Mispillion Greenway Trail Series – The Cooper Building

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5By Terry Rogers

Many current residents of Milford know the historic Cooper Building well, although they may not be aware of it under that name. The building, located at the corner of North Walnut Street and Northwest Front Street has been the home of Lou’s Bootery since 1947, when Louis Pikus leased the building from Winfield Wright, who operated a clothing store there. The original front-door sign for Wright’s store is stored at the Milford Museum.

According to historian Dallas Hitchens book Milford and the Milford Delaware Area After 1776, the corner lot was purchased by Cornelius Cane from Joseph Oliver in order to set up a small grocery store. The lot was located next to the Oliver home, and after his death, Samuel Oliver, his son, sold the home and lots to Charles Draper, Esquire in 1807. When Mr. Draper died in 1811, the property was inherited by his grandchildren, Charles D. Watson and Hettie Hooper.

In 1838, the store was still known as the Cane store, but by 1853, the lot had been purchased by Daniel C. Godwin built the building, which was originally two stories. Mr. Godwin opened a store on the first floor, which according to George B. Hynson’s Historical Etchings of Milford, DE & Vicinity – 1899, sold general merchandise, although the Hitchens book says that the store was a hattery. The Beers Atlas shows that Mr. Godwin owned several businesses on Walnut Street.

The first floor has operated as a business since the building was constructed, although the entranceway was shifted to the southeast corner at one point. The Peninsula News & Advertiser was published on the second floor. The building is stucco over brick, and the third floor was added to house Masonic Tall Cedars Lodge #42, whose membership had grown to the point the second floor meeting room at the Milford Academy was not big enough. According to Milford historian, Dave Kenton, it is believed that the third floor was added around 1880, and they met on the third floor of the Cooper building until the death of Ruth Tharp Carlisle Watson. After her death, the lodge moved their meetings to the second floor of her home.

After Daniel Godwin died in Baltimore, Andrew B. Cooper, who served as a clerk for U.S Army paymaster, James R. Lofland, during the Civil War, purchased the home from Samuel Godwin in 1866 after being invited to Milford by Major Lofland, and sold general merchandise there until his death in 1886.

One feature common to downtown Milford is a porch supported by iron or wooden posts that stretched in front of downtown retail merchants, and the Cooper building still has remnants of that overhang. It was designed so that shoppers who visited town in rainy weather could pass from North Front Street to South Front Street without getting wet.

The downtown area was busy on Saturdays, and stores housed in the Cooper building often opened at 6 or 7 AM, remaining open until midnight so farmers could do all of their shopping in one day. At the time, an eight-mile drive took almost an hour. Men and women gathered at the entrances to stores, catching up on the latest news. The men discussed new innovations in farm equipment, weather reports, crop information and farm prices. Women talked about church and school news, the price of groceries, while also exchanging dress patterns or canning methods.

From about 1890 to 1947 Winfield Wright owned the building as Wright sold dry goods, hats and clothing from his store. In 1947 Louis Pikus of Dover founded Lou’s Bootery on the corner of Front Street and Walnut Street, after he leased the building from the Wright family. Starting in the 1960‘s Lou’s sons Terry and Skip came back to work for the business and continued the shoe business specializing in fit and offering orthopedic, mens and women, children, walking and health shoes. After the death of Terry, his brother Skip continued the family tradition and saw many changes to the downtown Milford area. Following several months of being ill, Skip Pikus passed away in July of 2015. It is too soon to know what the future of the Lou’s Bootery business will be as many residents and visitors are curious to see what the future of this iconic building will become.