Brief History of Business in Milford
following History of Business in Milford was written by Richard
Platt, Milford's Municipal Historian.
Milford was settled in 1639 by a group of English Puritans under
the leadership of the Rev. Peter Prudden. The site was chosen because
the Wepawaug River widened at its mouth to form a fine natural harbor,
the stream was large enough to provide abundant water for livestock,
and the necessary power for turning mill wheels. Milford's first
business, indeed, was a gristmill, the first in the New Haven Colony,
operated by William Fowler. It is believed that this is how Milford
got its name.
addition, a carpenter, a cooper, a tailor, a blacksmith, a tanner,
and a weaver were among the early settlers.
was a primary activity and remained important up until about 1950.
In the early years, everyone farmed, even those who had other occupations.
It was necessary to grow most of one's own food, cut timber, build
one's own house and barn, and make many of one's own tools, equipment
and household goods.
very early became a seaport because of its excellent harbor. Alexander
Bryan and his son Richard were the town's first merchants, establishing
a rapidly growing trade with Boston, New York, and the West Indies.
Their warehouses were at the head of the harbor, near the present
the end of the 17th century, Milford also became a shipbuilding
center. The first shipyard was just to the east of Fowler's Mill
and another at the foot of Factory Lane. Many ships were built here
until about 1820.
began as an important business in 1752. Fishing was also important.
War of 1812, the Embargo, currency fluctuations, and the tariff
of 1816 caused many Milford companies to fail. The final blow was
a disastrous flood in 1843 which silted up the harbor and put an
end to Milford's seagoing commerce.
by this time, Milford was beginning to manufacture many items that
previously had been imported: carriages, boots and shoes in particular.
By mid-19th century, Milford also produced textiles, harnesses,
corn brooms, chairs, and cabinet ware.
railroad, New Haven to New York, was completed in 1848 and manufacturing
grew. Baldwin & Flagg's straw hat factory (on Factory Lane),
and Beecher & Miles's carriage factory (behind the Town Hall)
employed several hundred men. Milford carriages sold widely in the
Southern and Western markets. Beecher & Miles added a wooden
frame direct drive bicycle in 1868. Boots and shoes continued to
1857, oystering became a major industry when Wm. M. Merwin &
Sons successfully planted seed oysters in the harbor and later transplanted
them to deeper water. This business continued, eventually operated
by a General Foods subsidiary, to well into the 20th century.
electric street railway, contructed in 1898, led to a boom in shore
property. Milford, because of its miles of sandy beaches, became
an important shore resort.
should be noted that a Milford native, Frank Julian Sprague, had
designed the first electric street railway (trolley system) in Richmond,
Virginia. Other noted inventors from Milford were George Coy, who
built the first telephone switchboard, and Simon Lake, who perfected
the modern even-keel submarine.
War I caused a jump in population and an increase in new building.
Many small businesses were involved in making metal goods and there
were numerous machine shops. Many Milford residents were employed
at the Argonaut Salvage Co. and at the Lake Torpedo Boat Co. in
Second World War caused another large jump in population, with many
residents employed in defense industries in New Haven, Stratford,
and Bridgeport. U. S. Electrical Motors was an important local employer.
recently, the Schick Corporation and the Bic Pen Co. have been major
local businesses. In addition, with the establishment of the Connecticut
Post Shopping Center next to the newly completed I-95, and other
malls, Milford became an important retail center as well. It is
significant that the Connecticut Post Mall was constructed on what
had been farmland, the trial grounds of the F. H. Woodruff Seed
Co., closing the book on what had been Milford's agricultural beginnings.