The Indian deed for an eight mile tract of land that became the town of Mendon was signed by Moses Payne and Peter Brackett of Braintree and Weymouth in 1662. It was purchased for 24 pounds of silver from the Nipmuck Indians and was previously known as the Quinshipaug Plantation. Early settlers started a village where they cut trees, built small homes and cleared land for farming and pastures for livestock. However, the King Philip War destroyed the town in 1676. Six inhabitants were killed and every dwelling was burned leaving them to abandon their land.
People started to return to the Mendon in 1680 to begin homesteading again. Even though it was dense wilderness we are told that they were strong, religious people who were happy and hopeful. In 1691 an additional 3 square miles was purchased for three pounds of silver that became known as the “North Purchase” being north of the original laying-out. The street which was really a cart path leading to the area became known as Purchase Street.
Captain Seth Chapin and Elder John Jones were the first to settle on land that was to become Milford. Our Main Street was called the Sherborn Road at that time. Many of the oldest homes are in the North Purchase and it was a great distance to travel to Mendon for Sunday worship in the First Congregational Church. The “Mill River” people, as Milfordians were named, petitioned to separate from Mendon and have their own town and Church. In 1741 they were granted the right to have the Second Congregational Church and be known as the “Easterly Precinct.” In 1780, Milford was incorporated and our Church became the First Congregational Church.
The Town Hall was built in 1819 and was a brick structure that later became the Town House School. Our present Town Hall was built in 1854 and the architect was Thomas Silloway. An addition was added in 1900 by architect, Robert Allen Cook, who skillfully carried out the same design as the front of the building.
Memorial Hall was built as a memorial to Civil War Veterans in 1884. It was their wish to have a living memorial and therefore it housed the library for 100 years on the first floor while the second and third floors were used by the Grand Army of the Republic and later the American Legion. Hopedale petitioned the General Court of Boston to become a separate town and in 1886 it was granted. Rev. Adin Ballou, George Draper and General William F. Draper requested this. It was originally a religious society and you will note the streets in Hopedale reflect this: Peace Street, Chapel Street, Union Street, Social Street as well as Freedom Street.
Farming was the way of life for families for years until industries became an option. Colonel Ariel Bragg was the one who set out to learn the shoe business and started by selling shoes out of his saddlebag. Eventually, he hired helpers and put up a small shop near his home in Braggville section of town. This was the start of the boot and shoe industry in town. Later, more than eleven shops were located near Central, North Bow and Depot Street and at one time Milford produced the largest number of boots and shoes in the country. Names like Claflin & Thayer, Milford Shoe, Porter Shoe, Bickford Shoe and Regal Shoe are just a few from the past.
By 1860, Milford pink granite was discovered and the granite business soon was booming as it was quarried and shipped across the country for use in buildings, monuments and bridges. Over 1,000 men worked in the quarries by 1900. You will find Milford Pink granite today not only in Milford and Hopedale but in Washington, New York, Ohio, etc. and as far away as Paris, France. Spaulding Straw shop, Kartiganer’s and Lish Brothers offered jobs for men and women, as well. Archer Rubber Company has been in business over 100 years and it ran round the clock making foul weather outerwear for soldiers during World War II. Draper Corporation in Hopedale was the largest employer in the area for many years employing up to 6,000 people.
William Godfrey brought the first stagecoach to town in 1822 and that was the first means of public transportation. By 1848, the train arrived which increased the population and enabled Milford to transport boots and shoes and granite to major cities. In 1891 the electric car was popular and by 1915 the North Purchase Transportation Company was transporting people to Draper’s and around town. The Johnson Bus line brought people to Framingham and Worcester departing from Lincoln Square till around 1986.
We had several hotels in town: the Mansion House, Lincoln House, Milford Hotel, Rockingham Hotel, Hotel Willian and Manion Hotel. The Walker Shoe Shop on West Street became a boarding house when the shoe shop closed its doors. There was a terrible fire there in 1914 where nine Armenian immigrants lost their lives. District schools were supported by near-by residents who maintained the buildings and paid the teacher’s salary until neighborhood schools came along that were under the jurisdiction of the town. Most of our neighborhood schools are long gone now as we have centralized schools. The North Purchase District School, built in 1832, remains standing today. Our schools and library are second to none and have greatly influenced many educators and scholars. The Milford National Bank and the Milford Federal Savings Bank opened in the early 1800s and had a powerful influence on the industrial and commercial development of the town.
The Fire Department has existed since 1780 when we had volunteers who ran bucket brigades. There were stations on Tyler Street, School Street (next to Memorial Hall), Spruce Street, South Main Street and Purchase Street. Some of the names were: the Wide Awake Hose Company, Excelsior Hook and Ladder, Old Protector Engine and North Star. They had fireman musters and outings during the summer. The Police Department was located in the Town Hall before moving into the Post Office building. There was a court room on the first floor and jail cells in the basement. Whether it is responding to a shooting, robbery, assault and battery or accident the Milford Police Department has been responding since 1880. Prior to that there was a Police Court at Clark Ellis’s on Purchase Street to enforce the law.
The Milford Hospital was donated in 1903 by Governor Eben Draper and the Nurses Home by his wife in 1914. The Nurses Home closed around 1959 leaving students to go elsewhere for their training. Milford has been fortunate to have such a fine hospital and it continues to be a state-of-the- art facility. They held formal balls in the upper Town Hall that were grand. Dr. Joseph Murray, born in Milford and graduated from Milford High School won the Nobel Prize for Medicine for performing the first successful kidney transplant. Milford has more than its share of Veterans who have served honorably in the U.S. Military from the Revolutionary War to the current War on Terrorism defending our Constitution and insuring our freedom. As for sports, many years ago Milford had the Charles River Driving Park that was located on Cedar Street for horse racing. Kids swam, boated, fished and skated on Milford Pond. Baseball has always remained a popular sport in town, not only for school teams, but town teams and Legion teams. Some boys have gone on to play professional baseball and football, too. Basketball remains a popular sport at MHS, the Armory and Town Park. The Milford Rotary Club has offered swimming lessons for more than 50 years at Fino Field. Music is another part of our history worthy of note. Whether it is school bands, the big band sound, brass, rock and roll or symphony orchestra music we have enjoyed it all. Band concerts are a summer tradition in the Town Park. Mable Bragg was born in Milford and wrote “The Little Engine That Could” that has been translated into 20 different languages. It is considered to be one of the best children’s stories ever written because it teaches perseverance.
Milford has been publishing a newspaper since 1831 when it was the Independent Messanger, then the Milford Journal, The Milford Gazette and since 1887, the Milford Daily News . We’ve had a radio station since 1950 when it was WMOO and now of course it is WMRC. We’ve had our share of storms such as severe wind storm in 1898, an ice storm in 1921, the hurricane of 1938 and the blizzard of 1978 that we will not soon forget. Milford stood still after the storm of the century blanketed our area.
Celebrations and parades have always been popular in Milford. The Centennial as well the Bi-Centennial of both the town and country’s independence have been celebrated with parades, events and fireworks. Milford still has patriotic parades every Memorial Day and Veterans Day and hosts fireworks and a band concert on the 4th of July to honor our veterans and celebrate our country’s independence.
The Historical Museum located in Memorial Hall, 30 School Street, is open to visitors Thursdays from 1-4 pm or by appointment.