History Of Shipyard Historic District

Photo taken by Milford artist Rosemary Connelly.
Photo taken by Milford artist Rosemary Connelly.

By Dave Kenton

The first shipyard to be established within the town of Milford was by John Draper, who was building sailing vessels from 1782-1791 on the north bank of the Mispillion at the end of NE 4th street where the Milford boat launching dock stands today. Draper moved his operation to Fork Landing wharf on the Murderkill river and did not return to Milford, but his nephew, Alexander Draper, continued to build ships at this shipyard from 1798-1809.

There were seven shipyards established in the 19th century on the south bank of the Mispillion between S. Washington street and Marshall street beginning with David West in 1818-1832. West lived in the T.C. Collins home still standing at 205 S.E. Front street. Markings on the chimney of this home indicate it was built in 1794. David West died in 1833 at age 42 after building nine sloops on the Mispillion. He sold his shipyard to Manlove Carlisle and Wm. F. Reville in 1833 and the new partnership built 29 sailing ships until the retirement of Wm. Reville in 1853. Nine sloops, 19 schooners and one brig during their partnership.

Manlove Carlisle continued building ships at his yard between Montgomery & Franklin streets. His brother, Thomas H. Carlisle joined with Manlove Carlisle in 1855 and the two ship carpenters built another 19 ships from 1855-1877 including four, three-masted schooners. Manlove Carlisle retired in 1877 at age 60 and Thomas continued to build eight more schooners before his death in 1890.

Manlove Carlisle lived in the home formerly owned by David West until 1860 when he built another impressive home at the corner of Franklin Street and sold the West home to his brother, Thomas H. Carlisle.

Sylvester Deputy came to Milford in 1828 and built a home at the corner of SE Front and Montgomery street (now gone) and began building sailing ships. His son, James H. Deputy, joined the firm in 1839 and continued building ships at the Deputy yard located where the basketball courts stand today on the Riverwalk near the Salvation Army building. He built 35 vessels between 1839 and 1872 when he retired. James H. Deputy was the primary shipbuilder for the famous Philadelphia shipping magnate, Henry May, a former resident of Milford.

In 1846, William A. Scribner, began building sailing ships opposite his home at the corner of S. Washington Street and SE Front street. The Scribner home was located on the site of the convenience store and gas station today. Their shipyards extended behind the Salvation Army building and were west of Deputy’s yard. He built 21 ships from 1846-1880 and upgraded the victorian home at 112 S.E. Front street using his ship carpenters during winter months. The Scribner Apartments is still standing today as a tribute to the fine craftsmanship done by Wm. Scribner during the 1850-1860 period. Wm. Scribner ended his shipbuilding career in 1880 and died in 1882.

John and his son, David Lank began building ships in 1853 on Franklin street behind Calvary Church today. Sudler & Joan Lofland built their modern home on the Vinyard Shipyard property that occupies the site of Lank & Black shipyard after 1896 and the arrival of Capt. Wilson M. Vinyard.

John Lank, his son, David Lank and David Black, partner, built 16 schooners and a sloop on the Mispillion between 1853 and 1891 at this site. This shipyard employed 28 men in this operation. Later, David H. Lank leased the former Scribner shipyard farther to the west near the Washington street bridge (built in 1935).

James W. Abbott (1824-1894) built his first ship in partnership with Littleton H. Sammons in 1869 at a yard between Columbia street and Marshall street. (site of Fisherhawk project) He built 47 sailing vessels during his career; 44 schooners and 3 sloops with partners, Dr. William Marshall and Joseph H. Harper. His son, William G. Abbott joined the firm in 1880 and built his first ship in 1883 and continued his father’s business from 1886-1930. The final large ship launched at Abbott’s yard was the Albert F. Paul, the largest four-masted schooner built on the Mispillion river at 174 ft. After 1917 Abbott built mostly motorized vessels until his retirement in 1930.

The final shipyard and only yard still in operation was started by Captain Wilson M. Vinyard when he arrived in Milford in 1896 after 20-years of early work in Chicago, Texas and Wisconsin. Capt. Vinyard personally sailed the steam ship, Delaware, up the St. Lawrence seaway and down the east coast to the Mispillion river. He was primarily involved in converting early sailing vessels to modern internal combustion engines and repairing older steam powered vessels.

Vinyard’s yard was directly behind Calvary Church and occupies about 2.5 acres of land formerly used by Lank & Black until 1893. Vinyard built sub chasers, Coast Guard patrol boats and tugs for the U.S. Navy during World Wars I and II and world-class cruising yachts from 1927-1951.

In 1996, Sudler & Joan Lofland purchased the abandoned Vinyard shipyard and began a 10 year restoration of the early woodworking shop and boat storage facility. Today the Vinyard shipyard is the last working shipyard in Delaware and has a museum established in the former Vinyard offices on Columbia street in Milford.