History on the Mispillion- Vinyard Shipyard

Shipbuilding was an important industry in Milford during the early 1800’s, and the evidence of that long-forgotten line of work is still evident as you walk around the town. In fact, one of the original shipyards that produced many of the ships built here in Milford still stands today, the Vinyard Shipyard on Columbia Street.

The Vinyard Shipyard was owned by Wilson Vinyard who was raised in Wisconsin. While living in the mid-west, Mr. Vinyard built The Delaware, which he piloted via the St. Lawrence Seaway to Milford. In 1896, he founded the Vinyard shipyard and rebuilt the Delaware, renaming it City of Dover. The ships Mr. Vinyard built made runs to Philadelphia with cargo and passengers. The shipyard also built tugboats, fishing boats and schooners, and during the World Wars, built sub chasers for the U.S. Navy.

Today, the shipyard stands on the banks of the Mispillion River, surrounded by the homes that were built to house the workers who helped build Milford’s maritime history. The combination office and warehouse, which were built around 1920, were built in three sections. The two end sections were used as warehouses and work rooms, while the center section is a one-story office space. Also still standing at the shipyard are the mold/sail loft, built about 1900, and the boat house, built about 1929.

The shipyard is not the only sign of Wilson Vinyard’s legacy, however. In 1924, Mr. Vinyard built a Colonial-revival style home with a center hall at 118 N.W. Front Street. This 2-story brick home has keystone lintels over each window and two small wings on each gable end. It was built on the site of what was known as “Purity Row”, which was a group of worker’s homes in the early 19th century.

Mr. Vinyard lived in this home with his wife, Ella, his son, Wilson Sharp “Sonny”, and daughters, Mary and Elizabeth. A 1930 census shows the neighbors of the Vinyard’s as Clara, Sallie, Anne and James Deputy, Anna Jane, Mary and Brudella Davis and M. Elizabeth, Norman and Letia Windsor. It is very possible that the Windsor’s were the owners of the then popular Windsor Hotel, which still stands today.

On a 1923 passport application, Mr. Vinyard, who lists his occupation as a shipbuilder, stated that he would be sailing on the President Polk to visit Great Britain, Norway, Belgium, France, Holland and Italy, more than likely to promote his shipbuilding company in those countries. From 1932 to 1936, Wilson Vinyard was the Mayor of Milford, and he died in 1945.

It appears that Mr. Vinyard was not living in this home at the time of his death, as records show he eventually purchased the Causey Mansion and lived there for some time. However, Wilson Sharp “Sonny” Vinyard remained a resident of the N.W. Front Street home and took over the shipbuilding company that his father started. Sonny lived with his wife, Blanche, and his four daughters, Mary, Elizabeth, Eleanor and Caroline.

Sonny Vinyard died in 1973 and his will leaves the bulk of his estate to his wife, Blanche, along with his home, the shipyard and a cottage in Rehoboth Beach. He left $5,000 each to two of his “trusted employees”, Justus Hudson and Thomas Baker as well. An accounting of his estate shows that at the time of his death, Sonny Vinyard owned the N.W. Front Street home, a lot with store building on the west side of the “dual highway”, the shipyard on the south bank of the Mispillion River, and the Rehoboth beach cottage.

Mr. Vinyard had charities that he held close to his heart, and his will set up trusts for Milford High School Alumni Association, First Presbyterian Church of Milford and Milford Memorial Hospital.

In October, 1910, Wilson Vinyard, Sonny’s father, was inducted into the Delaware Maritime Hall of Fame for his contribution to the history of shipbuilding in Delaware.

Resources:

Cape Gazette (2010) Delaware Maritime Hall of Fame Inductee October 9, 2010.

United States Department of the Interior National Park Service (1984) National Registry of Historic Places: Milford, Delaware.

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