The Milford Historical Society has received a $10,000 grant from a New Castle County group, the Friends of Rockwood, that will be used to restore needed areas of the property. The Friends of Rockwood grant funds were made available to Delaware house museums that included a Victorian-era theme.
According to the Delaware Public Archives, Parson Thorne Mansion lies within a 1,750 acre Duke of York land patent called Saw Mill Range granted to Henry Bowman in 1680. The first known resident of this portion of the tract was Joseph Booth, who purchased 510 acres from the Bowman family in 1730. The center brick section of the present structure was built by John Cullen after his purchase of 263 acres in 1746. Reverend Syndenham Thorne, an Episcopal clergyman who was instrumental in Milford’s development, bought the property in the 1780s and is interred on the grounds.
John M. Clayton, United States Senator and Secretary of State under President Zachary Taylor, spent a portion of his boyhood at the residence. Members of the Clayton family lie at rest nearby as well. This was also the home of philanthropist Col. Benjamin Potter and Dr. William Burton, Governor of Delaware during the early years of the Civil War. Col. Henry Fiddeman, founder of the First National Bank of Milford, came into ownership of the mansion in 1858 and changed the Colonial Georgian architecture to Gothic Victorian. The Draper family purchased the property in 1916. In 1961, the building and grounds, then known as Silver Hill, were conveyed to the Milford Historical Society by J. Richard Draper. The Parson Thorne Mansion was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1971.
This grant given to the Milford Historical Society by the Friends of Rockwood was a result of a disagreement between two entities involved with the Rockwood estate in New Castle County. In 1974, the executors of the estate of Nancy Sellers Hargraves, through the Delaware Chancery Court, gifted Rockwood Manor House to New Castle County. In 1977, The Friends of Rockwood was incorporated to support the County in its effort to preserve and maintain Rockwood. The two entities had been partners involved in what became the Rockwood Museum, but the dispute between the two entities resulted in the Friends of Rockwood dissolving and granting the remaining money they had raised to other Delaware house museums that include a Victorian-era theme
The Milford Historical Society was asked to apply for the grant as members of the Friends of Rockwood visited the estate in Milford during their biannual Antiques Market at Silver Hill. Members of the Milford Historical Society already painted the exterior of the Parson Thorne Mansion in the actual historic colors used during the Victorian era, when the exterior architecture was changed from Colonial to Victorian.
The Victorian-era project for this grant is the restoration of the second floor east bedroom in the mansion. The paint color will be what was actually used in the room, as determined by painting consultant Catherine Adams Masek of Severna Park, MD, in her paint analysis work on the Parson Thorne Mansion. A historic replica of Victorian-era wallpaper, window treatments, and furnishings will be added to complete the period interpretation of the bedroom.
Treasurer of the Milford Historical Society Ralph Prettyman hopes that this restoration will lead the Society to open the historical house to the public more often. “Ideally we would like to utilize this asset as a place where we can consistently host events for the community or other social gatherings,” stated Prettyman. He said that the first step to realizing this idea starts with more people becoming interested in a continuing restoration effort, which then can be leveraged to open up the property more often.
According to Prettyman, when the Society formed there were many activities on the site. “Our challenge is we have a small membership and we need some additional members with a little energy and time to share.” If individuals are interested they are asked to contact Prettyman at 302-424-1789 or firstname.lastname@example.org.