Vinyard Shipyard Designated as Historic Landmark

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jjBy Terry Rogers

On Saturday, September 10, The Vinyard Shipyard, owned by Sudler and Joan Lofland, was recognized as a Delaware historic landmark. The Lofland’s applied for the designation due to the site’s historical significance to Milford and the state.

“The Vinyard Ship Building Company is the surviving shipyard in the state of Delaware and I believe it to be the surviving shipyard from the World War I, Prohibition and World War II when private shipbuilding companies secured contracts from the Navy to produce warships and military vessels,” Mrs. Lofland said. “Wilmington, Delaware, The City That Launched a Thousand Ships by Richard Urban notes that those shipyards are gone, yet Vinyard’s remains with most of its buildings and machinery intact and operational. Three of the yachts returned to the shipyard and were preserved in the yard where they were built in 1927, 1938 and 1951.”

A historical marker sign was revealed as part of the dedication that provides some history of the yard. The sign reads, “Founded in 1896 by Wilson M. Vinyard, the Vinyard Shipbuilding Company was the first Milford shipyard to build motorized vessels. The shipyard built numerous ships for the government, including Navy subchasers and Coast Guard patrol boats. In 1927, the company began manufacturing world class yachts. Constructions of the new vessels ceased in 1951 and the yard closed following the death of Vinyard’s son, Wilson (Sonny) Vinyard in 1973. During its existence, the company built more than 150 vessels. The yard fell into disrepair before being purchased in 1996 and restored by J. Sudler and Joan Lofland.”

Those who attended the dedication were able to tour the office used by Vinyard Shipbuilding as well as the 1927 Augusta, who Mrs. Lofland said was “waiting at the dock for a good day to motor to Kent Island where she will be our home away from home this fall and next summer.” Guests could also tour the Joinery Building on the property. Over the winter months, Mr. Lofland cleaned out a storage room and created a display gallery that highlights the ships built by Vinyard and the shipyard’s history.

“Everyone in attendance commented that they were glad we had saved such a wonderful piece of Milford and the town’s shipbuilding legacy,” Mrs. Lofland said. “Many commented that they never know how much history was here or that Milford produced world-class luxury yachts thanks to the many gifted shipbuilders from Milford and Lincoln who were master carpenters.” Mrs. Lofland said it was very rewarding to have seven Vinyard shipbuilding families in attendance at the dedication. They were members of the Deputy and Sharp families who had more than one generation who worked in the shipyard.

The Lofland’s have worked tirelessly to preserve the shipyard as well as three of the yachts built there. Replicas of the Augusta were hand-painted as part of the Art on the Riverwalk Tour public art project and placed throughout the downtown area. Mrs. Lofland wrote “The Vinyard Shipbuilding Company Delaware’s Surviving Shipyard,” a book that is available for sale at the Milford Museum. The Lofland’s have also produced two documentaries on the history of the yard.

Since the Lofland’s purchased the yard in 1996, two Master’s thesis have been written about the historic shipyard. One of the documentaries discussed the World War II wooden subchasers built at the yard based on letters written by the men who served on them. A picture book was also created showing the beauty of the ships and the craftsmanship that went into creating them.

“With all of this accomplished, I still hear people say that they never heard about the yard or they thought it was in Milton or that Lewes was the shipbuilding town,” Mrs. Lofland said. “True, each of these towns have their shipbuilding years, but with the marker we have now established for public viewing the validation and correction of information for those who may have been misinformed. When people hear the word Milford, I want them to say ‘Oh, the town on the Mispillion River that has the beautiful historic Vinyard Shipyard.”

Ms. Lofland said that she hopes the couple’s efforts will encourage others to remember and preserve history, not just in Milford but throughout the state. She said that when she and her husband are gone, she hopes that people see the marker, read the book and watch the documentaries, which are also available at the Milford Museum.

“We have to keep the shipyard legacy alive,” stated Mrs. Lofland.