Milford is a quickly growing city, straddling Kent and Sussex Counties, and focusing on its roots in the river, the arts and a home-town atmosphere.
Milford, which straddles both Kent and Sussex counties, was born and grew from the prospects generated by the Mispillion River, which is the dividing line between the counties. The Kent County side of Milford was settled by Henry Bowan in 1680. A century later, a dam was built across the Mispillion River to produce power for Rev. Sydenham Thorne’s gristmill and sawmill, and land owner Joseph Oliver began to lay out the first city streets. The city was officially incorporated Feb. 5, 1807.
Milford flourished as a shipbuilding community in the 1770s, with the industry continuing through World War I, with six shipyards operating in the downtown area at the height of prosperity. Shipyards quickly went out of business in the 1920s, when the last of the area’s white oaks were cut, but Mispillion ships continued to sail.
The city then shifted to serve southern Delaware’s agricultural community throughout the 20th century.
Downtown Milford is experiencing a renaissance, with many storefronts now occupied by a variety of niche boutiques, restaurants, artists, retail shops and additional businesses, including an engineering firm, state offices and insurance companies. Growth is also expanding along U.S. Route 113, which receives heavy traffic from beach visitors.
Downtown Milford, Inc., in collaboration with the city, is working to brand the city as a “River Town, Art Town, Home Town” by increasing activities throughout the year to highlight each of those aspects. The yearly Bug & Bud Festival, the Riverwalk “Freedom” Festival and other pub crawls and street festivals highlight the importance of gathering around the Mispillion River, buying local and supporting family-oriented events.
Students attend school at the Milford School District, which currently has an early learning center, three elementary schools, a central academy and a high school. Plans are in the works to renovate or rebuild the city’s historic Milford Middle School.
The city is governed by a mayor and an eight-member council. Elections are held in late April, and Milford will soon have a new face as mayor after Joseph “Ronnie” Rogers, who has served the city for 40 years as a councilman and mayor, recently announced his retirement.
As Milford continues to annex and expand, Milford City Council is exploring ways to prepare for future growth, looking to Milford’s southeast and west quadrants for possible development. Major electric and water systems upgrades are currently in the works within city limits, and city council has been discussing a variety of ways to make Milford “shovel ready” for new development in those areas.