will he be missed more than by the poor by whom he was always cherished, for in him they had always the utmost confidence. He dies comparatively poor, while younger physicians have heaped up riches around him. This can be accounted for from the fact that very seldom could he bring himself to the necessity of collecting a bill."

Besides the enormous respect that he earned as a physician in Derby, he was also very active in the community. He was the town treasurer for 25 straight years, a warden of the borough for eight years and the registrar of vital statistics. He (and his wife as well) was involved in charitable and religious activities (St. James Episcopal) as well and was a noted orator frequently called upon for public occasions. One his most famous orations occurred on October 10, 1870 at the dedication of the Ousatonic Dam where he gave a rousing speech highlighting Derby's history and prophetically describing the economic success and other major changes that would come from the dam.

He also sometimes played the role that today would be assigned to the coroner, and he played the role of forensic scientist in helping to solve one of the worst cases of serial murder by a woman in US History. His work and testimony resulted in the conviction of Lydia Sherman, one of the worst female serial killers in U.S. history.

A little known fact about Dr. Bearsley is that he was also responsible for the naming of Ansonia. According to Leo Molloy's "Terecentenary Pictorial and History of the Lower Naugatcuk Valley" when there was a discussion of what to name the land that Anson Phelps was developing on the east side of the Naugatuck River, Phelps objected to calling it Phelpsville because there was already another community named Phelpsville. Dr. Beardsley then suggested that they use Phelps first name - Anson -  and Latinize it to Ansonia. And you know the rest!

When Orcutt came to Derby looking to write his book, he turned to Beardsley for help. Beardsley helped find financial backers, but more importantly provided much of the information and writing in the voluminous work. Unfortunately, after the book was published, Orcutt and Beardsley had a falling out over the books publication and sales and exactly what role each played in its authorship. That does not detract from the importance of this

Writing in the foreword to his Derby book, Beardsley said, "...I tender my cordial thanks to the town and those individuals who have aided and encouraged its publication; resting assured that when the hand that now writes is moldering in the dust, many will feel grateful to the authors who have given to the public this History." He certainly was right about that, and with his induction into the Derby Hall of Fame, his wish has been affirmed!

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