The Historic Significance of the Milford Historic District-2

           Oliver St. John built the three-story brick Italianate store at 440 N. Main St. in 1872 to house his jewelry store and a bank. The third story became St. John's Hall where entertainments took place. John Hewitt built his brick Italianate drugstore at 436 N. Main St., next to St. John's store, in 1872. He bought the  Greek Revival house built by William Grow in 1845 at 423 East St. (and remodeled in 1878). St. John's store is again a jewelry store, and Hewitt's store was always a drugstore until the 1980's.

            Weaver and Watkins built the "block" at 371-401-405  N. Main St. in 1897. Weaver's striking home at 641 was built in 1885 and Watkins bought the 1866 Riley house at 605 Hickory St.


           Edwin Hubbell's son, Frank, was a dynamic force in the development of Milford during this second period of significance. He was a merchant and promoter, beginning as a telegrapher for the railroad in his early teens, and later running grocery and dry goods stores on Main Street. He brought electricity to Milford in 1892, installing a generator in the old Peters  Mill on the Huron River and an auxiliary generator in the Pettibone Mill on the Upper Mill Pond in North Milford. In 1911 he built the Hubbell Dam on the Huron River southwest of Milford and created the Hubbell Pond to furnish power to the fledgling electric operation. This water-power was later sold to Detroit Edison. Milford was one of the first small communities in Michigan to enjoy the benefits of electric power. Hubbell operated a wholesale ice business in the Milford area and a sand business on Lake Michigan, and was later involved in the real estate business. He owned several commercial buildings and several of Milford's notable houses, still extant, at 522 E. Commerce St, at 515 E. Commerce St. and at 124 E. Commerce St., during his long life.


           In the last quarter of the 19th Century farm implements were manufactured by the Wells Brothers at their foundry by the Main Street bridge on the Huron River and were shipped all over the country via the railroad. Phillip F. Wells built his magnificent wood-frame Italianate house at 800 E. Commerce in 1869 and his brother bought his house at 848 E. Commerce shortly after.  Vowles & Orvis manufactured a "walking cultivator" at their plant on E. Commerce, just east of N. Main St  Vowles built his lovely Victorian Gothic house in 1868 at 515 E. Commerce, but the Orvis house on the same street is gone.



This same era saw the invention and patenting of numerous devices, "made in Milford," from agricultural implements to pillow-sham holders, which not only enriched their inventors, but also lightened the labors of farmers and housewives.  New conveniences were appearing.  In 1884, gasoline and oil stoves began replacing the old

wood and coal stoves. Several hardware stores on N. Main St. began selling these new

stoves.  Telegraph lines connected private homes and businesses in 1881.  Telephones arrived in 1883.  The first street lights were put up in 1875, and converted to gas in

1881.  Electricity for street lighting, and also for lighting in homes and businesses, was available in 1892.  The water works was built in 1895.  The new village government (established in 1869) busied itself with improving the streets and with building sidewalks, first of wood, and then later, in 1884, of brick.  Concrete and stone sidewalks came in the early twentieth century.  Milford residents could now shop in Detroit and Pontiac. All these aspects of growth and prosperity were spurred by the coming of the railroad.


All of this development combined to increase the wealth of the residents of the village as well as to provide them with leisure time to pursue all sorts of activities.  

Milford was becoming a more comfortable, convenient, and attractive place, and life

was in many ways easier for many people.  The residents began to fill their non-

working hours with a variety of entertainments. The railroad that brought prosperity to the village also offered new forms of entertainment. Excursions were

organized to many different places, from near-by towns to distant ones, such as

Philadelphia for the Centennial  Exhibition of 1876 and Chicago for the World's Columbian Exposition in 1893.  Groups of local residents visited friends in

neighboring villages on the railroad line for parties.  Milford people journeyed east and west, for sight-seeing, even visiting the West while the Indian wars were still raging.  Some residents began spending the winter in the south in the 1870's.  Many took pleasure trips to both the east and west coasts.

