I have been involved with the Dwight-Derby House since its inception. No, not in the 1600s, but rather when the Town of Medfield bought the house in 1996. I knew of the grassroots efforts to save the house from the wrecking ball and was very excited about the possibility of the Town acquiring it. I voted for its purchase at the 1996 Town Meeting, as did most of the attending citizens.
Shortly after that meeting, the Friends of the Dwight-Derby House was established and incorporated in 1998. The Friends asked me to be a docent and I was passionate enough about the house to say yes. Little did I know that this role required sweeping paint off the ceilings to welcome visitors. Fortunately, it was latex paint.
In 2001, after being a docent for several years, I was asked to be on the board. Again, I happily accepted. At this time, the Friends were just finishing the new Exhibit Hall and things were progressing nicely. I had the pleasure of serving first with Monica Bushnell as President, a lovely lady as both leader and friend. I served with several presidents thereafter and then I became president myself.
There are many tasks to be performed as President, but my favorite is research. I have spent many hours studying the people who lived within the walls of the Dwight-Derby House. There are so many fascinating stories: some were found locally, others required trips across the country, but each quest was incredibly worthwhile.
During this process, I developed a genealogical chart for both the Dwight and Derby families. After ten years of being involved with the Dwight-Derby House, I discovered that I had a genealogical connection with the Dwight, Derby and Townsend families. The Dwights are a very distant connection, but the Derbys and Townsends were direct. As I researched further and discovered a newspaper article about the Derby family and, from that, found Vicky, a family member, living in Virginia. The Friends decided to contact her and to our surprise, she knew of the Dwight-Derby House and its Townsend-Derby history. We exchanged information and formed a bond that still exists today.
Meeting my Cousins
On December 31, 2008 Vicky visited the Dwight-Derby House and I met my cousin for the first time. She arrived late in the day. There was so much to discuss that it quickly turned into night and before we knew it was 11:00 pm; Vicky then asked to see the Derby and Townsend graves. The day before, two feet of snow had fallen so we warned her that the cemetery would not have been plowed which would necessitate going on foot. She was not deterred and off we went. We parked the car at the entrance to avoid it being stuck and slogged our way in with flashlights in hand. I did have visions of being stopped by the police for being in the graveyard so late at night with waving flashlights. Thankfully we weren’t. When we arrived at the Derby-Townsend gravesite a beam of light from Vicky’s flashlight clearly illuminated Mary Townsend Derby’s gravestone and we immediately saw that Mary’s birthday was January 1st. A chill ran up our spines and we gasped when we realized that Vicky had come to see her great-great grandmother less than one hour before her birthday!
Vicky told me of other relatives, among them, Susanna in Maine, who was willing to share information. In 2009, The Friends of the Dwight-Derby House decided to dedicate the new hall, built in 2001, Derby Hall. We contacted Vicky and asked her to inform family members of this significant event. Susanna and her husband, Chuck, responded and considered it a great honor to attend.
On May 31, 2009, I met my cousin Susanna for the first time. Since then, Susanna has contacted other family members and Edith, of California, was interested in learning more about the family history. The first time I met Vicky was in 2008, but I didn’t meet Edith until March 2018; a connection more than ten years in the making!
In May 2012 Vicky attended the Friends of the Dwight-Derby House 15th Anniversary celebration and delivered a very eloquent speech on her family and its complexities. George H. Derby would have been very proud of her ability to weave history and humor into her presentation.
E. Clampus Vitus, John P. Squibob Chapter 1853, a most honorable group of men, contacted me in 2014 and invited me to speak at George H. Derby’s Memorial Dedication at Mt. Soledad Veterans’ Memorial in San Diego on April 25, 2015. They also wanted to know if I was in contact with any descendants. Vicky and I met again for this most honorable occasion and delivered our speeches along with colleague Dr. Rick Paskowitz, with whom I have spent many hours researching George Horatio Derby at West Point Military Academy and published a book together.
To listen to these speeches, click on the links below:
My most recent adventure with Vicky was in 2016 to visit her grandparent’s home in New Orleans, the now famous Oak Alley Plantation, yet another piece of the Derby Family story. It should be noted that our visitors have requested that their full names not be used in this article.
Because of my earlier genealogical work, we discovered that Vicky descends through George Horatio Derby’s son, George McClellan Derby; Susanna and Edith descend through George Horatio’s daughter, Daisy Payton Derby Black.
Edith’s line of Derbys remained in California. During my many visits to California, however, I was unable to connect with Edith or any other Derby relations still living there.
The Visit to Medfield
In March of 2018, Susanna contacted me about a possible visit to Medfield to show her cousin, Edith, everything Derby. I suggested they stay at my house, as there are no hotels in or even near Medfield.
The plan was for Susanna and her husband Chuck to pick up Edith at Logan airport and head to Medfield. The entire visit was almost canceled because of an impending blizzard, but as the days wore on the forecast changed and Logan was open on the day of Edith’s flight. Susanna and Chuck had driven from Maine, collected Edith at the airport and continued to Medfield.
The day they arrived was a pleasant one with sunshine, good weather and no snow on the ground. We toured the Dwight-Derby House, The First Parish Church, Vine Lake Cemetery and the Medfield Historical Society thanks to Historical Society president David Temple. We dined at two of Medfield’s restaurants, Avenue and Basil’s, where they enjoyed the local cuisine and met Medfield’s Town Administrator, Mike Sullivan.
On their last full day, they requested a historic car tour of Medfield. They loved Medfield’s fieldstone walls, the Peak House, the Clark/Kingsbury Mill and the quaint back roads and were impressed with the amount of history that remains in Medfield. Their favorite was, of course, the Dwight-Derby House, the oldest house in Medfield.
Later, Edith’s homebound flight was cancelled, so we set up a plan to work on the Derby genealogy while watching the storm. Eighteen inches of snow piled up outside, but we never lost power, so our internet connection was heavily used. Despite the inconvenience, it was a very enjoyable day of everything Derby. Edith hadn’t seen snow in years and kept taking photos to send home. It did look like a winter wonderland.
It was wonderful to have the extra day together; it gave us so much more time to become acquainted and enjoy our surroundings. Edith has plans to share her visit with her grandchildren and hopefully the next time I’m in California I will see her again!