The Kent County side of Milford was settled in 1680 by Henry Bowan on what was known as the Saw Mill Range. A century later the Reverend Sydenham Thorne built a dam across the Mispillion River to generate power for his gristmill and sawmill. Around the same time, Joseph Oliver laid out the first city streets and plots nearby on a part of his plantation. Soon a number of homes and businesses appeared along Front Street and Milford, taking its name from the Thorne mill that was built at a narrow ford of the river, was born. The city was incorporated in 1807.
In the 1770s, a ship building industry was already flourishing on the Mispillion River. Shipbuilding continued to be the major industry of Milford through World War I, bringing considerable prosperity to the town. The high point came in 1917 when the four-masted, 174 foot long Albert F. Paul was launched from the William G. Abbott shipyard. When the last of the area’s giant white oaks was cut in the 1920s, the shipyards quickly went out of business, although the Mispillion ships sailed on for many years. (The Paul was sunk by a German torpedo in 1942 while sailing from the Bahamas.) The Vinyard shipyard was called into service in both WW I and II to build submarine chasers.
As Delaware’s largest town south of Dover, Milford’s downtown has long served as the commercial center of a large agricultural community. The serpentine Mispillion flows for 15 miles across a land distance of only seven miles before emptying into Delaware Bay, severing the Town in half. The North Milford side developed first and contains the oldest section of town; South Milford did not develop extensively until after 1870. Both sections have been designated historic areas.
Our walking tour will visit the Federal and Greek Revival buildings of North Milford and the Victorian-influenced mansions of South Milford beginning at the Milford Museum that ties it all together...
121 South Walnut Street
Until 1910, when this Neoclassical building was constructed, mail in Milford was handled in local stores around town. The first post office is now home to the Milford Museum with photographs and historical memorabilia from the early days along the Mispillion River.
Major General Alfred T.A. Torbert Statue
northwest corner of Milford Museum grounds
The life-size bronze statue of Major General Alfred T.A. Torbert was dedicated on June 29, 2008 as the first public memorial to a military hero in Milford. General Torbert was born in Georgetown and graduated from the United States Military Academy in 1855. When the War of Northern Aggression erupted his slave-holding, Southern-sympathizing relatives and friends pleaded with him not to fight for the Union, but he remained in the Army and at the Battle of Fredericksburg in 1862 demonstrated such ability that he was made a brigadier general. In recognition of his services during the Shenandoah campaign Torbert was breveted Major General of Volunteers and in 1865 was made Brevet Major General of the Regulars. He resigned from the Army after the War, was appointed Minister to San Salvador, and later Consul-General in Havana and Paris. Torbert resided in Milford from 1866 until his death in 1880 when he drowned while attempting to assist rescuers when his steamer was wrecked off the Florida coast.
southwest corner of Causey Avenue and South Walnut Street
This early American showcase was the plantation house of Levin Crapper who owned 1,500 acres in the areas, including what is now South Milford. Colonel Daniel Rogers of Virginia, who served out the unexpired governor’s term of Gunning Bedford from 1797 to 1799, was the next owner of the house. The current Greek Revival appearance is courtesy of another Chief Executive, Peter F. Causey, who won the governorship in 1855 from the Know-Nothing party. In addition to transforming its Colonial appearance Causey re-oriented the house to face the town. The governor had his fingers in many Lower Delaware enterprises to support the grandest seat in Sussex County. he operated tanneries, mills, farms and shipped his products on his own Milford-built ships. Until better ores were mined in Pennsylvania, Causey did a brisk business with bog iron ore from his land near Concord. Now a bed-and-breakfast, the Causey Mansion is painted a traditional yellow.
WALK NORTH ON WALNUT STREET TOWARDS DOWNTOWN.
119 South Walnut Street
Milford Trust was chartered on January 1, 1901 and began operating in this location in 1903. The first bank building was a modest one-story affair but as the institution prospered land was acquired up to the old Post Office and this impressive Neoclassical vault was built in 1929. This was the one and only location of Milford Trust that remained independent until the early 1980s when it was acquired by the Bank of Delaware that later merged with PNC Bank.
First Presbyterian Church
101 South Walnut Street
Records show that Presbyterians began meeting in Milford in 1739. The First Presbyterian Church- South Milford was incorporated on January 11, 1819, and the cornerstone for the present building was laid on July 4, 1850.
TURN LEFT ON SW FRONT STREET. TURN RIGHT ON CHURCH STREET.
Milford New Century Club
6 South Church Street
This wooden structure was built in 1885 as the Milford Classical Academy, a private school for the Town’s elite. In 1898 the building was obtained by the Milford New Century Club, a women’s organization that agitated for temperance and voting equality.
Avenue United Methodist Church
20 North Church Street
Founded in 1777, Avenue United Methodist Church predates the founding of Milford. The current sanctuary is the congregation’s fourth house of worship, dating to 1939 when this stone church replaced a brick predecessor here.
TURN RIGHT ON NW FRONT STREET.
