By Terry Rogers
The Draper Home at 100 Causey Avenue is one of the most stately homes in the town, built in 1899 after George H. Draper, Sr., moved to Milford from his home in Slaughter Neck. His childhood home is now the location of Blessing’s nursery operation on Draper Road. It was here that Mr. Draper learned the canning skills that helped him begin a highly successful cannery in Milford.
Mr. Draper was born on March 8, 1846, the son of Henry Ratcliff and Mary Jane Baker Bennett Draper. Mr. Draper acquired early education at local public schools and, in 1880, started a business canning fruits and vegetables. In 1890, Mr. Draper formed a partnership with David Reis, a Baltimore businessman who had extensive experience in the canning industry.
“Mr. Reis saw great potential in Sussex County for growing lima beans, sweet corn, tomatoes, broccoli and peas,” David Kenton, Milford historian, said. “After Mr. Reis died in 1903, Mr. Draper formed another partnership with Daniel Hirsch, a local banker and investor. The Draper-Reis Cannery was established along the Mispillion River where the Delaware State Service Center parking lot exists today on Southwest Front Street. Mr. Draper built his new home so it overlooked the cannery from the higher elevation of the river along Causey Avenue.”
The home is a three-story Victorian with 12-foot ceilings with eight to ten bedrooms. It has a magnificent ornate staircase that rises from the foyer, a stained-glass window in the stairway and carved doors exiting the foyer. Some of the large rooms have ornate pocket doors and many have large bowed window features with sitting areas. There is a wraparound porch with a hanging swing. Like most homes of this period, there is also a back staircase with access to all upper floors.
Mr. Draper married Ruth Ellen Davis, daughter of Joseph M. and Ruth Ellen Davis and they had seven children. William G. Draper worked with his father in the canning business before passing away in 1920. Harry Draper also worked with his father, passing away in 1912. His son, George H. Draper, Jr. also worked in the canning business, eventually purchasing Mr. Hirsch’s share of the business in 1918. The couple also had daughters, Ida, Linda, Maria and Elizabeth. Linda married William V. Sipple, a prominent Milford businessman. Maria married Charles Varney, President of Milford Ice and Coal while Linda married John Truitt, a banker and a stockholder in her father’s company. The Draper’s also adopted a son, Thomas.
George Draper, Jr. ran the canning factory until 1959 when it closed due to competition from other states. He attended Beacom Business College in Wilmington before taking charge of the company the same year his brother, Harry, passed away. The Draper family also owned a large farm which Mr. Draper operated after the closing of the cannery. He and his wife owned a home on South Church Street, near his boyhood home on Causey Avenue.
The Draper family were active members of the Milford community. George Sr. was a Sussex County Commissioner. He was elected to the position twice and appointed once by Governor Biggs. He was a member of the Methodist Episcopal Church where he served on the board. He spent his winters in Florida. George Jr. never held public office but was an active member of the Democratic party. He was active in the Milford Chamber of Commerce, the Milford Community Club and the Rotary Club. He also served on the board of the Milford Trust Company and was an active member of the Methodist Episcopal Church.
After the death of her father in 1935, the home on Causey Avenue was left to Elizabeth and John Truitt. They lived in the home until the 1980s when it was rented and eventually sold to Brad Dugan in 2005. Mr. Dugan planned to renovate the historic home but the 2008 recession prevented him from doing so. Recently, the home was purchased and the new owners intend to restore the home to its former beauty. They intend to live in the home once the renovations are completed.