            The coming of the railroad  made possible the visits of all sorts of entertainers and entertainments.  Tenny & Greig's Hall, the third floor of a store built on the

flatiron in the 1860's, first furnished a venue for these activities.  It was succeeded in

1872 by St. John's Hall, the third floor of the then-new building still at 440 N. Main St This hall was succeeded by Ferguson's Opera House, built in 1875 and still at 339 N. Main. Some of the entertainers were local, but most came to town by railroad.

 

            A remarkable variety of entertainments were held in these halls, including professional dramatic companies, local dramas, musical entertainments, both professional and amateur, illusionists, humorists, necromancers, elocutionists, spiritualists, phrenologists, mesmerists, escape artists, ventriloquists, poets and

lecturers on numerous subjects.  The halls were also used for balls, dancing classes and even roller-skating.

 The most extensive chronicling of Milford's history began in 1871 with the founding of The Milford Times, a weekly newspaper which has continued to record the happenings in Milford until the present day and is the oldest weekly newspaper still publishing in Oakland County, Michigan. The paper was started by Isaac P. Jackson, and continued by his wife Ann, his son Bert, and finally his daughter,

Carrie Jackson Rowe, who took over in 1892 and continued to act as publisher until 1935.  As editor and publisher of The Milford Times  from 1892 to 1935 she chronicled

the events that defined the lives of the people of Milford. She was inducted into the Michigan Journalism Hall of Fame in 1990.  The buildings in which The Milford Times was published from 1871 into the 20th Century have unfortunately all been razed, but the newspaper still maintains an office in the old Weaver & Watkins building at 405 N. Main St. Carrie Jackson Rowe, her husband and eight children lived in the house at 522 E. Commerce for a number of years.


It is interesting to note that the coming of the railroad and the founding of The Milford Times, the two things that opened Milford up to the world, both occurred in 1871.

 The homes of the physicians and dentists who served Milford from 1871 to World War I are part of the proposed historic district: Dr. Black's 1896 pattern house

at 402 Union St..; Dr Warren's Queen Anne house at 233 E. Liberty St.; Dr. Baughn's Greek Revival house at 405 E. Commerce St.; and Dr. Weisbrod's Greek Revival house at 124 E. Commerce.


As in all early settlements, religion held an important position and churches were established almost immediately.  The first recorded religious organization in Milford, a Methodist class, was formed in 1836.  In the same year a second class of Methodists was formed under the name of the English Class. These religious groups first met in homes or schools in the Township. Between 1840 and 1844 the classes merged to form the Methodist Episcopal Church. The members built, as their first house of worship, a small frame building located on the east side of Union Street north of Canal Street.  In 1875 a new and larger brick church was built just south of the frame church. In 1967 the congregation built a new church on Atlantic Street and the 1875 brick church is now the Masonic Temple (212 Union).


 The Presbyterian Church of Milford was formed in 1838 and invited the members of the Congregational Class to join them as they met in the little red schoolhouse on the south side of West Washington Street facing Clinton Street.   

A frame church building was constructed in 1846 on the north side of West Huron Street facing the Public Square (224 West Huron).  In 1899 a new brick church was built on the southeast corner of North Main and East Liberty.  The brick church is still in use by the congregation (238 N. Main).


The Baptist Church organized in 1838 and built their first house of worship, a frame Greek Revival building, in 1853, on the west side of North Main St., just north of where the railroad viaduct crosses Main Street.  This building was moved in 1870 to the northwest corner of Union and Detroit Streets to make way for the coming of the

railroad.  It has since been torn down and replaced with a new building, but the 1893 parsonage still stands at 615 Union St.


