Sleuthing Milford

This Old House Speaks Volumes

(from the 2005 Home Tour Book)

To make your Home Tour stroll even more interesting each year, we invite you to learn some tricks of observation from the Old House Detective*

As you follow the “Sleuth Route” highlighted on the 2005 Home Tour map, you’ll discover many ways our buildings and landscape reveal our community’s past. The vocabulary is one of rooflines, porches, streetscapes, foundations and more.

If you love our old houses, you won’t want to miss this opportunity to tune in to the street clues that embellish the story of our village.

334 Union (1880)

This is the Village’s only “Second Empire” style building with slate mansard roof.  A detail easily overlooked is the cut stone walk leading to the front door on Union Street. Sidewalk requirements and materials changed throughout Milford’s history. At the time this one was installed, wooden sidewalks would have been the norm.

222 Center (1891)

On the north side of the building, the foundation is of precisely cut stone, except for the cobble that appears in the inside corner, east of the front door. This hints that there was once a porch there and one of those windows was probably a door. The expense of a cut stone foundation was not necessary where it would not be seen under a porch.

Hickory and Center Streets

There are many indicators of Village history within view as you stand at this intersection.

Center Street is abutted directly by sidewalk. There’s no easement with grass as we see on the other streets. Originally the land was not platted as a roadway and was owned by an early settler, Aaron Phelps who platted N. Milford, still known as “Phelp’s Plat” in 1838. When he left town for many years, the villagers began using the empty property as a street, sometimes called Phelps Street, sometimes Shinbone Alley. When Phelps returned to Milford, he decided to set up a toll road, which did not go over very well with the residents. Because of the many years the property had carried traffic without the owner’s objection, the village eventually designated the property “Center Street,” based on the claim of “adverse use.”

402 Hickory  (1848) (NE corner)

This house has two distinct architectural styles. The west side is Greek Revival represented by the “return eaves” (the eaves and wide board beneath “wrap around” the north and south corners). The south façade has a Victorian gothic porch that was added in the late 1800’s.  The garage on this property is a Greek Revival imitation. An architectural historian would not be fooled by the “returns” on the east and west façade. First of all, an out building from the middle of the 18th century would have had a steeper roof or been two-storied to accommodate feed for the family’s horse. Also, the Greek Revival architectural style would not have been chosen for such a utilitarian building.

346 Hickory (1853) (SE corner)

The return eaves on this small house built indicate another Greek Revival. This one and it’s neighbor at 402 Hickory stood alone for decades before the Victorian Gothic (405 Hickory) was built in 1872

401 East Street (1902)  (NW corner of Center and East Streets)

This early house is known to be the first in the village to have a cement block foundation. You might guess that the four-bay garage, common to modern built homes, was a very recent addition. In fact, it is an early building and was used as a mechanics shop by the Feigley family from 1938 until they opened their Buick dealership on Main Street in 1948.

East Street (between Commerce and Liberty Streets)

East Street (between Commerce and Liberty Streets)

Infill refers to a house built years later on a lot split off from the original owner’s property. “Infill” can help piece together a timeline of the Village’s development.

The east side of East Street between Commerce and Liberty proves this point.

Between Commerce and East Liberty we see nine East Street homes built on the east side of the street between 1852 and 1926. With the help of the posted date signs and intuition it is apparent which houses are later infill.

Obvious visual clues are not always helpful, though. Even though 332 and 400 East Street have similar stiles, 332 was built in 1875 and 400 was built 30 years latter in 1905 (look more closely at the foundations).  

The house at 311 East Street  (1842) was actually infill in 1868 when it was moved from its original site on the SE corner of Union and E. Commerce.

302 East Street/401 East Liberty (1872/1896)

The dual address is intriguing, as this was a one-family house for the first 70-some years of its life. The original orientation and address of the house was on East Street. The original owner extensively expanded and renovated the house in 1896, making Liberty Street the main entrance. He would have preferred an address on Liberty Street, known as “Bicycle Row” and admired for its fine houses at the turn of the century. The 1896 construction included the large first floor windows on the west and south sides as well as the “Queen Anne” window bay in the southeast corner.

The “carriage house” is a 1994 addition, another imitation designed to compliment the characteristic roofline of the house.

First Street

300 First Street (1868)

As you approach First Street, you would guess that the two-story garage is an original building. You’re right this time! If you were to go inside you would see a beautiful old wood plank floor still intact. Interestingly, research shows that the outbuilding existed on that spot in the 1870’s while the house was moved to this site in 1878.  

308 First Street

Here, when you stop by to see the “privy dig” in progress, note the large, deep lot and the shape of the lot just to the north. This is a very typical early-development landscape clue. In 1873, First Street was the “outskirts” of town with the land east of it undeveloped.

For the rest of your walk to the Home Tour houses, notice that there are several east-west streets that do not have sidewalks. This is a very subtle feature that gives Milford its “old time” feel and charming ambience.

Canal Street

501 Canal (1900)

Lilacs were commonly planted in the 19th Century, either as a hedge (such as the one on the north lot boundary) or as a lone specimen in a side yard, or near a door where the fragrance could be enjoyed. As you round the corner, notice the mock orange bush standing alone in the front yard.

525 Canal (1872)

Original carriage house. Note size and height, with one-story shed-roof wing and compare with the Greek Revival imitation you saw on Center Street.

Houghton Street

123 Houghton

This old style barn structure is not contemporary with house. The house just south (703 Atlantic) was built in 1870 and it’s very possible the barn served that house before a lot was split off for more modern infill.

Atlantic Street

Walking east on Atlantic, notice how many of the homes have the Gothic characteristics of steeply pitched roof, two major house sections at right angles to each other, often a one-story porch inside the el, the style of many farmhouses. In fact, in the 700 and 800 blocks of Atlantic, 10 of the 15 houses are this basic style and were built between 1868 and the early 1900’s. This stretch of Atlantic is an example of the building boom that occurred after the railroad came through Milford in 1871-1872. It wasn’t until 1925 that a house was built at 721 Atlantic, and then in 1940, three more homes were built, 823 and 826 being mirror images of each other.

As you continue east on Atlantic toward the civic center and the Views and Visions Art Show, you pass 1018 Atlantic quite different architecturally from any you have seen so far today. It looks nothing like the other buildings on Atlantic built in the 1920’s though that was the year the 1848 home of a founder of Milford was extensively modified by his grandson. What remains of an 1840’s barn can be seen in the southwest corner of the lot.

* Sources include oral histories, National Historic District Nomination, Field Guide to American Houses by Virginia & Lee McAlester, 1873 Bird’s Eye View Map of Milford and our own Barbara Young, Milford’s historian for the past 30+ years. Anchoring much of our local research is the Milford Times, a continuously published local newspaper since 1871.

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