The Village of Milford is representative of the evolution of a typical
rural mill community in southern Michigan from its settling in 1832, through the
period from 1871 to World War I when business, industry and residence construction
was spurred by the coming of the railroad, and the period from World War I to 1950
when the coming of the automobile spurred further growth. The surviving buildings,
structures and sites in the district illustrate the three periods of growth and development:
the settlement period from the 1830's to 1871; the railroad period from 1871 to World
War I; and the automobile period from World War I to 1950 and beyond.
The district's architecture reflects a broad range of architectural styles
and vernacular house forms current in the United States and the Upper Midwest from
the 1830's to 1950, and laid out in the grid pattern platted in 1836. The three-block
commercial area in the heart of the district contains 32 buildings from the three
significant periods: three from the earliest period of settlement, 22 from the railroad
period, and seven from the period from World War I to 1950. These commercial buildings
were the business addresses of the men and women responsible for Milford's development.
Running through the heart of the district are the two historic mill ponds on Pettibone
Creek with six partially intact saw mill, grist mill, woolen mill and planing mill
sites, as well as a surviving 1938 Henry Ford I carburetor plant and a 1930's industrial
plant. The sites of two of the earliest mills are on the Huron River. All of the
mill sites have historical markers.
The residential area of the district consists of wood frame, brick, stone
and concrete block residences, 63 built in the period from 1838 to 1870, 121 built
between 1871 and World War I, and 71 built between World War I and 1950. These
were the homes of the business persons, physicians, dentists, mill owners and industrialists
who were responsible for the growth of the village. The district also contains four
of the historic church edifices. The surviving 1871 railroad line and the 1830's
stagecoach inn help to illuminate these earlier forms of transportation.
The North Milford Village Historic District is both historically and
architecturally significant and 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.
The Settling of Milford, Its Early Pioneers, Mills and First Era of Prosperity
The settling of Milford began in 1832 and was part of the massive immigration of
New Englanders and New Yorkers to the newly opened Michigan Territory. Most immigrants
traveled by steamship across Lake Erie, or through Canada, to Detroit, and then fanned
out north and westward into Michigan, generally following Indian trails which became
the Territory's main roads. The major route to Milford was the Grand River Trail,
branching off northwestward to Milford on a territorial road, which became Old Plank
Road, though some came north on the Saginaw Trail (now Woodward Avenue and Dixie
Highway), branching westward from Birmingham or Pontiac. At the time of its settlement,
there appear to have been sporadic visits of native Americans to the area, but no
permanent villages. The boundaries of Milford Township, which includes the Village,
had been set in 1815, shortly after the signing of the Treaty of Detroit. Oakland
County was first governed by Macomb County and Milford was located in an area known
as Bloomfield Township in Oakland County. In 1827, the Territorial Legislature divided
Oakland County into five townships and Milford became part of Farmington Township.
In 1833, Novi Township was formed and Milford was part of it. Finally, Milford
Township was formed in 1835.
The early economy of Milford Village was based on the needs of the farmers
who had settled in Milford Township, taking up all available land from the government
before 1840. These farmers raised all the cereal grains that Michigan is known for,
as well as potatoes and vegetables. They started orchards and raised horses, cattle,
dairy cows, sheep and pigs. The Village itself served the needs of the farmers and
the merchants' and workmen's families with mills to process the timber and farm products,
blacksmiths, shoemakers, coopers, carpenters, harness makers, general stores, wagon
makers, doctors, taverns and inns. In the early days it is doubtful if there were
any industries serving a wider area than the immediate township since there was no
The immigrants from New York and New England who made up the wave of
settlers who settled the many small villages of southeast Michigan in the early 19th
Century first sought a source of water to power the mills necessary to the development
of their communities. The usual pattern was to build first a sawmill and then a gristmill.
The first white settlers in Milford Village were Elizur and Stanley Ruggles, who,
in 1831, walked across southern Michigan and back, seeking a suitable location
for their sawmill and farm. They selected what is now Milford Village as a site
for their sawmill in 1831, on the south bank of the Huron River, just north of present
East Huron Street in South Milford. They built their sawmill in 1832 and ran it
together until 1834, when Elizur sold his interest to Stanley. Stanley sold the
mill to Stephen and John Armstrong in 1836. The Armstrong brothers added a gristmill
across the river from the sawmill in 1839. The sites of both mills, included in the
proposed historic district, still exist on the northeast and southwest banks of the
Huron River and are marked with a historical marker. Since neither site has been
built on, there remains the possibility of future archaeological excavation. Elizur
lived the rest of his life on his farm, which comprised the southeastern part of
North Milford Village. The wood frame Greek Revival house, typical of those being
built in most villages of the 1830's to 1850's, he built in 1843 (1018 Atlantic)
and is included in the proposed historic district. The house was remodeled by his
grandson, Ben Phillips, in 1929.
