Named after the Mill at the Ford in the Souhegan River, Milford is a community that is proud of its heritage. At the heart of the community is a vibrant, well defined traditional New England town center with many special features that make Milford a truly unique place. Walking through the downtown, you will see the town green, commonly referred to as The Oval, with its well-maintained lawns, perennial gardens, benches and period lighting and the very special “The Reading Children” sculpture, created by Sylvia Nichols with funds raised by elementary school children through a read-a-thon. Looking around you, you will notice the care that has been taken in maintaining quality design in town: the rich stock of historically significant buildings, including the recently restored Town Hall, flowers boxes outside many store fronts and set in the granite bridge that spans the Souhegan River, and inscribed brick walkways. Area residents are meeting and greeting each other on the sidewalks and visiting the many the locally-owned shops and services in the downtown.
But that’s not all. With events and activities such as the Milford Pumpkin Festival, the Milford Arts Festival, and a Taste of Milford, residents and visitors alike are all assured that the downtown Milford is a special place and indeed the heart of this community. All has become true because of the hope, belief, will, dedication, energy and cooperation of Milford residents, businesses, organizations and town government. We are convinced that by continuing to work together and by building on the successes of the past, there is no limit to what we can accomplish in the future.
The Town of Milford, incorporated in 1794, is located in southern NH along the Souhegan River. It is from the “site of the Mill at the Ford” of the river, that Milford was named. The town flourished throughout its rich history, the river powering various mills. In the 1850’s with the advent of the railroad, Milford became the “Granite Town of the Granite State”. By the end of the 19th century She was a thriving community with a healthy diversity of industries & Downtown was the center for services & goods throughout the region. This trend continued into the mid-1970’s. At that time, the entire southern region of NH began to see enormous growth due to the development of high tech industries in NH & Boston metropolitan area. Job opportunities abounded & with new jobs & housing, came the unfortunate by product – strip development.
Downtown, was always a vibrant business & social center; with grocery & hardware stores; retail shops to outfit the entire family; local drug stores & soda fountain; movie theaters; & service businesses. But perhaps most importantly, Downtown was the heart of the community both socially and symbolically. With the development of regional malls & strip centers, one by one Downtown’s anchors began either to relocate or to close. In the early 80’s, the region suffered a tremendous blow with the recession & the high tech industries, once a cause for celebration, were pulling up stakes. This combination proved disastrous.
By the end of the 80’s, Milford’s Downtown had vacant store fronts, a few struggling businesses; negative funded start-ups that quickly closed; a shabby appearance; unsafe & deteriorating public ways; was a well known gathering place for “undesirables” and drug dealing; and the straw that broke the camel back – the historic 1870 Town Hall was close to being condemned by the State Fire Marshal.
This was the catalyst for change – the Milford Town Hall. Following heated debate, residents overwhelmingly voted to spend 1.2 million in tax dollars to restore the building & seek private funding to restore the Auditorium. Funding for the Auditorium was supported by the entire community through donations & organizing the Great Pumpkin Festival as an annual event.
In 1992, spurred by the renovation and a growing sense of our rebirth, another grass roots initiative emerged to focus on the future of our Downtown; it became known as the Milford Downtown Ongoing Improvement Team (DO-IT). Following the approaches of the National Main Street Center, focus groups gathered community consensus, followed by an election of a Board of Directors and committee selections. DO-IT, a 100% volunteer organization, was and remains a collaboration of town government, business/ industry, residents and civic organizations.
With DO-IT as the driving force, the town applied for a US matching grant for physical improvements to the Downtown, a $ 600,000 project. Plans were developed focusing on: the esthetics of Downtown; pedestrian and handicapped accessibility: an atmosphere that would foster retention of the few business left and growth. Through public, private and federal dollars the project took three and one-half years to complete and on August 22, 1996 the renovated Downtown was dedicated.
During those years, the revitalization spirit was further ignited in honor of Milford’s Bicentennial Celebration with the sale of commemorative bricks. The inscriptions honored family, friends, businesses, organizations, presidents & Milford’s heroes. “Reading the bricks” is now a favorite Milford past time.
With community pride on the rise, everything started to fall into place. The elementary school children, through money raised in a read-a-thon, donated a bronze sculpture of two children reading to be placed on the Oval. The economics of Downtown started to turn: new store fronts opened; landlords started to reinvest; existing businesses took on a whole new “positive” attitude. DO-IT continued to work.
In 1996, Main Street was introduced in NH giving an opportunity to bring the revitalization effort to a new level. We were accepted as an inaugural NH Program with an incredible showing of community support from every sector of the community. Equipped with a formalized program, enthusiastic volunteers, staff, office, & budget, Milford plowed into the continuing effort of Downtown Revitalization.
The results of the past ten year’s efforts: Downtown is a desirable location for new businesses; existing businesses are thriving; landlords are sprucing up; volunteers are continuing to contribute talents & countless hours; Town Hall is the social & governmental center; Downtown is the heart of the community; Downtown is back & the “Main Street” structure has been put into place to keep it that way; even included in the newly revised Master Plan as integral to our future.
To celebrate our 20th Anniversary in 2012, the DO-IT Board of Directors decided that the time was ripe to apply our methods and efforts outside the Downtown to Milford’s gateways. We rebranded ourselves The Milford Improvement Team to reflect the expanded nature of our mission and have been focused on supporting economic development throughout Milford.