By Terry Rogers
The Milford Century Club has been part of Milford’s history since it was built in 1885 and has recently been purchased by Dave and Dawn Kenton. The Kenton’s have restored the building over the past few months and will be opening the building to the public with a reception scheduled for Friday, June 12, 2015 at 7 PM.
The Milford Century Club has strong roots in Milford history with connection between the prominent Causey and Williams families who were leaders in the community during the 19th century as well as connections with the history of education in the town, according to Mr. Kenton, a noted Milford historian.
In 1810, when the building was constructed, Milford was divided into two segments – North Milford and South Milford. Many residents of the town considered inhabitants on the north side of the Mispillion River to be more “dignified” than those who lived on the south side with southern inhabitants of the town often called “late comers.”
When Governor Peter Foster Causey moved into what is now known as the Causey Mansion which is located in South Milford, the attitudes about living south of the river changed. Governor Causey’s son, Peter Jr., who was known as “Mr. Pete” throughout the town, was instrumental in several advancement sponsored by the Causey family, including the creation of the Milford Classical Academy, a private school to be located in South Milford.
In September 1883, the Milford Classical Academy opened in a building behind the First Presbyterian Church. Mr. George Rugg acted as principal while Miss Mollie Rickards, a native Milfordian, was appointed assistant principal. The school was such a success that the Trustees of the school decided to lease land and build a permanent building on what was then called Railroad Avenue but has since been renamed Church Street.
One principal at the school held a prominent place in Milford history as well and provides a connection between the Causey and Williams family. Ruby Vale arrived in Milford in 1895 from his hometown of Carlisle, Pennsylvania. It is here that the connection between the Williams-Causey-Vale families becomes intertwined and is part of the history of the Milford Classical Academy.
Peter Foster Causey, the son of Governor Peter Causey, was married to Maria Williams, the daughter of John Williams, a prominent businessman in Milford, while Elizabeth Wiltbank Causey, the Governor’s daughter, married Raynear Williams III. In that era, it was not unusual for sisters and brothers to marry the sisters and brothers of other prominent families. Therefore, it is not surprising that Robert H. Williams, the grandson of John Williams married the Maria Elizabeth Causey, the daughter of Governor Causey, in 1871. The couple had three children, Foster Causey, Maria Elizabeth and Raynear IV.
When Mr. Vale arrived in Milford, he was introduced to Milford society by Mr. Pete, who had raised $1,400 to build the new school and oversaw the selection of principals from 1885 to 1896. The young society women were smitten with Mr. Vale, who arrived in Milford a single man. At the time, Robert H. Williams was president of the First National Bank in Milford and Elizabeth Maria was his only daughter. In 1896, Ruby and Elizabeth Williams were married, moving into her parents mansion on South Washington Street. The Vales eventually left Milford for Mr. Vale to attend law school, returning in 1927 and building a large mansion on the corner where City Hall now stands. It was the Vale-Asche Foundation who donated the land to the city for the construction of City Hall.
The Milford Classical Academy closed in 1898, not long after Mr. Vale left to pursue his law career. At the same time enrollment at the school was declining, the Milford New Century Club was forming. During this era, men dominated the political agenda and the opinions of women were not held in high regard. In 1898, Mrs. Jonathan Willis invited 60 Milford women to attend a meeting in the Milford Grange Hall. Mrs. Willis was the prominent wife of Reverend Johnathan Willis, a clergyman and congressman.
Most accounts of the era indicate that there was difficulty getting the club off the ground and many predicted it would fail. In fact, the day of the first meeting, the weather was inclement, so only 13 of those invited actually attended. However, membership grew rapidly and the group had to move temporarily to the Odd Fellows Hall on North Walnut Street. This space proved insufficient by October 1899 and the women began renting the old Milford Classical Academy building. They purchased the building in 1899. The group chose the daffodil as their club flower, green and yellow as the club colors. In addition they established the club motto as “Knowledge Comes, but Wisdom Lingers.”
Meetings of the New Century Club revolved around issues women found pressing at the time. The group discussed temperance, education, prison reform, street conditions and women’s rights. Even one of the group’s more non-controversial contributions was called into question, says Mr. Kenton.
“Perhaps the most well-known contribution made by the New Century Club in its early years was the installation of large, cast iron drinking fountains in North and South Milford,” Mr. Kenton said. “These beautiful additions to the town are visible in many photographs taken during the early 20th century. Originally, they were placed at the corner of North Walnut and Northeast Front Street near the entrance to the old Milford Hotel and on the lawn of the Causey Mansion in South Milford. The sites were the object of much debate and comment, such that they were moved to different locations in an attempt to satisfy the numerous critics, mostly of the male variety.” The fountains had a basin for human water consumption as well as a basin at the bottom so that dogs could access water as well.
Mr. Kenton’s wife, Dawn Dickerson Kenton, was elected to the position of co-president of the New Century Club in 2013, making her the third generation to serve in that capacity. Mrs. Kenton’s mother, Elaine Townsend Dickerson, and her grandmother, Virginia S. Townsend, also served as president of the organization. Over the years, many prominent Milford women were members of the New Century Club, including Mary Louise Marshall, who was instrumental in starting Milford’s first hospital.
The Kenton’s plan to offer the building to organizations and individuals as a location for events at the cost of $50 per day during the week and $100 per day during the weekend. The building will also be available to groups like the Milford Museum or other non-profit groups for speakers and exhibits. The Milford Women’s Club, an offshoot of the New Century Club, will use the building for their meetings and events as well. For more information on using the building, individuals may contact Mr. Kenton at 745-7600.