North Milford Village was platted in 1838 by Aaron Phelps, who came to
Milford in 1834. In 1835 Phelps purchased 40 acres in Section 2, north of Summit
Street in North Milford Village, and in 1835 he purchased 80 acres from John Mendham,
north of the Huron River, south of Summit Street, west of First Street and east of
Highland Street, comprising the major part of North Milford Village. In 1836 Phelps
dammed Pettibone Creek at the foot of what is now the Lower Mill Pond in North Milford
Village, just south of West Liberty Street, and built a distillery and a sawmill,
which later became a planing mill. The dam and Lower Mill Pond remain, but the early
mills are gone. Their site has been marked with a metal historical plaque. Phelps
was Milford's first postmaster and had the postoffice in his log cabin on the "flatiron"
across from Pettibone Creek on what is now North Milford Road. He was one of Milford's
Commissioners of Common Schools in 1835. He built the frame Greek Revival house
on Summit Street (115 Summit) about 1837 and sold it to the Hebbard Brothers in1845.
They converted this house into a stagecoach tavern, the Hibbard Tavern, on the stage
road from Pontiac to Howell. (The difference in spelling between the Hebbard Brothers
and the Hibbard Tavern results from inconsistencies in its spelling in the records.)
Either Ira or Alva ran this tavern until about 1860
when it again became a home. It still stands, and has significance as a good example
of the many stagecoach inns in use and necessary for the success of travel in early
19th Century Michigan. It is now on the Michigan State Register of Historic Sites.
The four Hebbard brothers, William Bradford, Sterling, Alva and Ira,
came to Milford from New York State in the early 1840's. Aaron Phelps fell into financial
difficulty at that time and had to liquidate most of his Milford property, selling
it to the Hebbard brothers. The Upper Mill Pond, still extant, was developed in 1846
by Phillip Wells and William Bradford Hebbard, creating a new water power and the
first industrial park in North Milford Village, and having a strong effect on the
increase of manufacturing concerns in later eras. A dam was built on Pettibone Creek
opposite the present-day intersection of Detroit Street and North Milford Road, and
a raceway, which split and went under Summit Street just east of where the railroad
is now. It flowed beneath the new mills and emptied into the new mill pond. Traces
of these raceways are still to be seen under North Milford Road. Hebbard built the
Pettibone Grist Mill in 1846 just below the dam, and a woolen mill on the east side
of the angling road along the east side of the Upper Mill Pond in 1850, which he
sold to his brother Sterling and George Davis. Alva and W.B. Hebbard operated the
Pettibone mill and the fourth brother, Ira, built a new saw mill on the lower Pettibone
Creek. In 1856 Ira Hebbard also built the wood frame Greek Revival house still standing
at 819 East Commerce Street. William Bradford Hebbard was also the head of the charter
company that built the plank road leading from Grand River Road, south of Milford
in Lyon Township, up the east side of Milford Township and entering Milford Village
on the southeast. This road, now known as Old Plank Road, was the primary route
into Milford from the south, branching off from the Grand River Road. It was the
route of a branch stagecoach line that terminated at the Bristol Tavern in South
Milford. The toll-booth for this chartered plank road stood opposite Oak Grove Cemetery.
In 1854 Ibrook Tower and Edwin Tenny built a woodworking mill on the east side of
the angling road, just south of Summit Street. This mill went through several owners
and uses, being burned and rebuilt, and became the Door Knob Factory in the 1880's.
Tenny's 1858 house still stands at 645 N. Main St.
The Pettibone mill was important to a wide area of farmers for six decades.
In pre-railroad days the flour was drawn by team to Detroit where it was sold and
the wagons returned with much-needed supplies for Milford merchants. The foundation
of the Pettibone mill still exists and a new commercial and office building has been
constructed on this foundation. The Upper Mill Pond mills are gone, but their sites
are known and have been marked with a metal historical marker.
In 1832 Calvin Eaton came to Milford, and shortly thereafter constructed
a dam on Pettibone Creek, a few rods north of where Pettibone Creek now crosses Summit
Street, and built a woodworking mill on the east side of the creek. He made sash
and doors and furniture needed by the new settlers in the construction of their homes.
In 1846 Eaton sold the mill and the water-power to Philip Wells, who was then creating
the Upper Mill Pond. All traces of Eaton's mill were gone by 1872. The mill site
has been marked with a metal historical plaque.
