Derby Historical Society Open House

A trip to the David Humphrey’s House on Elm Street, Ansonia, when he was in the fifth grade proved unexpectedly thrilling to Jason Edwards.

“I never knew how much history Ansonia had,” Jason, a junior docent, said Sunday afternoon when he appeared at the historic homestead dressed in colonial clothing helping to re-enact what life was like there in 1762.

The occasion was the annual Twelfth Night open house of the Derby Historical Society, which uses the David Humphreys House as its headquarters and history museum. But why 1762?

That was the year when David Humphreys, who grew up to be a famous Revolutionary War army officer and the first American ambassador to Portugal, was 10-years-old, the age of a youngster in the fifth grade today.

Each year, fifth-graders in Derby and Ansonia (Ansonia was part of Derby until 1889) are introduced to local history through a visit to the historic Humphreys House, just as Jason, an Ansonia Middle School eighth-grader, did three years ago.

“When they come here, we tell them you’re all friends of David Humphreys,” said Ginny Ellis, a retired docent for the historical society who was also dressed in a circa-1762 costume for the Twelfth Night open house event.

It makes the experience that much more real if the youngsters can picture themselves with actual people who lived there 250 years ago. And many of the re-enactors at this Sunday’s program were playing actual figures from local history, too. Ellis said she was portraying Miriam Bowers Washburn, who was the daughter of one of the town’s constables.

“The people we play are actually real people from colonial days,” she said.

Sunday’s open house was a family-friendly event that featured crafts projects for children, a Revolutionary War musketry demonstration by members of the 6th Connecticut Regiment re-enactment group, carol singing by docents and junior docents, and plenty of food and cider to eat and drink.

Genuine colonial-era food was included on the menu for guests, including “bubble and squeak,” a cabbage and potatoes dish, and “Hoppin John,” a mixture of black-eyed peas and rice.

Joy Donini, the Derby Historical Society’s volunteer coordinator, said about 30 volunteers helped put on the program, including more than a dozen junior docents ranging in age from six to 18.

Donini said the junior docents learn much about local history, including how colonial-era residents made clothing, ground flour, churned butter and cooked.

A popular attraction this weekend was the musketry demonstration by members of the 6th Connecticut Regiment. Dave Loda portrayed Col. Humphreys, who led the regiment and also served as an aide-de-camp, or staff assistant, for General George Washington, and later as a diplomat.

Craig Reynolds played a private and Daniel Bosques played a native-American guide scout serving with the regiment.

The re-enactors showed visitors how the muskets and a flintlock pistol were loaded, and then fired them with resounding bangs that echoed through the neighborhood.

One charmed visitor was 5-year-old Lauren Facenda of Woodbridge, who came with her father, John Facenda, and 7-year-old sister, Leah.

“She loves this place. She loves to find out about the utensils people used 200-300 years ago,” he said. And an added plus for Lauren was that it was her birthday.


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