           Sometime in the mid-1840's, ten families fleeing from the famine in Ireland settled in Milford.  They brought with them the Roman Catholic faith.  For awhile these families attended mass in Union Lake, but there were times when this trip was too difficult to make.  The Pontiac church sent a mission priest to Milford and the little group met at the home of Daniel Morrison and his parents on West Commerce Street (320 W. Commerce). In 1867 the congregation constructed a white frame, New England-style church on top of the hill on Summit Street that was torn down in 1908. From 1903 to 1907 the Catholic congregation worked on building a beautiful stone church on the northwest corner of East Commerce and Hickory Streets (219 E. Commerce).  A stone rectory was added west of the church in 1929 (215 E. Commerce).  The congregation has now moved east of the Village and the stone church is a fitness center and office building.


           The coming of the railroad in 1871 made a tremendous impact on the growth of Milford, as well as on the quality of life its inhabitants experienced. The results of this growth and of this quality of life are still visible in the remaining houses, commercial buildings and industrial sites and in the original railroad, with its viaducts and stone arch bridge. It therefore meets Criterion A, as a place that has contributed to the broad patterns of history, and Criterion C, as architecturally representative of a nineteenth and early twentieth century rural mill settlement, for placement on the National Register.



The Twentieth Century and the Coming of the Automobile

 Arguably, the greatest event of the early twentieth century, in regard to the development of Milford Village, was the advent of the automobile. The village benefited from new businesses related to the production and maintenance of this new form of transportation, and new houses were required for the workers in, and owners of, these businesses. In addition, people were now able to travel at their own chosen times and to places not directly serviced by public transportation such as the railroad and, earlier, the stagecoach.

F.W. Bacon, owner of the Peters Mill, bought the first automobile in town in October, 1900.  He traveled all the way to Ohio to pick it up and apparently drove it home.  By 1910 the Milford rural mail carriers had autos.  On July 9, 1910, H.M. Coulter broke all Milford records by driving home from Royal Oak in only one hour and thirty-five minutes.  He met sixty-three autos during the drive.


           As a result of the advent of the automobile, a number of new automobile-related businesses appeared on Main Street. In 1915 Bert Vincent built the Mil"Ford" Garage, still standing at 435 N. Main St. The building which stood across the street at 424 North Main Street was razed in 1919 and an automobile service garage was built on the site. That garage was razed in 1937.  In 1934 the McPherson Oil Company built a small Mission and Art Deco style service station at 239 N. Main St. which is now on the Michigan State Register of Historic Sites. Another service station was built in 1932 on the northeast corner of North Main Street and East Liberty (now replaced with a newer station) and the Standard Station was built in 1939 on the northeast corner of N. Main and E. Commerce where it still stands, though it is greatly altered. The Detroit Auto Dash Company, which burned before 1938, operated on the west side of the Upper Mill Pond, where the Henry Ford I plant was built in 1938.

In 1924, Mr. V.M. Schlieder decided to move his Schlieder Manufacturing Company, which manufactured valves for the Chevrolet Motor Company, from Detroit to Milford, and announced the need for twenty-five homes for his employes' families. He also needed a home for his own family, and he bought a lot at 614 N. Main Street and contracted with Floyd Sands to build a semi-bungalow in Dutch Colonial Revival style.  The house, still standing, was completed in 1924.

 In addition to the smaller auto-related industries and services, the manufacturers of automobiles came to realize that it was necessary to test their vehicles for safety and performance. The General Motors Corporation came to Milford Township in 1924 and selected for a testing area 1125 acres of land located west of Milford Village near the border that separates Livingston and Oakland Counties. The effect on Milford Village was considerable, since the many employees at the General Motors Proving Ground found homes in the Village, and made use of the Village's facilities for services and goods. New houses were built and existing houses were rented or purchased.