Catherine Purchase Edmunds, known as the Widow Edmunds, came to Milford
in 1837 with seven grown children from three marriages. Mrs. Edmunds had a tavern
on the east side of North Main Street. She bought a total of 241 acres of land in
Milford and Milford Township. Though the Widow Edmunds did not remain in Milford
many years, she left a number of children and grandchildren who were part of Milford's
history. Her grandsons, Andrew and James Austin, had a grocery store on North Main
Street and were responsible for the construction of brick stores on North Main (414
and 420) in the 1870's, and for Victorian Gothic houses on East Liberty (328 and
401). Andrew was also a state legislator and fought in the Civil War.
The Grow brothers, William, John and Abel, emigrated from Homer, New
York, to Michigan in 1837, with their parents and a number of grown brothers and
sisters with their spouses. William, John and Abel Grow came to Milford and were
responsible for the construction of many of the very earliest buildings in North
Milford Village, some of which are still standing. William built the house at 423
East Street, remodeled in the 1870's; John built the house at 402 Hickory Street;
and Abel built the house now at 701 North Main Street, moved from the west side of
Union Street. All three houses are of Greek Revival style, so popular in this era
in the United States, as were probably all of the buildings that the three brothers
built in the 1830's and 1840's.
Phillip Wells, in partnership with Charles Holmes, built a foundry on the east side
of North Main Street just south of Detroit Street, facing the flatiron formed by
the divergence of North Main Street and the angling road now known as North Milford
Road. This foundry was the first metal-working mill in Milford. After his death
in the middle 1850's, Wells' sons, Phillip F. and D. Webster, continued their father's
foundry operations at the north Milford location. In1865, however, the brothers moved
their foundry to the south bank of the Huron River just east of Main Street because
they had some difficulty with the water-power on the flatiron--a water-power which
their father had created in the first place. The north foundry buildings disappeared
after 1856, and the south foundry was torn down in 1910. Its site has been marked
with a metal historical plaque. Phillip F. Wells' exceptional Italianate house still
stands at 800 E. Commerce St.
Edwin Hubbell, son of Phillip Hubbell, an early wagon maker in South Milford, had
a grocery store and meat market in a building still standing at 313 North Main Street.
He first occupied the Greek Revival house at 532 N. Main St. and for many years occupied
the Greek Revival house at 124 East Commerce Street which is now the Milford Historical
Still in existence in the district are the homes of the physicians who practiced
in Milford from 1842 to 1871: Dr. Mowry's 1842 Greek Revival house at 226 Hickory
St.; the house at 233 E. Liberty St. which was lived in by several early physicians;
and Dr. Johnston's 1869 Italianate house at 323 E. Commerce St.
The Upper and Lower Mill Ponds on Pettibone Creek in North Milford Village were
historically used also for recreational pursuits. Ice-skating was a popular pursuit
in the winter and some boating, fishing and swimming were carried on in summer, although
swimming was discouraged. Extensive ice-cutting occurred in the winter and an ice-house
was located on the Lower Mill Pond.
During this early era of settlement and prosperity Milford's first buildings were
log structures constructed in the 1830's and 1840's. These were succeeded by
houses and commercial buildings chiefly Greek Revival in style. A number of these
houses are still extant, but most have been extensively remodeled. All of the
commercial structures from this period have disappeared. Several Italianate commercial
buildings from the 1860's: a part of the 1860's hotel at 314 N. Main, Hiram VansLeuvan's
general store (now part of a bank) at 351 N. Main, and Dr. Hovey's store, originally
John Hewitt's drugstore at 432 N. Main St., are still in existence and in use.
The broad patterns of westward settlement and the growth and development
of midwestern communities that are clearly reflected in Milford, as well as the many
extant residential and commercial buildings reflecting the architectural styles of
this early period, meet Criterion A and Criterion C for placement on the National
The Arrival of the Railroad
After the conflict of the Civil War, in which a large number of Milford men took
part, Milford moved into an exciting, productive age. Wealth increased, material
goods became more readily available, and leisure time increased for many. Of all
the changes, the coming of the railroad in 1871 had the greatest impact on Milford's
proposed historic district. It opened up new markets for farm produce and brought
merchants to town to build elevators and other enterprises needed to deal with the
marketing and produce, as well as other products which could now be profitably distributed
to a wider market. The farmers profited from cash crops that would have been difficult
to transport before the railroad came.
The original 1871 railroad line still runs through the heart of the district
just to the west of the commercial area on N. Main St. It was originally carried
through the village on wooden trestles which were replaced by earth embankments.
In 1900 the tracks were raised 5 or 6 feet all over town and an iron viaduct, still
in place, was built over W. Commerce St. Cement abutments, still extant, were built
at Canal St. & Main St in 1902 and at W. Commerce St. & Pettibone Creek in 1910.
