by Terry Rogers
In November, locals Dan Bond and Sher Valenzuela presented information to the City of Milford Community Economic Development Committee regarding a preservation project that includes the Vinyard Shipyard as well as the Mulholland Spoon Factory. The purpose of the project is to preserve two important properties which played a key role in the history of Milford, the region and the nation.
“For about 150 years, starting as early as 1760, the history of Milford was intimately tied to its shipbuilding industry,” Bond explained. “At the industry’s peak at the end of the 19th century, seven shipyards were active, employing three-quarters of the town’s workforce. More than 300 wooden ships were built in the Milford shipyards between 1680 and 1927. Milford produced more wooden ships than any of the other seven significant wooden ship building centers in Delaware, including Wilmington. The Vinyard Shipbuilding Co., founded in 1896, is the last of the seven Milford shipyards to survive today. It is also the last surviving wooden ship building facility on the Delaware bay.”
A task force, which includes Bond, Valenzuela, and Matt Babbitt of Abbott’s Mill; Gary Emory, former director of Milford Parks and Recreation; Lisa Fitzgerald, U.S. Department of Agriculture; Rob Pierce, City Planner; Claudia Leister, Milford Museum, and Murrie Zlotziver, DMI Executive Director; are working on a plan to preserve and promote the shipyard area. Bond believes that the shipyard presents an excellent opportunity for education about the history of Milford, as well as an attraction for those interested in the shipbuilding industry.
In the early years, the Vinyard ships were built along the banks of the Mispillion outside in the open air. Tugboats and sailing vessels were the predominant types of ships built until World War I, when the shipyard produced 110’ sub chasers for the Navy. During the 1920s Prohibition period, “Six-bitters” – 75-foot U.S. Coast Guard patrol boats – were built to be used to chase “rum-runners.” In World War II, the Vinyard shipyard was contracted again by the U.S. Navy and built 14 wooden-hull sub chasers, which became known as the “splinter fleet”. Starting in 1927 and continuing after World War II until 1951, the Vinyard shipyard produced luxury yachts.
The last of the Vinyard yachts was built in 1951, but the shipyard continued in business, repairing ships and building wooden boats, until 1973. Delaware Marine & Manufacturing built boats here from 1973 to 1983. Then the shipyard gradually fell into ruin, the property was condemned in 1995 and it would likely have been torn down. Fortunately, in 1996 Joan and Sudler Lofland purchased the shipyard and restored it over the next several years. They soon put it back into use for ship and boat repair and restoration. The Loflands have also acquired the nearby historic Mulholland Spoon Factory and have restored it as well.
The task force is in the early stages of developing the Vinyard Shipyard Project. With the assistance of Downtown Milford Inc., they have contracted with Architectural Alliance Inc. to begin the process of determining possible uses for the shipyard and how its assets can be integrated into the Milford Riverwalk, Bicentennial Park, Goat Island and other nearby property into a larger recreation and culture park along both banks of the Mispillion River east of downtown. The group is currently seeking funding for the study, which will cost $56,100. Once the funding is secure, they anticipate Architectural Alliance will begin work in early 2019.
Sign up for you free digital subscription of The Weekly Review, delivered directly to your email every Tuesday morning. A quick cover-to-cover read to catch up on the news of the week and experience great stories about our local communities. Sign up for your free email subscription below.