The City of Milford is located on the Mispillion River, within both Kent and Sussex Counties. The historic center of the town lies on the River, bracketed between US Route 113 on the west side of town and Delaware Business Route 1 on the east. The City is approximately 19 miles south of Dover, the Kent County seat and State Capitol, and 17 miles north of Georgetown, the Sussex County seat.
While the Milford Hundred in eastern Kent County and the Cedar Creek Hundred in northeastern Sussex County were settled in colonial times as farming districts, the site of Milford was selected as a small, riverside manufacturing and shipping community organized by the Reverend Sydenham Thorne and Joseph Oliver in 1787. Oliver subdivided his farm into town lots and Thorne erected wharves and a sawmill. The town grew rapidly on the north bank of the river and spread north and east, from the mill site that was located at Mill Street on the River.
This mill was followed by a number of additional mills in the same area. The industries that first prospered in Milford, either supplied goods needed by the local farming community or processed products of the farms and forests. In 1807, the town on the north bank of the Mispillion was incorporated and a Board of Commissioners was established.
With a good supply of different varieties of wood in the area, shipbuilding became an important industry in the 1820′s and it expanded to its height between 1850 and 1890, when over 150 ships of 100 to 600 gross tons were built. Most of these were two masted wooden schooners However, with the advent of the steel hull, the steamboat and the railroad, shipbuilding in Milford declined until the last yard, the Vinyard Shipyard, remained during the first half of the 20th century. During World War I, this yard built three submarine chasers and four Navy tugboats. During World War II, the shipyard launched 14 submarine chasers and 12 Navy leave boats.
Milford continued to thrive into the 20th century. In 1887, the town re-incorporated to include the developed areas to the south, in Sussex County, and with the new charter, the City gave women the right to vote. Also in 1887, the first electric light plant built south of Wilmington was started as a private enterprise in Milford. Until the 1920s, electricity was provided only during nighttime hours. The construction of Delaware’s first highways in the early 1900s assured continued transportation options for produce and manufactured goods from Milford. In 1925, the fire company raised funds to support a community building. Throughout the 1930s Milford’s conservative business habits assisted in insulating the local economy from the more serious impacts of the Great Depression. In 1936, a new sewage treatment plant began operations that began the slow recovery of the polluted Mispillion River.
The City’s geographic heart and its many public services are still centered on the River. The City has been actively expanding a greenway network of walkways and bridges to link the downtown area with historic landmarks, schools, public parks and shopping areas.
Source: Milford 2008 Comprehensive Plan