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The Birmingham Green is part of the industrial community of Birmingham, laid out by Anson Phelps and Sheldon Smith in 1836. The original settlement in Derby was across the river, at what is sometimes called Derby Landing. Through the 17th and 18th centuries, Derby was the center of a thriving trade with the West Indies. Ships built at the Landing carried crops and livestock grown in the vicinity. After 1800, this trade fell off sharply, due to increase competition from Bridgeport and New Haven and to the Embargo of 1808. Phelps and Smith's new town was planned to rescue Derby from the depression by taking advantage of new industrial developments. The site, a tongue of land located between the Housatonic and Naugatuck Rivers, offered waterpower to operate machinery; turnpikes led to the major ports, and, after 1849, railroads offered easy transportation for goods produced in Derby. The new town, called Birmingham (no doubt in honor of the British industrial city), became a borough in 1851, and a part of the unified city of Derby in 1893.

The green has from its founding been a center of religious and civic life in the community. Many of the houses, as well as two of the three churches, located around it were erected within a few years of its establishment. Town records indicate only that the green is owned by the town of Derby; no deeds relating to it could easily be found, but it was presumably donated to the town by Smith and Phelps.

The Birmingham Green retains much of its historic character as the town's civic center despite the incursion of the gas station opposite the northwest corner and Katzen's Plaza on the south. However, both do cause problems: Katzen's Plaza, with its blank wall, is clearly a hostile element, cutting off light and life from the green. The gas station and commercial building are less visually intrusive, but may foretell further changes to come. Several of the houses bordering the green suffer from poor maintenance, suggesting a decline in property values in the neighborhood. The areas around the green already lie in a special Public District zone; amendment of the zoning code might provide incentives for the preservation and rehabilitation of the historic buildings (such as the incentives provided in Stamford). Other incentives to promote rehabilitation of commercial properties in the historic commercial area of Main Street, several blocks to the south, might help to reduce possible pressure for commercial development around the green. The green seems to be eligible for National Register listing.

 

 
 

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