By Terry Rogers
The Chamber of Commerce of Greater Milford (CCGM) will soon be operating out of different office space when they relocate to the Windsor Building, located at 24 Northeast Front Street. Currently, the building houses offices for the State of Delaware and Community Integrated Services.
“I originally asked Charlie Burton if I.G. Burton would donate the office space to us for about two years,” Jo Schmeiser said of their current offices located in the I.G. Burton Body Shop and Enterprise Car Rental. “We’ve been here for almost five years so they have been very gracious to allow the extended period of time. I.G. Burton is growing so rapidly, they need more office space to house their employees. We’ve been checking out possible locations since last year, so the timing works perfectly.”
Ms. Schmeiser said that CCGM has been hoping to return to downtown since the building they were in was demolished as part of the City sewer treatment upgrade. CCGM hopes to increase foot traffic from the visitors to their office. At the same time, people are able to pick up information about Milford businesses and organizations in the greater Milford area.
“We will have space available to still have a large conference room and continue hosting meetings, workshops, etc.,” Ms. Schmeiser said. “That will bring even more foot traffic downtown. It’s also a great opportunity for me and Laurie to walk to visit several members of the chamber at one time instead of having to drive to each one individually. We also like the new location because once all the offices are filled, the Windsor Building will be a wonderful business incubator and will help with economic development in the city.” Ms. Schmeiser said CCGM will be renting the space at a reasonable non-profit rate thanks to the landlords, Mobious Investments.
The offices received a fresh coat of paint thanks to Richard Y. Johnson & Son. BISM is providing the office furniture and supplies needed for the move which took place the end of February. I.G. Burton is assisting with the move as well. CCGM plans to hold a ribbon cutting for the new offices in the Spring.
The Windsor Hotel has a long and storied history in the City of Milford, according to Milford historian, Dave Kenton. The hotel is built on the first lot sold in the town by Joseph Oliver to David Walton, Sr. in 1786. Mr. Walton built on about 36 feet of the lot where the hotel now sits and, after his death, his son, David Walton Jr. bought another 60 feet. In 1811, the Walton’s sold the entire lot to Martinius de Waele, a French immigrant and refugee from the French Revolution. It was de Waele who built the original hotel.
De Waele was unique in Milford as he was foreign-born, well-educated and had a “patrician bearing,” according to reports of the time. He arrived in America in 1787 after fitting out a ship and traveling to New York. His captain, however, stole the ship and cargo. De Waele followed him, catching him in San Domingo at the same time of the San Domingo Massacre. Several crew members died in the massacre with de Waele escaping. They intended to return to New York, but could not handle the ship. They sailed up the Delaware Bay and landed in what was then known as Mispillion Creek. The town appealed to him and he decided to stay, building the hotel on Front Street which he named “The Union Hotel.” He died in 1825 and the hotel was left to his second wife, Joanna Clark, who passed it along to Jabez Collins Shockley, who eventually became her son-in-law.
After Mr. Shockley retired, the hotel was under several different owners until it was purchased by Frank Kramlich, who purchased and renovated the hotel. He renamed it “The Central Hotel,” added a four-story brick addition and modified the interior. On January 28, 1891, the entire town was almost destroyed when a fire began behind Ruth Carlisle Watson’s home next door to the hotel. Newspaper accounts claim that Fred Voelker, a former valet to General A.T.A. Torbert, started a fire in a stable while intoxicated. The fire quickly spread to the hotel stable and ice house, the John Steward house across the street and, by the time the fire brigade arrived, was threatening the entire town of Milford.
The brick section of the hotel remained intact after the fire and, by 1891, Mr. Kramlich had rebuilt the hotel which stands today. The rebuilt version was much nicer than the previous hotel and advertisements boasted that the hotel was “lighted throughout by electric light and heated by hot water.” The hotel was considered the finest in the area with a livery that transported visitors from the local train station and a sample room for traveling salesmen. Mr. Kramlich sold the hotel in 1909 to several investors who were unable to manage the hotel. In 1910, the top floor and ballroom of the hotel were used for the new Milford Emergency Hospital until it moved to the Masonic building next door. The investors sold it to Thad Windsor in 1912.
In 1894, a storekeeper arrived in Milford from Gumboro and purchased the Dorsey Building on South Walnut Street. Thomas Windsor changed the name of the building to the Windsor Hotel where he and his wife raised six sons and two daughters. His son, Thaddeus, known as Thad, purchased the Central Hotel from the Kramlich family in 1912 and renamed it “The New Windsor Hotel.” Thad Windsor and his brothers were unusual residents in the town of Milford, loving to hunt, fish, dance, socialize and drink. The dining table was often stocked with wild game and waterfowl that Mr. Windsor personally caught. There was a pet black bear who lived behind the hotel, a raccoon named Steve, monkeys, parrots and reindeer.
After Thad Windsor’s death in 1950, the hotel was managed by Seymour Gellens who operated a package store in New Castle County before coming to the New Windsor. Mr. Gellens and his wife, Lillian, purchased the hotel in 1951 and continued to operate the dining room as well as a package store. Rooms were rented on the first through third floors but the fourth floor was used as storage. In 1967, Mr. Gellens died and the hotel was sold to Thomas Hanley and Orville Shockley. A new bar area and dance floor were added. Rooms on the first and second floor were rented mostly to low-income families who were mostly transients. Little maintenance was done to the hotel and, when Gene and Jeannie Fitzgerald purchased the building, it was operated mainly as a tavern and package store. Some rooms were renovated for use as apartments.
In 1992, efforts were being made to revitalize downtown Milford. Riverbank Associates purchased the John Jump Block on North Walnut Street and built modern, colonial style offices. They also purchased the New Windsor Hotel in an effort to improve parking. A building inspection revealed that the New Windsor was in strong structural condition but needed modern upgrades. In 1996, Riverbank Associates completely renovated the building into office space. The New Windsor was reopened in 1999.
“The CCGM Board of Directors are very grateful to I.G. Burton for their generous support over the past few years in allowing us to use their office space at no charge,” Cheryl Doucette, President of CCGM, said. “The board is pleased to be part of the process in finding a new location for the Chamber. We feel like this location will be convenient for our members and allow us to continue promoting Milford.”
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