Tharp House/Jewell’s Store
131 NW Front Street at northeast corner of Church Avenue
The original corner brick house and store were built in 1814 and, according to the black bricks laid in the side of the clipped gable, finished in 1816. Done in a more traditional and less flamboyant Gothic-flavored style is the Tharp-Jewell House, built around 1840. At one time this was the home and store of Governor William Tharp, who served the state from 1847 until 1851.
118 NW Front Street
Vinyard Shipbuilding started in 1896 and became noted for its wooden cruisers. At one time there were seven shipyards operating in Milford, sending over 400 sailing ships out to ply the high seas. Only Vinyard made the transition to metal ships in the 20th century, building submarine chasers in World Wars I and II. One of its 14 World War II vessels served as a spotter ship during the Allied invasion of Normandy in 1944. Between the wars, the Vinyard shipyard built handcrafted luxury yachts up to 55 feet in length, but in the late 1940s the owners closed the yard for two decades. It reopened as Delaware Marine & Manufacturing and built small metal vessels until 1980. This house constructed for Wilson Vinyard in 1924 tapped the Georgian Revival style.
112 NW Front Street
This building was born as two separate structures. One half was built in 1787, and the other half in 1811, for use as a bank. They were joined into a home in 1879 by William Marshall who. along with his brother, operated the Marshall Hospital which was Milford’s only care center for many years in the 19th century.
108 NW Front Street
Inside this Victorian-style building is an 1806-era house. Mrs. Mollie Adkins Brown ran a free library for Milford children, from 1912 until 1921 here. Her collection of books formed the nucleus of the present Milford Free Public Library.
102 NW Front Street
This frame Queen Anne house joined the Milford streetscape in the 1890s; a full corner turret and wraparound porch are signature elements.
101 NW Front Street on the northwest corner of North Street
Somewhere inside this exuberant Queen Anne confection awash in towers and jerkinhead dormers is a five-bay, center-hall, Georgian home from the 1780s. Among those who would not recognize their old house are John Lofland, “the Milford Bard,” who was a friend of Edgar Allen Poe and Governor William Burton, Delaware’s Civil War governor.
24 NW Front Street
Frank Kramlich built the Central Hotel in 1892 following a downtown fire. After retiring he sold it to the Windsor family who operated the New Windsor Hotel. Most recently it has been known as the Kent and Sussex Motor Inn.
12 NW Front Street
This 3-story, 5-bay brick building with a gable roof and a box cornice dates to 1855; the entranceway is a portico with full entablature and Doric columns.
10 NW Front Street
The Wells Building is another brick commercial building from the pre-Civil War era. The entrance has a center porch supported by slender Doric columns.
Wilmington Trust Company Building
northwest corner of Front Street and Walnut Street
This Neoclassical bank vault was erected in 1928 with imported stone facings and columns for the First National Bank and Trust.
southwest corner of Front Street and Walnut Street
This commercial/residence building was built in 1843.
TURN LEFT ON NORTH WALNUT STREET.
119 North Walnut Street
When this brick Greek Revival building went up in 1854 it also was used as a bank.
200 North Walnut Street
Mark Lofland, an early doctor in town, built this early Greek Revival house around 1830. Look up to see a hip roof and single-story rear wing; the porch across the middle three bays is supported by square columns.
206 Walnut Street
Here is another well-preserved Greek Revival home. A large stable/carriage house in the rear complements the main house.
417 Noryh Walnut Street
Peter Lofland had this impressive brick home topped by a mansard roof in 1880 at the request of a friend, Frank Richards, who was looking to develop the north end of town. The land was given to him upon the payment of a yearly rent of $18, and he obtained the bricks to construct the house in payment of a debt owed to him by an uncle, James Lofland, who operated a brick kiln on his farm. In the 20th century the house was divided into apartments for many years but in 1952 Peter Lofland’s daughter bought the property to return it to the family’s hands.
600 North Walnut Street
Milford-born William Thorp Watson was a director of the First National Bank and the Delaware, Maryland and Virginia Railroad. He entered state politics and, as Speaker of the Senate in 1895 he ascended to the Governor’s office when then-Governor Joshua H. Marvil died in office. He served until 1897. He built this stately home, known as Walnut Knoll, in 1906.
RETRACE YOUR STEPS ON NORTH WALNUT STREET AND TURN RIGHT ON NW 4TH STREET. TURN LEFT ON NORTH CHURCH STREET.
200 North Church Street
The Society for the Propagation of the Gospel in Foreign Arts founded this church in 1704, then known as Christ Church, Mispillion. It was the second parish in the state established by that society, the first being Christ Church in Dover a year earlier. The first meetinghouse on this site was started in 1791 under the guidance of Reverend Sydenham Thorne who paid for the brick, supplied the white-oak timbers from his woodland, and sawed them into planks in his own sawmill. Unfortunately Pastor Thorne died in 1793 and the congregation was so enfeebled by his passing that work on the church building was stopped. It would not be until 1835 that a simple two-story house of worship was completed. The church has been much altered over the years, including in 1866 when the interior was torn out and the square tower added.
