By Terry Rogers
The Holiday Stroll, sponsored by Downtown Milford, Inc, is a relatively new tradition for downtown Milford, having started thirteen years ago as a way to promote the downtown area. However, holiday traditions are not completely new in Milford. Some remain as part of the holiday season even today, but others have disappeared over the years.
“My fondest memory of Christmas when I was young was the Coffman-Fisher store on the northwest corner of North Walnut and the river,” Carolyn Humes said. “After Thanksgiving, they decorated their second floor into a Christmas toy land. We had never seen so many toys! I am sure there was a Santa there as well. It was a child’s paradise and a wondrous experience.”
Mrs. Humes husband, Harry, recalled the Santa House that his father built for the town. The house was known as the “Storybook House” and resembled a gingerbread house. It was set up on the Plaza, where the City of Milford Customer Service Office and the Jesus Love Temple now stands. The home was surrounded by a fence and there were evergreens, a sleigh and a sign depicting when Santa was taking requests. The house was built around 1939 and it is not clear when it was removed.
In 1984 or 1985, John Eustis, who was President of the Milford Plaza Merchants Association, decided that the Plaza needed a Santa house. He is unsure whether the association purchased a shed or whether the shelter was built by members, but it was placed in a vacant area between Ames and Leggetts, where La Tonalteca is today.
“I hired a Santa, Bill Dillinger, who was awesome with the kids,” Mr. Eustis said. “We had entertainment when he was there. We had the Milford High School Jazz Band perform, other local groups who sang Christmas Carols.” Mr. Eustis said that the Santa House at the Plaza ended when Mr. Dillinger passed away suddenly. Not long after that, Mr. Eustis said he believes the downtown merchants took over the Santa House project, moving it to Walnut Street.
Barbara Jones of the Milford Museum said that she didn’t recall a lot of activity or decorations when she was young in Milford. She recalled that there were choruses and bands who performed in an empty lot on Walnut Street before W.T. Grants expanded. Today, the area is where Davis, Bowen & Friedel’s offices are located. Ms. Jones said that much of the holiday celebrations downtown were at churches, many of whom held cantatas and Christmas Eve services that were well attended each year.
“My memory of Christmas in Milford is of downtown being crowded with shoppers,” Marvin Schelhouse said. “I believe that I was 15 and worked at J.C. Penney’s part-time as a salesperson and Saturdays right before Christmas, Penney’s was full of customers as were all the other stores. This was during the 1950s and it was a joyful time. There were appliance stores, shoe shops, two or three ladies fashion stores. You could purchase Christmas cards at the pharmacy or enjoy a milkshake. Christmas back then was probably the biggest event in downtown Milford.” Randy Warnick, who grew up in Greenwood, also remembers shopping in Milford at the A&P, Woolworth’s, Grants and Penney’s during the Christmas season.
According to Charles Gray of the Milford Community Parade, in the 1990s, there was a decision to create a Christmas parade in Milford as almost every town in the area had one.
“I believe it was Owen Brooks who mentioned he would like to see one in Milford,” Mr. Gray said. “Milford Community Parade organized one for three years and tried to make it stand out. It was held on the Saturday after Thanksgiving with no commercial floats. I believe the church consortium was on the committee as was Councilwoman Katrina Wilson. We had horse-drawn carriages, floats created by churches and attendees voted on who had the best float. We did not have Santa in the parade.” Mr. Gray said that the parade walked the Riverwalk to Bicentennial Park where a chorus sang Christmas carols. Church participation dwindled and the Saturday after Thanksgiving had a small turnout, so the decision was made to discontinue the parade.
Mr. Gray said that the parade was held at night in order for people watching to enjoy the Christmas lights downtown. He said he would be interested in creating an exploratory committee to bring the parade back, possibly combining the parade with Santa’s arrival downtown on Small Business Saturday, which is held the Saturday after Thanksgiving.
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