After 15 years of answering questions about Milford’s history and helping to save historic structures, City Historian Richard Platt is retiring so he can focus on some personal projects that have had to take a back seat to city affairs.
Platt sent a letter to Mayor Ben Blake recently saying he plans to retire effective Feb. 15.
“I would prefer to submit the name of a possible successor, but no one seems to be willing to step forward,” Platt said. “I could say that I will serve until a successor is found but that could be a lengthy process, and may never happen.”
Platt has asked a few people, and he said there are a few more people he plans to check with to see if they are interested in the position.
“This way, I can offer advice and guidance to a successor rather than serving until I am carried out in a box,” Platt added. “In that case, someone would have to take over the job cold.”
Lack of pay may be a deterrent to some. The job doesn’t come with any compensation, and at times it can be time consuming. Platt said a person needs to have a passion for history and their community to be interested.
The perfect candidate will be familiar with American and local history. But the city historian doesn’t have to know all the answers, he said.
“If you don’t know the answer, you should know where to look,” Platt said, noting that if he has a question about Woodmont he calls Woodmont resident and author Katherine Krauss; if he needs to know something about Walnut Beach history, he calls one of the women who compiled the book Sand in Our Shoes.
Former Milford Historical Society President Susan Carroll-Dwyer said Platt has done a remarkable job as city historian.
“Dick Platt is a truly remarkable fellow, always happy to help out whenever anyone has questions,” Carroll-Dwyer said. “The best part…he always has the answers. His encyclopedic knowledge of our history is a tremendous resource. Milford has been fortunate to have had him caring for our past for so long. Although he may be retiring from his position as city historian he will most certainly continue to educate our citizens as to our storied past and work to keep Milford’s history safe from the wrecking ball.”
Platt said he is nearing 81 years old and needs time for various projects, like working on his own family history.
“I have, for the most part, enjoyed my 15-plus years as historian and, especially, serving with you,” Platt wrote to the mayor.
He had intended to retire a year ago but stuck around to help save the historic Sanford Bristol house from demolition.
“Now that this has been successfully accomplished, I feel it is time to step aside for someone younger,” Platt said.
He plans to continue to be a member of the 375th Anniversary Committee and chair a Founding Families Day event in July.
The job of the city historian is to “advise the city government on historical issues and subjects, including but not limited to historical objects, structures, sites, district, preservation and National Register properties and such other duties,” according to city ordinance.
The job also involves answering questions from the press, city residents and people from out of town.
Platt replaced the late Rutheva Brockett as city historian, and she was the only other official city historian in Milford. It was Brockett who convinced Platt to take over the post.
Brockett spent much time answering questions, and “beyond that, spent her time doing such things as writing walking tours, etc.,” Platt said. “Some other municipal historians have worked on transcribing and publishing local vital records for use by genealogists.”
Since he became historian, the job evolved to include historic preservation: Saving the John Downs House came up, then there was a battle over development on Prospect Street, there was controversy about the Cadley/Merwin House, which was demolished and then rebuilt, and, most recently, the Sanford/Bristol House was scheduled for demolition until Platt and others stepped in to save it.
Another part of the job is invoking the city’s demolition delay ordinance, “which enables the historian to delay up to 90 days the demolition of historic structures,” Platt added. “This has been a major part of my activity. Since I became historian, 183 properties have come to my attention and I have imposed the delay five times.”
He speculated that a new historian could take a different approach to the job.
“Within the broad limits set by the city ordinance, the historian could pretty much set his or her own agenda,” Platt said.