By Terry Rogers
On Saturday, February 8, the Milford Rotary Club honored Sudler and Joan Lofland for the contributions they have made to the Milford community. The Lofland’s, who have revitalized the Vinyard Shipyard on the south end of the city, were presented with proclamations from bothe the Delaware Senate and House of Representatives.
“We are here to honor two people who have made our city a great place to live,” said Councilman Skip Pikus, who was Master of Ceremonies at the event. “Their efforts have contributed tremendously to the betterment of the city of Milford.” Many dignitaries were present at the event, including former State Senator Bob Voshell and former State Representative Bob Walls.
Sudler Lofland worked as a director in the funeral home started by his great-grandfather, Joseph Lofland. Mr. Lofland and his parents, Joe and Ruth Lofland, operated the company on South Washignton Street until they built the current location at 102 Lakeview Avenue. Joan Lofland worked at Milford Memorial Hospital, providing assistance to patients during and after their stay in the hospital.
David Burton, a longtime friend and business partner of the Lofland’s spoke in honor of the couple, standing next to a photo of them from their high school prom. Mr. Burton explained that he and his wife, Ann, along with Tom Draper, were approached by Mr. Lofland about a potential business partnership that would work to revitalize some of the downtown buildings in Milford. Their first project was the building that now houses the Second Street Players.
“There were two buildings by the river that were literally falling down, but behind those buildings was an old warehouse,” commented Mr. Burton. “Sudler came to us and said told us we should buy those old buildings, tear down the two in front and allow the Second Street Players to put a theater in that old warehouse. My response was ‘Sudler, you are crazy!’ but he was a miracle worker.” The building supports were reinforced, and the entire structure was overhauled to create the theater that exists today, something that Mr. Burton said is a valuable addition to downtown Milford, giving credit to Mr. Lofland for his vision.
In addition to the home of the Second Street Players, Mr. Lofland remodeled the building across the river from the theater that now houses offices used by the State of Delaware. Mr. Burton said that he is still amazed that they were able to create a two-story building out of an old, run-down one-story building, but that was the kind of vision that Mr. Lofland had for the downtown area.
The next project Mr. Lofland and the group took on was one that Mr. Burton said seemed impossible, The Windsor Hotel. Built in 1892, the hotel was a popular stopover for salesmen and visitors to the town during the days of railroad travel. However, the building had not been maintained properly, and as Mr. Burton explained, had become the home of many “cats and birds, some of which were not even alive.”
“Sudler and Wright Parker worked a miracle in that building,” Mr. Burton explained. “The literally removed the interior of the building and rebuilt it to what it is today.” Mr. Burton said that the Windsor Hotel lends itself nicely to Milford and that it is a critical part of the history of the town. Today, the building holds offices used by the State of Delaware.
After completing the Windsor Hotel renovations, the group parted ways, but Mr. and Mrs. Lofland continued their quest to return historical sites in Milford to their former glory, turning to the Vinyard Shipyard. Mr. Burton explained that Milford began when Parson Thorne built a dam and began shipping grains from the town, but it was shipbuilding that grew the city to prominence, as the Vinyard and Abbott shipyards built some of the best sailing ships in the country.
The early ships built in the Milford shipyards were sailing vessels, and, as power vessels took over, the Vinyard Shipyard was able to make the change, while others in the town were not. Throughout the 20s and 30s, the Vinyard shipyard built very fine yachts, and during World War II, began building sub chasers, which were known as the Splinter Fleet. Eventually, the shipbuilding industry in Milford ended, and when the Lofland’s bought the boatyard, it was overrun, looking more like a “jungle,” according to Mr. Burton.
The Lofland’s looked at the Vinyard Shipyard, which was founded by Wilson Marvel Vinyard in 1896, as an important piece of Milford history. Mrs. Lofland began researching the manufacturing of luxury yachts, as well as the fourteen subchasers built in the city. The couple established a tribute to the shipbuilding roots of Milford, creating not only a museum in honor of owners Wilson and Sonny Vinyard but also a working yard with operational machinery used in the 18th and 19th century.
Director of Milford Parks & Recreation, Gary Emory, paid tribute to the Loflands during the ceremony. He spoke of their love of the town and their ability to recognize the importance of the river that has supported its citizens over several centuries.
“There are people in this community that I call “River People,” as they know that a healthy Mispillion River is the lifeblood of this community,” Mr. Emory said. “My path has crossed with the Loflands many times as we worked to get the Riverwalk where it is today. They have always answered the call and are an example of what community service is truly all about. I want to thank them on behalf of the city for their unselfish public service. May the sailing wind always be at their backs.”