         Another event of great magnitude for Milford Village was the building, in 1938,  of one of Henry Ford I's "little factories" on the west side of the Upper Mill Pond, the site of the former Auto Dash Factory.   From the 1920's to the 1940's Henry Ford I built or restored 21 "mills" in southeast Michigan to manufacture auto parts. He selected sites where early mill ponds and their resulting water-powers still existed and either restored surviving mills or built new buildings where the original mills had stood. Frank "Trader" Hubbell, one of Milford's most active entrepreneurs, was also an old friend of Mr. Ford, and was instrumental in bringing Ford to Milford.  The new Ford plant made use of the old water-powers which had been created in the 1830's and 1840's on Pettibone Creek and the Huron River. Ford built two hydro-electric plants to power his new facility, which manufactured carburetors. One of these power plants, in Art Deco style, still exists but is in need of restoration.  In this case, too, the Village profited by the need for housing, services and goods for the employees of the new factory. The plant still operates at 101 Oak St., greatly expanded and no longer under Ford ownership.


The  other surviving industrial plant in the proposed historic district is the Art Deco building at 140 W. Summit St. which was owned in 1935 by the Handyside Construction Company, which was involved with paving throughout the state. They were succeeded in 1940 by the Precise Aircraft and Precise Metal Processing Company. The building is now used by the Gazebo Company. During World War II the Ford factory and the factory at 140 West Summit St. contributed to the manufacture of war material.


            During this period of growth and development sixteen commercial buildings and fifty-four houses were built in the proposed historic district. The commercial buildings, a few of them Art Deco and Tudor in style, were added to North Main St. and to East Commerce, East Liberty and Canal Streets. The fifty-four houses: Bungalows, Dutch Colonial Revival, American Foursquare, Cape Cod, Colonial Revival, English Cottage and Tudor in style, are typical of the houses that were popular throughout the developing United States. They appeared mainly as in-fill on East Commerce St., Union St., and Hickory St. However, these newer homes make up the majority of those on East St., First St. and Atlantic St., although a few houses from the two earlier periods of significance are still found on those streets. Room for in-fill existed because there was no longer the need for large lots to contain gardens, orchards, carriage houses, etc., that were needed in earlier times. The new houses were built for merchants, manufacturers, retired farmers, workers on the General Motors Proving Ground and workers in the Ford and Schlieder plants that manufactured automobile parts. The increase in the population of the town pushed expansion to the east, on East St., First St. and Atlantic St. This in-fill textured both the commercial and residential areas of the proposed historic district, adding variety and interest.


           In 1953 St. George's Episcopal Church was built at 801 E. Commerce St, the first church constructed in Milford after World War II and the first building in Milford

for the Episcopal congregation. Groups of Episcopalians held services, probably Informally, in Milford in the last quarter of the 19th century and the early part of the 20th century.  These services were held in a number of places, including the Opera House and the G.A.R. Hall. However, it was not until 1946 that a mission was established and began to hold regular meetings in the old Opera House (339 N. Main). The 1953 church building contains the altar constructed for the Opera House and a faceted glass window designed and executed by James Hopfensperger of Midland, Michigan (801 E. Commerce).


This period from World War I to 1950 was a time of rich development for Milford, due mainly to the coming of the automobile. The evidence of this development is still very much visible in the surviving commercial, residential and industrial buildings constructed during this period.


            Fortunately, Milford has avoided the atrocities of "urban renewal" which devastated many towns in the mid-twentieth century, and has survived with most of its buildings, sites and structures from its three periods of significance still intact. It therefore meets Criterion A, as a place that has contributed to the broad patterns of history, and Criterion C, as embodying the distinctive characteristics of the architectural types and methods of construction representative of its three periods of significance.


           Milford offers a glimpse of small-town America as its appearance developed from its settlement in the early nineteenth century and its first era of prosperity, through the coming of the railroad and into the coming of automobiles and the first half of the twentieth century.  What was happening to America socially and economically was expressed in the styles of her citizens' homes, churches, schools and commercial buildings; and the architectural tastes of America were replicated in microcosm in Milford.

The Historic Significance of the Milford Historic District (Continued)

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