Humphreys House Draws A Crowd

To help celebrate Connecticut Open House Day, the Derby Historical Society last weekend welcomed residents to the General David Humphreys house located on Elm Street.

The Humphreys’ house serves as the headquarters for the Derby Historical Society. It was built in 1698 and belonged to the Humphreys’ family. The Humphreys’ son, David, served as an aide to camp to George Washington and was the first U.S. ambassador to a foreign country.

“I have lived in this area my entire life and didn’t know the history behind it,” said Dawn Schwarz, 43, of Ansonia. Schwarz came to the open house because her daughter, Jennifer, just completed training to be a junior docent (tour guides) at the house.

This year’s open house theme was Flag Day. Many flags ranging in date from a Civil War flag to the current Connecticut state flag were displayed throughout the house.

Also, unique to Open House Day were military uniforms dating from World War I all the way up to the present day war in Iraq.

One of the oldest uniforms was donated by Elsie Valeski, 81, of Seymour. Valeski donated her husband’s flying jacket from World War II.

Valeski has been a docent for the historical society for over six years and was dressed up as Mistress Elsie to give tours at the open house.

She said the military jacket was electrically lined to keep the airmen warm while flying and showed visitors a journal her husband kept during the war.

The newest uniform on display belonged to soldier Melanie Roberts Walker. She is the niece of Joy Donini, 73, of Orange, who is also a docent for the historical society.

Watch the video above to see Donini talk about Walker’s uniform.

Throughout the day, visitors were provided with walking tours of the Humphrey’s house, the surrounding neighborhood and cemetery.

The Humphreys’ house became open to the public in 1980 and is preparing for its 30th anniversary next year.

Since opening to the public, the house has run its Day in 1762 Program .”

The program educates fifth graders by showing them precisely what it was like to live here in 1762.

The year 1762 was chosen because that is the year David Humphreys would have been the same age as the average fifth grader.

Students who participate in the program role play what life would have been like for a child living in 1762 by weaving, spinning with authentic spinning wheels that are kept in the house, and cooking food over a fire.

“Our cider bread is always a favorite,” said Robert Novak, Jr., 39, the executive director of the Derby Historical Society.

The program runs from September through November and from March until June.

“The historical society is asking for sponsorship from those who participated in the 1762 program over the years or those who are just interested in helping instill a sense of history, culture and pride of our valley and into our youth,” Novak said.

Interested in sponsoring the program? The historical society can be reached at or (203) 735-1908.

The historical society has many other activities planned for the year, including their Annual Silver Tea at J.J. Sullivan’s in Ansonia on July 13.

The Derby Historical is open Monday through Friday from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m.


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