Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Derby Hall of Fame adds 3 old-timers

DERBY — A world renowned banjo player, one of New York City’s first multimillionaires and a two-time mayor with a bridge named on his behalf have one thing in common: They were all born here.

Those three famous sons of the Valley — Horace Weston, Stephen Whitney and James B. Atwater — will be inducted for 2013 into Derby’s Hall of Fame next month.

Mayor Anthony Staffieri will induct this year’s class June 15 during the annual Derby Day. “We are proud of their legacy and wish to honor their lives and their dedication to public service,” Staffieri said. “Each one in their own inimitable way has shaped the course of our history.”

Weston, a famous banjo player, was born in 1825. He got his musical talents from his father and traveled the world, becoming recognized as “perhaps the greatest banjoist the world has ever heard,” according to a press release from Jack Walsh, chairman of the Derby Greenway Committee, which oversees the Hall of Fame.

Stephen Whitney, born in 1776, was an entrepreneur who moved to New York City and amassed a fortune believed to be second only to John Jacob Astor. His accomplishments include building the home for the New York Stock Exchange, helping establish New York University and helping rebuild New York after the tragic 1835 fire.

James B. Atwater, born in 1871, was a two-time mayor, who held many other elected and appointed positions. Atwater was president of the Derby Public Library, Housatonic Council Boy Scouts of America, Griffin Hospital and the Birmingham National Bank. Those unaware of Atwater’s feats know the name, as the bridge spanning the Naugatuck River is named in his honor.

Hall of Fame established in 2007

Walsh said there now are 35 members of the Hall of Fame, which was established in 2007 to pay tribute to Derby natives who played a significant role in shaping the city’s history.

The Greenway Committee honors inductees by placing a special brick bearing their name at Derby’s Hall of Fame Plaza at the entrance of the Derby Greenway on Division Street.

Walsh said inductees are selected from nominations submitted through the city’s website, or by committee members seeking them out.

“With Derby being as old as it is, there are over three centuries of people to consider,” Walsh said.
Sheila O’Malley, the city’s economic development director and chief administrative officer, said this year’s inductees do the city proud.

“I am always impressed with the people they select,” O’Malley said. “It seems Derby never runs out of citizens with creativity and ingenuity.” 

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