Archive for the ‘Derby’ Category

Sterling Opera House (1889)

Saturday, December 13th, 2008 Posted in Derby, Italianate, Theaters | 3 Comments »


The industrial village of Birmingham, initially developed by such entrepreneurs as John I. Howe, Anson Greene Phelps and Sheldon Smith, continued to industrialize and was incorporated as the City of Derby in 1893. With growth came labor unrest. In 1901, after seventy woman in the underwear room of the Paugussett Mills had been on strike for 54 days, Samuel Gompers, president of the American Federation of Labor, arrived in Derby at the invitation of Stephen Charters, head of the local carpenters union. In one day, Gompers negotiated a settlement and the next night announced the results to a packed audience at the Sterling Opera House, on Elizabeth Street, facing Derby Green. The Italianate-style Opera House, named for Charles Sterling of the Sterling Piano Company, was completed in 1889 and was in use until 1945. Many famous individuals, from Harry Houdini to Amelia Earhart, appeared at the Sterling during its time as a vaudeville palace. The two lower floors were used as the Derby city hall and police station until 1965. The building was designed by H.E. Ficken (who was also involved in creating Carnegie Hall). He modeled the Hall’s triangular seating plan on the ideas of German composer Richard Wagner as realized in the famous Bayreuth Festspielhaus in Bavaria. The Sterling became known for its excellent acoustics. Planning for the restoration of the building, begun several years ago. Work began and then stalled for some time, but continued renovations of the exterior are now underway.

The John I. Howe House (1845)

Thursday, December 11th, 2008 Posted in Derby, Greek Revival, Houses | No Comments »


As resident physician in the New York City Almshouse, Dr. John Ireland Howe observed how English residents laboriously made pins by hand. In 1831, Dr. Howe invented a pin-making machine and founded the Howe Manufacturing company in New York in 1835 to produce pins. In 1838, he moved the company to Birmingham, a section of Derby which would later become the City of Derby. The Howe Pin Company grew as Howe perfected his methods with additional patented inventions. In 1910, Howe‘s son donated his original Pin Machine to the Smithsonian. Howe’s stone house, constructed in 1845 on Caroline Street in Derby, was perhaps built by Lucius Hubbell, who constructed other stone houses in Derby and Shelton. The house, now owned by the Derby Historical Society, will eventually house the Lower Naugatuck Valley Industrial Heritage Center.