When Atlantic Magazine called Milford “the prettiest county seat in America,” in the early 1960s, it wasn’t an achievement that came out of nowhere. Milford has been attractive, well-kept and charming for more than 200 years. An 1843 article in “Historical Collections of the State of Pennsylvania” notes that many of Milford’s early inhabitants were “from France” and “by their good taste give an air of neatness and embellishment to their dwellings, which stimulates others to do likewise.”
Just a few years before, those “tasteful” early French settlers found the elevated plateau that forms Milford, between the Sawkill and Vandermark Creeks, to be “thickly grown over with pines, hemlocks and bushes.” After a major fire in Milford Borough in the 1820s, few trees were left standing.
Milfordians got to work, to replant and improve their community. In the years prior to the Civil War, each spring the Borough held a “Tree Bee.” A group of men would gather at the Milford firehouse and ride in “lumber-box wagons” to the swamps along the Delaware River. There they dug up small maple saplings and loaded them in the wagon.
At the end of the day, they returned to the village and were treated to a chicken pot pie dinner. The next day they dug holes and planted the saplings, choosing a different street each year to line with trees. Within a few years, Milford had the precursor of the lush and shady landscape we enjoy today, considered “an urban forest.”
Keeping Milford attractive wasn’t just about the trees in the borough. With the introduction of the automobile, there was greater concern about the condition of the roadways. Until the early part of the 20th century in Milford’s commercial district many buildings had a horse trough in front to provide drinking water for the horses, but also resulted in muddy streets.
The introduction of the automobile made the muddy street problem worse, causing deep ruts that posed a risk to vehicles and pedestrians, both those with two legs and those with four! The Village Improvement Association tackled that problem in 1911, installing a bluestone horse trough at the corner of Broad and High Street.
It is still there, “V.I.A. 1911” carved in the bluestone. It also wasn’t only for horses; on each side of the trough, there are ground-level water fountains for dogs and in back, at waist-level, a human scale drinking fountain.
By 1932, the swamp maples planted from the original Tree Bees were nearing the end of their lifespans, many were already dead, diseased or damaged. To commemorate the bicentennial of George Washington’s birth, the Milford Chamber of Commerce replaced some of the trees. A few years later, in 1949, David Malhame, Sr., revived the century-old Tree Bee tradition.
The Milford Garden Club, under the direction of then-President Georgiana Kiger, coordinated the annual Tree Bee event from 1952. “At the sounding of one blast on the fire alarm at 1:00” all the able-bodied men again gathered at the firehouse. A wagon drawn by a matched team of Clydesdale horses — “Nancy” and “Betsy” — brought the first load of ten maple trees.
The birth of American Conservation
When President John F. Kennedy visited Milford in the fall of 1963, the immediate purpose was to dedicate the Pinchot Institute for Conservation Studies at Grey Towers, which the Pinchot family had donated to the U.S. Forest Service. That was when President Kennedy declared Gifford Pinchot to be “more than a forester, he was the father of American Conservation.”
That visit was also the first stop on President Kennedy’s historic Conservation Tour, organized by Wisconsin Senator Gaylord Nelson and Secretary of the Interior Stewart Udall. Senator Nelson had just taken office in the Senate, where he found bi-partisan support for anti-pollution efforts. He was one of the members of Congress most closely associated with environmental protection.
Despite being a freshman Senator with limited influence he successfully pitched his “Conservation Tour” idea to the President’s brother, Robert F. Kennedy, and to Arthur Schlesinger, Kennedy’s close aide, to try and make conservation a major national issue. Nelson later said that while the Conservation Tour didn’t do as much as he had hoped, but he did note that “it was the germ of the idea that ultimately flowered into Earth Day,” which began in 1970. So Milford can even claim a small role in the genesis of Earth Day, which is now an annual global celebration of the planet!
In 1976, the year of the U.S. Bicentennial, the Arbor Day Foundation —in partnership with the Association of State Foresters — launched Tree City USA, a program to celebrate Arbor Day and encourage communities to establish tree commissions and pledge $2 per resident per year to maintain their trees. Milford, as the birthplace of the forestry and conservation movements, was one of the first communities to sign up.
Not surprisingly, Georgiana Kiger who had led the Garden Club and overseen the annual Tree Bee for years, was the newly-formed Shade Tree Commission’s first chairperson. More than 3,400 cities — 111 in Pennsylvania — are now part of Tree City USA. Milford was just recently recognized for having been designated Tree City USA for 39 consecutive years.
In recent years, the Milford Shade Tree Commission, Tree City USA and Arbor Day activities were led by Shade Tree Commission chairperson Valerie Meyer, and a large group of volunteers, who are responsible for the beautiful urban forest we enjoy today. When Valerie stepped down a year ago, Dale Thatcher became the chair of the Shade Tree and has continued and grown the Kiger/Meyer legacy.
In the late 1990s, the Milford Shade Tree Commission and the Milford Garden Club were joined by two new civic endeavors. The Milford Enhancement Committee, led by Dick Snyder, which focuses on Milford’s public spaces, street “hardscapes” and landscaping. The Historic Preservation Trust of Pike County, works to protect Milford’s architectural integrity, improve signage, serves as a resource for property owners and promotes a greater appreciation for our community’s historic legacy and built environment.
Civic-minded efforts, over time, dramatically affect a community’s attractiveness, quality of life and its desirability as a place to live, visit or do business. We are fortunate to enjoy such a tradition of leadership and action to improve Milford.
Editor’s note: Please see related article, “Help ‘polish and shine’ Milford on Bill Kiger Community Cleanup Day.”
“Civic-minded efforts, over time, dramatically affect a community’s attractiveness, quality of life and its desirability as a place to live, visit or do business.”