Tharp-Jewell Building Returned to Former Glory

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By Terry Rogers

One building in downtown Milford that has a rich history that even few natives are aware of is the Tharp-Jewell Building, located at the corner of N.E. Front and Church Streets. Those who have lived in Milford for many years will recall the building as being the location of Jewell’s Grocery Store, which operated out of the oldest section of the structure for almost 100 years. What many residents may not know is that this building was also the home of Governor William Tharp, who served in the General Assembly before being elected governor in 1847.

The original section of the Tharp-Jewell Building was built in 1814 by John Williams to give to his son, Reynear Williams as a wedding gift. Tragically, Reynear’s wife, Maria Potter, died in May 1814, leaving Reynear a very young widower. Reynear later married Elizabeth, the daughter of Governor Peter F. Causey. After Reynear’s death in 1839, his heirs added a frame section to the store and rented the entire structure to Daniel Godwin, a prominent grocer in Milford.

In 1847, William Tharp purchased the entire structure during his run for the governor’s office and lived there until his death in 1865. His daughter, Ruth Tharp Watson, who was the mother of Governor William Watson, was raised in the home with her four sisters.

The Tharp-Jewell House, which appears much more sedate compared to “The Towers” which is a close neighbor, is built in a similar style with clipped gable and decorative trim dormer treatments. The building has a more traditional Gothic appearance and a wide, heavy porch that runs across the residential side of the building.

Governor William Tharp served one term as governor and was described by many as a very successful and progressive farmer. He was highly respected and considered an intellectual among his peers. During his tenure as governor, Pea Patch Island was transferred to the U.S. Government. Governor Tharp retired from politics after one term in office and was named Treasurer of the Delaware Railroad in 1852.

After his death in 1856, Governor Tharp’s daughter, Ann Tharp Reynolds, lived in the Tharp-Jewell home until she sold the building to Peter Houseman in 1890.It was later sold to Clarence F. Jewell in 1925 and ran as a grocery store from the location until his death. His sister, Thelma Jewell, operated the store until 1990, when it ceased operations. The store and residential section of the building fell into disrepair and were in danger of demolition until Daniel Bond, a restoration expert, upgraded the buildings and restored it to be used again as a store and residential building.

For many long-time residents of Milford, saving a building with the rich history of the Tharp-Jewell House has been very beneficial to downtown businesses. The building now looks much as it must have when the Tharp sisters lived there and the storefront appears much like many long-term residents remember it looking like when John and Thelma Jewell operated their small grocery store. The corner location now has the feel of old Milford as does much of the downtown area, which is thriving as more buildings are returned to their old glory.