By Terry Rogers
On Friday, June 12, the Milford New Century Club, a building that was built in 1885, was rededicated as the new home for the Milford Women’s Club, an organization formed by members of the New Milford Century Club. The Century Club was created by Mrs. Jonathan Willis, the wife of a prominent clergyman and congressman as a way for women to express their opinions of the political agenda during the late 1800s.
In 2012, the building was severely damaged by Hurricane Sandy and the Century Club did not have the funds to make repairs. After seeing the damage, Dave Kenton and his wife, Dawn, who was a third generation member of the club, purchased the building and began seeking grants in order to make the repairs.
“We went to the city, we looked to the state, anywhere we could think of to try to get this building back to its former glory,” Mr. Kenton said. “One day, Dawn came home with an article from the paper that mentioned grants available from the federal government through the National Park Service for repairs of damage due to Hurricane Sandy. We began the process of applying for the grant and were able to obtain funding that let us do what needed to be done.”
Mr. Kenton said that the building received a new roof, electrical upgrades and exterior paint. In addition, a new HVAC system provided air conditioning to the building which Mrs. Kenton said “made this building cool for the first time in 100 years.”
“When a storm like Sandy is barreling up the coast, my concern is how it would affect the rich campus in our state from Claymont to Fenwick Island,” said Tim Slavin, Director of the State Division of Historical & Cultural Affairs. “As you may recall, Sandy had Delaware in its crosshairs. When the storm passed, we were relieved that we were largely spared, but still had concerns about buildings owned by non-profits who may not be able to pay for even minor damage.” Mr. Slavin said that it was through the work of Delaware’s leaders in Washington, Senators Tom Carper and Chris coons along with Representative John Carney who pushed for legislation that created the Hurricane Sandy Relief Fund, of which Delaware was awarded $1 million.
Mr. Slavin said that the grants issued from the fund were not just about the bricks and mortar but also about the stewards of the great old buildings who care for them, often providing their own funds to keep them in their full glory. Jennifer Eggleston of the National Park Service said that her agency was well aware that not only lives were impacted by Hurricane Sandy, but some of the state’s valuable resources were affected as well. She said that the New Century Club was an example of how the grant money issued by the department was put to good use.
“We saw your before pictures,” Ms. Eggleston said, pointing around the newly refurbished room. “The building was in pretty bad shape. Today, it looks like it must have looked when it was first built 100 years ago. It always brings me great pleasure to see an building like this restored to its former glory.”
The Century Club building was built in 1885 to house the Milford Classical Academy which operated until 1898, providing education to many prominent Milfordians. That same year, Mrs. Willis invited 60 women to attend a meeting in the Milford Grange Hall for the purpose of discussing political agendas of the time. During that era, the opinions of women were not held in high regard when it came to such discussions. Most accounts of the beginning of the club were that it would never survive and the first meeting almost proved that to be true as inclement weather kept most of the women home, with only 13 attending.
However, at subsequent meetings, the group continued to grow and they were forced to move into the Odd Fellows Hall on North Walnut Street. By October 1899, that space also grew too small to hold meetings and the group began renting the Milford Classical Academy building. Eventually, they purchased the building so that it would become their permanent home.
The motto of the club was “Knowledge Comes but Wisdom Lingers.” The women chose the daffodil as their flower as well as green and yellow as their color. During meetings, they discussed temperance, education, prison reform, street conditions and women’s rights. According to Mr. Kenton, one of the contributions the group made was the installation of large, cast-iron drinking fountains in North and South Milford. The fountains had a basin for human water consumption as well as a basin at the bottom so that dogs could access the water as well.
The building is available for organizations and individuals to rent at a cost of $50 per day through the week and $100 per day on weekends. For more information on using the building, individuals can contact Dave Kenton at 302-745-7600.