Mispillion Greenway Walking Tour: The Mill House

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2By Terry Rogers

The Mispillion Greenway Walking Tour connects city parks, natural areas, cultural centers and historic areas with the many historic buildings that still exist in the city of Milford. One of these historic locations, The Mill House, sits at 414 NW Front Street, and was once the home of noted Milford historian, George B. Hynson.

It is believed that the Mill House, located at 414 Northwest Front Street in Milford, was the home of Parson Sydenham Thorne’s miller and estimates are that it was built around 1790, although there are indications it may be even older. The house is located across from the Parson Torne Mansion and much of the woodwork and other architecture are very similar. In fact, the brick on the outside of the home, which is still the original brick, is identical to brick used in the construction of the mansion.

The home is a Georgian-style brick with a tin gable roof. The front door is recessed to the interior and the transom has irregular-shaped lights. The rear wing was originally covered with weatherboard, but is now covered in siding. At one time, the home was owned by Governor Peter F. Causey and later, his son, Peter F. Causey, Jr., although the home was never a Causey family residence. The Causey’s held extensive real estate in the town, and this home was one of their rental properties. It is believed that it may have been rented to a valued employee at one of the family’s mills, due to its close proximity to Milford Mills and tanneries. In 1902, the home was sold at a sheriff’s sale to satisfy a debt to the National Bank of Smyrna.

Milford historian, David Kenton, believes that the home was built by Parson Thorne before his death in 1793 or by his nephew and heir, Peter Caverly, who lived in Dover. In the book, “Milford, Delaware After 1776,” written by Dallas Hitchens, there is a detailed deed section on the early days of Parson Thorne’s first mill, which was constructed in 1787. The deeds suggest that the first miller who operated Parson Thorne’s mill lived in a small home adjacent to the mill on a location near where Mr. Hitchens’ father built a home in 1921. That home was in poor condition after the death of Parson Thorne, according to Mr. Hitchens, further suggesting that a new home was built for the miller.

Based on this information, Mr. Kenton feels that Peter Caverly built the Mill House when he owned the mill from 1793 to 1808. Mr. Caverly was a banker and not a businessman who inherited the residences and businesses of his uncle. Eventually, Mr. Caverly sold the entire farm and mill operation to James Clayton, father of John M. Clayton, who came to Milford from Dagsboro to manage the Clayton-Blackiston tannery. The tannery was located on the corner lot where the Mill House is located, and the house was included in the sale of the mansion and mill to James and Sarah Clayton in 1808.

George B. Hynson, who owned the home at one time, was a newspaperman who wrote “Historical Etchings and Vicinity” which was published in 1899 and recounts much of the history of Milford. Mr. Hynson also wrote a book of poetry, published in 1920, called “DownYan and Thereabout,” which was illustrated by William H. Roach, a Milford artist. However, Mr. Hynson is better remembered for writing the Delaware state song, “Our Delaware,” which he wrote in 1960.

In 1964, the Mill House had fallen into disrepair after being vacant for several years. The home was purchased by Mr. and Mrs. Leonard Elfreth, who also owned the Sunnybrae Mansion at the time. At the time they purchased the home, it had a front porch that extended to the sidewalk, which the Elfreth’s removed, adding a wooden stoop similar to the one built onto the Parson Thorne mansion, bringing the front of the home back to the way it may have looked during the 18th century.

Keystones were added above the windows and small panes were replaced in windows as necessary. A wing in the back of the house was converted into a rental apartment by the Elfreth’s, while the front of the home was completely restored to its original glory. Despite the fact that the house looks small from the outside, the interior rooms are bigger than expected. There is a large entry hall, a living room and kitchen on the first floor, and a large bedroom with a bath on the second floor. There is speculation that the fireplace in the living room was added in the 1820s as the bricks are much wider than other bricks found in the home.

The Mill House is listed on the National Register of Historic Places as it embodies the distinctive characteristics of Georgian residences in Milford. It is one of the few buildings in the town that provides an example of unaltered early brick. It is clear that the mansion served as an example for the smaller Mill House as the window detail, brick, heavy rusticated keystones and interior woodwork are almost identical to that found in the mansion. In addition, the home has a strong connection to Governor Peter F. Causey and his son, further demonstrating the need to preserve the history of the home.

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