Another iron viaduct carries the track over Main St. at Canal St.
In the early days businesses were very local in nature. The village
existed to serve the needs of the farmers, and the farms supplied the villagers with
much of what they needed. Businesses were chiefly general stores, dry goods stores,
wagon shops, blacksmith shops, shoe shops, public houses, and stagecoach inns. Early
manufacturing included sash, furniture, and planing mills; sawmills; gristmills;
woolen mills; a distillery; a brick works; a rake factory; and some basket makers,
all of which furnished the immediate needs of the settlers in both Milford Township
In contrast to this early picture, Milford, in the last quarter of the
nineteenth century, had an amazingly large number of businesses and manufacturing
concerns as a result of the coming of the railroad. Although the population of the
village did not reach 2000 people until well after 1900, the following businesses
thrived in Milford Village between 1871 and 1900: two lumber yards; a marble works;
several general, dry goods and fancy goods stores; many taverns (twelve at one time);
harness makers; groceries; meat markets; hardware stores; jewelry stores; millinery,
dressmaking and notions stores; drug stores (often owned by doctors); dentists and
physicians; local builders including brick and stone masons, painters, wallpaper
hangers, grainers, plasterers, carpenters and roofers; undertakers; furniture stores;
barbers; a book and stationery store; a greenhouse; a bank; buggy and wagon shops;
a bakery; two tailor shops; restaurants; photographers; lawyers; insurance and real
estate salesmen; sewing machine salesmen; boot and shoe shops; ice cream shops (summer
only); hotels; and boarding houses.
This increased business brought new people to Milford, creating a demand
for more stores. The majority of commercial buildings still standing on North Main
Street, namely the brick buildings at 301, 307, 313,315, 319, 339, 361, 367, 371,
401, 405, 414, 416, 429, 436, 440 and 451-453 North Main St., and the frame buildings
at 245, 327, 335 and 345-347 North Main St, twenty-one buildings in all, were built
between 1872 and 1898. Milford's early businesses from the first era of settlement
were situated in wood frame buildings that lined North Main Street. In the late
1860's the wood frame buildings began to be replaced with two-story and three-story
brick and wood frame commercial buildings designed in the vernacular Italianate style.
This trend noticeably increased with the coming of the railroad. Manufacturers expanded
their factories and new ones opened because the train made widespread marketing feasible.
The arrival of the railroad also caused a residential building boom,
with ninety-six houses and barns constructed between 1871 and 1915 on North Main,
Union, Hickory, East, Commerce, Liberty, Canal, Atlantic and Summit Streets. Many
of the houses which line the streets of the proposed Milford Historic District were
built for retiring farmers and for the sons and daughters of the pioneers, who were
conducting prosperous businesses in the Village. The houses from this period of
development comprise the Italianate and Victorian Gothic styles so popular in the
United States of this era.
The last decades of the nineteenth century brought the construction of
Queen Anne, Stick, Late Victorian and Second Empire style houses, and the first decade
of the Twentieth Century brought Dutch Colonial Revival, Bungalows and American Foursquare
concrete block houses. John Hathorn built a hotel on East Liberty Street in 1872,
which burned to the ground in 1877. The house at 404 E. Liberty St. was built on
the site in 1880 (now part of a funeral home). In the 1870's Larkin & Howland built
an elevator on W. Liberty St, and Howland built his handsome two-story wood frame
Victorian Gothic home at 645 Canal Street.
Ed Hubbell's sausage, made in a steam-operated machine in his store at
313 N. Main, could now be sold in Detroit due to rapid delivery of perishable products
made possible by the railroad. J. Buferd, in his store at 351 N. Main, made centre
tables for Victorian parlors that were shipped to Buffalo and Niagara Falls, New
York, and, in 1876, built his wood frame Victorian Gothic home at 711 N. Main. The
Milford Manufacturing Company shipped window screens to San Francisco. Bissell &
Thornhill's "Little Giant" potato and corn scoops were sold in Sweden and Germany.
Edward Bissell and the Thornhill brothers were also involved in the Door Knob Factory
and other businesses. The Thornhill brothers built or owned the brick stores at 414
and 416 N. Main and the Opera House at 339 N. Main. Edward Bissell, a lawyer, built
the glorious brick Second Empire house at 334 Union in 1880 (on the Michigan State
Register of Historic Sites).
Samuel Ferguson built the imposing Italianate brick store at 339 N. Main
St. in 1875 to house his furniture business and another small store. The second story
was Ferguson's Opera House where many types of entertainment, most of which came
to town by railroad, were held. He built the charming Italianate house at 206 E.
Commerce St. in 1871.
The Historic Significance of the Milford Historic District