Sheldon Smith was a man of vision who saw the possibilities of manufacturing in
Derby and then worked to make it happen changing the face of Derby in the process.
A native of Derby (born on Gilbert Street), he moved to Newark, NJ and
made a fortune. In 1833, he started his great manufacturing enterprise
in what is now the downtown part of Derby. At that time, life centered
not in the downtown area, but on the other side of the Naugatuck River
in "East Derby". That was all about to change thanks to Smith and
partners like Anson Phelps.
They dammed the Naugatuck River and built
a reservoir and canal to provide water to the newly developing area.
Main Street was developed, only back then it was called Second Street.
For a short period of time the area was even called "Smithville" before
finally being named Birmingham. The new area flourished and new homes,
shops and streets were built. Smith had hired John Cloues to lay out
streets through the area, and to this very day you can see Smith's
legacy on Caroline, Minerva and Elizabeth streets which were named for
Smith donated the land on the north and east sides of the new public
commons for Methodist and Episcopal Churches while his business partner
Anson Phelps donated land on the west side for the Congregational
Church. The commons was given to the city to remain forever a "Public
Green" and it remains so to this very day.
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