On Monday, October 22, Milford City Council voted unanimously for the city attorney to draw up a sales contract and submit a $50,000 deposit to secure land currently owned by Growmark, located across from the current Milford Police Station. City Council intends to use the 14 acres to build a new police station in the future.
“There is very little land available within city limits, which is where citizens say they prefer the police station to remain,” said Councilman Doug Morrow. “This is one of the only pieces of land left that we could use within the town for the new station, which we definitely need.”
In a second motion, City Council unanimously voted to permit the Chief of Police to contact Delaware Division of Historical and Cultural Affairs in order to arrange for an archeological search of the property. Councilman Pikus provided Chief Hudson with documentation from Milford Historian Dave Kenton regarding the history of the land. Some of the documentation went as far back as the 1700’s, and also included aerial photographs from the 1930’s and 1940’s. In addition to the archeological survey, Chief Hudson will arrange for environmental testing to determine any irregularities that may exist from the land’s use by Growmark and its predecessor, Milford Fertilizer.
“Growmark is very interested in working with the city,” Councilman Skip Pikus said. “The land was appraised at around $890,000, which Growmark accepted quickly. The next step is to get permission from them to go on the land to do the environmental and archeological evaluations.”
The archeological survey is required by the state due to its proximity to the river. Historical data indicates that American Indian villages existed along bodies of water, and there is some indication that an Indian burial ground may exist on the property, dating back before the 1600’s.
The land, which extends along the east side of N.E. 4th Street, were originally part of a 57-acre tract of land owned by William Bradley, which was sold to John Draper in 1781 for Draper to establish a shipyard. At that time, the river passed around Goat Island to the south, until it was dredged in 1923. Prior to his death, John Draper built several wooden sailing ships at the yard. At the time of his death, William Bradley held the mortgage on the shipyard and the surrounding acreage, requiring Draper’s son, Alexander Draper IV to purchase the property in 1801. In 1809, the younger Draper sold the entire tract to John Purden, who then divided the property into smaller parcels. Dr. John Adams and Jacob Biddle both purchased 6-acres, and these two properties comprise the Growmark property today.
The Beers Atlas of 1868 shows the land as belonging to Shadrach Raughley when Pomeroy and Beers completed their survey of the form.
Later in the 19th Century, Paul Knabb, an oysterman and fisherman, lived in a two-story frame townhouse along a lane extending from N.E. 4th Street to the center of the property, and this farmhouse was a Milford landmark for over 100 years. Research of the Kent County Recorder of Deeds records found no deeds in Knabb’s name, indicating he may have leased the land, or that it may have been part of an inheritance. In the book, Historical Etchings of Milford, Delaware, edited by George B. Hynson and published in 1899, Paul Knabb’s lane is said to run “from the east end of town to the corner of Front Street.” The book also mentions that the lane ran towards “the phosphate works on the river.” Knabb’s home stood on the border of lands owned by Captain Henry May, who owned a fishery before Simpson and Company started their phosphate business where the shipyard used to stand. Knabb died in 1885, but residents of Milford recalled his oyster trade for many years. Aerial photographs of the land taken in 1937, 1954, and 1961 show remnants of the Knabb home, and the lane was still in use in 1968.
Historical books also mention what was known as “The Meadow,” located on N. Front Street near East Street, which was owned by Dr. James Lofland and his brother-in-law, Spencer Williams. The lot was sold by Harry Hill to Louis Chorman in 1923. This land eventually became the Milford Dump before being developed into what is now the Riverwalk Shopping Center. Another parcel of that land purchased at auction from the estate of Louis Chorman by Milford Fertilizer, is the location where the Growmark storage building stands today.
Milford Fertilizer purchased the Knabb land around 1975-1980 and used the land to store containers of chemicals used in the fertilizer business. No buildings other than the original farmhouse were built on the property from the corner of N.E. 2nd and N.E. 4th, and Paul Knabb’s Lane leads to a parking area in the center of the property today, and is evident on aerial photographs.
The archeological and environmental studies are expected to take as much as 90 days to complete, and a full report will be provided to City Council. Once the land has been cleared both archeologically and environmentally, the City will need to raise money for a new police station. Councilman Pikus said that it is probable that the town will need to go to referendum to complete the new station.
“A new station is necessary as we have outgrown our current police station and the building is landlocked,” Councilman Pikus said. “We have no options but to build a new building and the acquisition of this land from Growmark is the first step to bringing a new police station to Milford.”