James Polk Derby

James P Derby

A dearest friend and I visited Lambertville, PA in March 2016 and I picked this photograph out of a bowl at The People’s Store. The photo depicts James Polk Derby in front of his drugstore at 375 Main Street, Fitchburg, MA. Records I found showed that Derby operated a drugstore at this address between 1890 and 1913.

Derby had drugstores at several addresses in Fitchburg over the years, and during 1883-1885 operated a drugstore at 44 Harrison Street in Boston. A significant part of Derby’s business was manufacturing and selling medicines such as “Derby’s Nerve Food.”

nerve food.png

Derby was born 8 January 1847 in Lowell, MA and lived most of his live in Fitchburgh. He died in Charlton, MA on 14 November 1927. He married Emma A. Procter (1853-1923) in October 1871 and they had three sons: James Harry Derby (1873-1897); Otis P. Derby (1875-??), and John Andrew Derby (1879-??). He later married Lucy P. Brown (1850-1923).

James Harry died young of a heart ailment while in Boston.

Otis was charged with embezzling $18 from his employer in 1897. In 1898 Otis enlisted in the Army for Spanish-American War. His occupation was “drug clerk” so he must have been working for his father. According to a letter he wrote to his grandfather, Captain John B. Procter, on 27 September 1899, which was published in the Fitchburg Sentinel on 10 November 1899, Otis saw heavy combat as a member of Battery L, 3d U.S. Heavy Artillery. He was discharged on 1 November 1899. I found no further information after that.

John Andrew was living in San Diego, CA when he registered for the draft in September 1918. In 1924 he was in Hawaii and renewed his passport for a trip to the Far East. I lost his trail at that point. The passport renewal application was the only document confirming that Polk was his father’s middle name, and it contained John Andrew’s photograph:

John Andrew Derby head shot

Derby’s brother, Gilbert H. Derby, was a hotelier and owned Derby House in Fitchburg, The Summit House atop Mount Wachusett, and Pine Cottage at Old Orchard Beach.

It turns out that newspapers.com makes available three newspapers covering Fitchburg, MA between 1829 and 1977. There is a newspaper story that recurred every few years concerning a Derby Family Heirloom: The family possessed a letter signed by George Washington discharging Amos Derby after service in the Revolutionary War. Amos was Derby’s great-grandfather

Ah, well . . . I could go on and on about this interesting family, and I could spend more time to tie up the many loose ends, but there are other projects (and housework) to do, so I’ll leave this saga to the next curious person who happens along.

Update as of 18 May 2016: Today I learned the following from a representative of the Fitchburg Historical Society: “The street numbers were changed since this photo was taken. The entire block from 349-375 is no longer there. It has been replaced by a new park, and by Boulder Drive, which was built in the 1960’s.” That’s not much information to go on, but comparing a googlemaps.com version to a circa 1890 version of Fitchburg gives one an approximate location. It would take some serious GEOINT to nail things down for certain. I’ll leave that for future historians, should any be interested. This all makes the following paragraph and photograph nil-val, as we used to say in the USAF. I’ll leave it on the page to remind me to check for such things.

BTW: Based primarily on the situation of the 2d floor windows, I think 375 Main Street looks like the below photograph these days, though the current address is 365 Main Street:

375 Main Street


2 thoughts on “James Polk Derby

  1. This white frame building was for some time the local reading room of the Christian Science Church; the ‘churchy’ windows are a legacy of those days.

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