TURN RIGHT ON NW FRONT STREET.
201-203 NW Front Street
This much-modified double brick house with a whitewashed surface dates to 1793 and was known as the Sudler Apartments.
26. 315 NW Front Street
This Gothic frame house with Greek Revival elements and full porch dates to 1860. It features cross gables, decorative roof brackets and bargeboards.
414 NW Front Street
This three-bay brick house was built in 1787; much of the interior woodwork is original.
Parson Thorne Mansion
501 NW Front Street
Milford’s most historic property lies within a 1,750-acre Duke of York land patent called Saw Mill Range granted to Henry Bowman in 1680. The first known resident was Joseph Booth, who purchased 510 acres from the Bowman family in 1730. The center brick section of the present structure was erected by John Cullen in 1746. Reverend Syndenham Thorne, an Episcopal clergyman who was instrumental in Milford’s development, bought the property in the 1780s and is interred on the grounds. John M. Clayton, United States Senator and Secretary of State under President Zachary Taylor, spent a portion of his boyhood here. Members of the Clayton family lie at rest nearby as well. This was also the home of philanthropist Col. Benjamin Potter and Dr. William Burton, Governor of Delaware during the early years of the Civil War. Colonel Henry Fiddeman, founder of the First National Bank of Milford, came into ownership of the mansion in 1858 and changed the Colonial Georgian architecture to Gothic Victorian, adding sharp gables and raising the roof. The Draper family purchased the property in 1916. In 1961, the building and grounds, then known as Silver Hill, were conveyed to the Milford Historical Society by J. Richard Draper. Restoration projects were begun, pulling off a porch among other things, but money ran out leaving a bit of this and a bit of that from the house’s more than 250 years. The Parson Thorne Mansion was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1971.
TURN LEFT ON MAPLE AVENUE.
Site of Thorne Dam
Maple Avenue at Mispillion River
This is the spot where Syndenham Thorne built a dam for his sawmill and gristmill at a ford near the headwaters of the Mispillion River. In the process he created the Milford’s defining geographic feature, Silver Lake, and provided a name for the new community after the mill at the river ford.
Milford Branch Railroad
along Maple Avenue
In 1857, Colonel Henry B. Fiddeman, Judge J.W. Houston and former governor Peter Causey secured subcsriptions from the General Assembly for the construction of the Milford Branch Railroad from Harrington to Milford and two years later the first Iron Horse rolled down these tracks into town.
TURN RIGHT ON LAKEVIEW AVENUE.
200 Lakeview Avenue
A home was first built here - perhaps the choicest location in town overlooking Silver Lake - in 1872 for a station agent from the nearby Milford Branch Railroad. In 1907 the property was bought by Dr. G. Layton Grier, president of L.D. Caulk. Through the 1800s, dentists filled patients’ cavities with gold, an expensive solution that cried for an affordable substitute. Camden dentist Levin D. Caulk set up a crude manufacturing facility behind his home in 1877 and began tackling the problem. Caulk died in 189 and his friend Grier gave up his career as a dentist to manage the dental supply company. Meanwhile his brother Frank married a daughter of Dr. Caulk and in 1897 the brothers bought the L.D. Company. In collaboration with Swiss scientists the brothers developed a synthetic porcelain that revolutionized dentistry - and made them very rich. The company offices and laboratories were moved to Milford in 1900, becoming one of the largest employers in the area and giving the town its first industrial magnate in Layton Grier. Grier,who had married Ella Vaules, created this rambling 20-room mansion, outfitting it with an array of gables, porches and stained glass windows.
208 Lakeview Avenue
Here is another house in the South Milford lake area that received a fashionable make-over in the early 1900s - this time with a full two-story Ionic portico overlooking Silver Lake.
301 Lakeview Avenue
This house was built in 1890 on unoccupied land. It was designed by Morris and Whiteside of Wilmington, one of the rare Milford homes that was architect-designed at the time. Frank Grier, who married Florence Caulk, daughter of L.D. Caulk, remodeled the house between 1921 and 1923, removing earlier embellishments such as the widow’s walk, balustrade and center chimney.
The resulting do-over is considered the most successful of Milford’s Queen Anne/Free Classic structures. In 1912, the L.D.Caulk Company built its main plant a few doors down on Lakeview Avenue.
RETRACE YOUR STEPS ON LAKEVIEW AVENUE AND CROSS THE RAILROAD TRACKS ONTO CAUSEY AVENUE.
Temple Lodge 9
127 Causey Avenue
There were many more windows when this building was constructed in 1908 as a brick manufacturing plant for the L.D.Caulk Company in 1908. Today it is a Masonic lodge.
11 Causey Avenue
This block of Causey Avenue is characterized by roomy, Queen Anne-influenced homes built around the turn of the 20th century. This one is dominated by a round corner tower with a dome roof and a front porch that wraps around the front and half of the west side, supported by fluted Ionic columns.
CONTINUE ONE-HALF BLOCK TO THE TOUR STARTING POINT AT THE MILFORD MUSEUM.