City historian opposes demolition of historic house

City Historian Arthur Stowe spoke out this week, urging protection of an historic house that a developer plans to demolish to make way for apartments.

The Milford Historic Preservation Commission is scheduled to vote on the demolition proposal March 19.

The house in question is located at 67 Prospect Street, and was built by David L. Baldwin in 1835. Baldwin, who was born in Milford in 1785, was town clerk of Milford for 27 years and clerk of probate for 12 years. The property was the home lot of the Rev. Peter Prudden (1601-1656), leader of the Hertfordshire Group that founded Milford in 1639, and first pastor of the First United Church of Christ.

“As City Historian I have seen many applications for demolition but rarely have I seen one as egregious, selfish and wrong as this one,” Stowe said a letter to The Milford Mirror.

Local historians say that the first burial ground was on Prudden’s property, and that therefore many of the city founders are buried there in unmarked graves.

“A desire to commercialize the property by demolishing the house is a gross insult to our community and our citizens, especially when there are other locations where such a development can be built without complaint,” Stowe wrote. “There is no justification or reason to demolish this house and I hope that the Historic Preservation Commission will speak for all of us.”

The Rev. Adam E. Eckhart also spoke out against the plans in a letter to The Milford Mirror.

“I serve as Senior Pastor of the First United Church of Christ (Congregational) — a.k.a. First Church — the church that along with its first Pastor, Rev. Peter Prudden, founded Milford.

On behalf of First Church, I urge members of the community to attend the Monday, March 19, Milford Historic Preservation Committee meeting at 7 p.m., at Milford City Hall and to speak against the proposed demolition of the 67 Prospect Street Baldwin-Prudden house and building of apartments on our first settlers’ burial site,” Eckhart wrote.

“The truth is that we enjoy our freedoms in large part due to trailblazers like Rev. Peter Prudden and those who lived alongside him and were buried by him,” Eckhart continued. “It’s our turn to honor them and their legacy of covenant by urging that 67 Prospect be protected.”

Under the development plan, the house would be leveled and the property altered to build 44 one-bedroom units and 1,269 square feet of office space at the site.

Residents will be able to speak at the upcoming hearing.

Peter Prudden

Resident Marilyn May has been researching Peter Prudden, and she offered the following information about him.

“The Rev. Peter Prudden was one of the founders of Milford and the first pastor of Milford’s First Church of Christ, both founded on the same day, Aug. 22, 1639,” May wrote in a biographical report. “He was an Englishman, born in 1601, whose first calling was to minister to a congregation in Hertfordshire, about 25 miles from London. He must have been an exceedingly inspirational leader and righteous preacher, because many from that county decided to follow him to find a new life in the New World. They left homes they had built by hand, fields they had painstakingly plowed, and family and friends to follow Rev. Prudden across thousands of miles of ocean to an uncertain future.”

Arriving in America, the Prudden Davenport Eaton Company found Boston crowded. This was not the “New World” they were seeking. Prudden also declined a call to settle as pastor of a church in Dedham, southwest of Boston. Instead he preached for a short time in Wethersfield, Conn., at a church that had no minister at the time.

“There he found more people eager and willing to join what came to be called the Hertfordshire Group,” May wrote.

She said the group sailed south from Boston to explore the coastline. They arrived at Quinnipiac (New Haven), which was inhabited by Quinnipiac Indians. The settlers stayed there close to two years.

“Eaton and Rev. Davenport decided to stay in New Haven, but Rev. Prudden did not,” May wrote. “As the governing of the settlement in New Haven was being determined, the differences of theology between the Rev. Davenport and Rev. Prudden became increasingly apparent. Davenport’s followers believed in the Second Coming of Christ and the literal resurrection of the saints who would reign on earth with Christ for a thousand years. And there were other issues.”

She wrote that the Hertfordshire Group was once more searching for a place where they could worship and govern according to their beliefs. A small group of men again set sail, and by winter of 1639 they found it.

“It was occupied by a clan of indigenous people, part of the Paugussett nation, whose ancestors had been here thousands of years,” she wrote. “They had a village along the banks of a river and called the area Wepowaug (Wepawaug), a word meaning a ‘crossing place,’” she wrote.

“On Feb. 12, 1639 five men from Rev. Prudden’s company negotiated a purchase of land from Ansantawae, the local sachem of this clan.”

This land became Milford.