Real Estate Agents in Milford, DE
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serving Milford, Delaware and the surrounding area.
“A River Runs Through It”
Anyone who remembers the 1992 movie with Brad Pitt knows that we didn’t make up that name. But we doubt that anyone would dispute how well it fits Milford. The river is the Mispillion and it runs through the center of Milford on its way to the Delaware Bay. But as much as it is an essential element in Milford’s geography, it has played an essential role in Milford’s birth, growth, history, economy, culture and social integration. And the river gave Milford its name: A ford is a shallow place in a river where people can cross. A mill sat near the ford, so travelers were advised to cross at the “mill at the ford,” then “the mill ford,” and finally (You know where we’re going here!) Milford.
Henry Bowan arrived in 1680 with a land grant of 1750 acres on the northern banks of the Mispillion River and with the mandate to build a saw mill. Nearby were vast expanses of giant white oaks whose fine, almost watertight grain produced prized lumber. The combination of river and lumber drew other landowners. More mills were built, and by the 1770s, Milford was a prosperous shipbuilding center—right through to the 1920s when the supply of white oaks was depleted.
Vinyward Shipbuilding, established in 1896 on the south bank of the Mispillion, was the last shipbuilder standing when the Navy came calling, first for World War I, later for World War II. They needed small, fast vessels for anti-submarine warfare, and they needed them built with wood. Wooden submarine chasers could not be detected by the sonar on German subs, and steel needed to be reserved for ships. Vinyard also contributed to the government’s efforts during Prohibition. The Coast Guard used their 75-foot patrol boats to search along the shoreline for bootleggers and rum runners.
As central as shipbuilding was to Milford, it was not the only industry. Farms flourished, making inroads into the poultry, vegetable and fruit industries. And where vegetables and fruit are found, canneries are not far behind them. Fruit-drying equipment was manufactured in the 19th century, before refrigeration would preserve fruit. T.H. McMichael’s Milford Brick Yard produced (Okay, altogether now) bricks that once paved many of Milford’s streets. And those small wooden spoons used with ice cream cups? Invented and produced right here in Milford! And now you have a great question for your next trivia game.
Here’s another one: What was Milford’s first baseball team called? The Milford Excelsiors, the “Champions of Delaware,” according to them—until they played their first game against Delaware City and lost 47 to 15. That was in the 1860s. Today, the Milford Excelsiors are part of the National Vintage League which plays baseball by 1864 rules. The team wears period uniforms, without gloves, and the balls are soft and pliable.
Baseball isn’t the only piece of history still seen in Milford. Some of the long-ago residents may still be around. There are several buildings from the 17th century that may host ghosts. In particular, the Pastor Thorne Mansion and the Causey Mansion. In the former, a man dressed in late 18th century clothing wanders throughout the house calling out for Betty. The Pastor looking for his widow perhaps? Many families with many children lived in the Causey mansion. You may feel a gentle bump or a tap on the shoulder. Children love playing those kinds of pranks. Who’s to say?
For those of us who prefer to mingle among the townsfolk we know are alive, downtown is a hub of activity with upscale boutiques, art galleries, and fine restaurants amid historic landmarks. There are family-friendly festivals throughout the year, for example:
· The Bug and Bud Festival celebrates Arbor Day by celebrating the Lady Bug, the state bug thanks to Milford’s school children’s petition in the 1970s, and Milford’s position as a Tree City USA. A costumed parade for both kids and pets, local performers, arts and crafts, games and contests are just a few of the festivities.
· Eat in the Streets brings the community together to eat, drink and be merry with a farm-to-table dinner right on Walnut Street with tables and chairs extending across the Mispillion.
· During the Holiday Stroll, families stroll the downtown streets festooned with the decorations of Christmases past, stopping to enjoy the live entertainment, such as the Christmas Carol Band or a barbershop quartet. If you’ve been very good, you might see Santa himself!
The Mispillion Riverwallk is the main attraction. Walk, run or bike the mile-long route along the banks of the river. Kayak or canoe down the river. Stop in the Riverwalk Arts Center to browse, buy, exhibit your own works or sign up for a class. Admire the public sculptures along the Riverwalk. The Riverfront Theater is home to the Second Street Players where you can experience the musicals of Broadway, as well as the dramas, mysteries, comedies—all theatrical classics.
Milford is a far cry from the rugged wilderness that Henry Bowan bravely settled. The one constant has been the Mispillion River—it just keeps rolling along. There we go again—borrowing someone else’s words.