For many Milfordians, the big red building on the corner of North Washington Street and Park Avenue has been a bar and restaurant known as Park Place for as long as they remember. However, the building actually has a more colorful history than simply a local watering hole.
According to Milford Historian, Dave Kenton, prior to the construction of the Washington Street bridge in 1935, the area from the Walnut Street drawbridge eastward to the shipyards was lined by industrial buildings on both sides. In 1887, the Milford Electric Light plant was located along the river in the area where the Chamber of Commerce office was recently demolished. Prior to the electric plant, a granary was located in the same location.
The area surrounding what is now Park Place was industrial with a cannery located directly behind the building. The cannery was one of the earliest in Milford, built by George S. Grier for George M. Howell in 1878. In 1879, Howell sold the cannery to John Dana who sold it the following year to Alexander Harris. After swindling investors, Harris left town in 1889 and the wooden cannery burned that same year. It was rebuilt by George Grier in 1890 using metal and concrete. That cannery was purchased by the Torsch Canning Company who operated a cannery there until 1908 when it moved to the location where Sea Watch is today. The buildings behind Park Place along the river are all that remains of the cannery.
In 1944, Ora W. Davis and his son-in-law, Miller R. Wilkins, formed a grain and seed partnership, operating the business in a warehouse on the north side of the river. The original warehouse was built by Curtis and Bethuel Watson for use by the C.S. Watson Company prior to 1859. The Davis & Wilkins feed store operated out of the warehouse until 1967 when they relocated the business to Rehoboth Highway near what is now the Perdue chicken processing plant.
After the Davis & Wilkins feed store moved to their new location, the warehouse on the corner of Park Avenue remained vacant for many years, falling into disrepair. In the early 1980s, the warehouse was renovated into a bar and named “The Casablanca.” In 1989, Jeanie Fitzgerald and her late husband, Gene, who also owned the Kent and Sussex Inn, operating it as a tavern for many years, purchased the business. The previous owner had a contract with the popular band, Mike Hines and the Look, for a show that was scheduled just two weeks after the Fitzgerald’s took over.
The Fitzgerald’s were determined to honor the contract with Hines as he was very popular in the area at the time. Working long hours for the next 14 days, Park Place reopened and Hines became the first featured act at the new restaurant. The name was chosen as a joke because the new owners felt they would have a “monopoly” on downtown entertainment at the time. Mike Hines and the Look became one of the most popular bands to play at Park Place throughout the 1990s and still draws a large crowd when they are booked at the establishment.
In 1995 their son Chris joined the business and four years later their daughter Erin started working full time. Over the last 25 years, Chris Fitzgerald states that they have seen many businesses come and go in the downtown area. Fitzgerald believes that their business’ ability to evolve with the market and the commitment from their staff has made Park Place a significant staple in the downtown nightlife and entertainment. In 2014, Park Place celebrated their 25th anniversary with 1989 drink prices and an appearance by Mike Hines and the Look. For more information about Park Place’s menu, individuals are encouraged to call the restaurant at 302-422-2112 or visit them online at http://www.parkplacemilford.com and on Facebook.