City historian signs up for another five years

Milford City Historian Arthur Stowe has agreed to hold the post for another five years, saying the first six months as city historian were, for the most part, enjoyable and rewarding.

Milford’s Board of Aldermen voted in January to approve Stowe as the city’s historian through Dec. 21, 2021. Prior to that, he had been completing the final six months of Carol Brockett LaBrake’s unexpired term.

LaBrake had taken over the unpaid post of city historian from Richard Platt in 2014. Stowe became Milford’s fourth city historian.

Stowe has a bachelor’s and a master’s degree from Northeastern University. He is president of the Milford Historical Society, and has been a member of the Milford literacy center, the Plymouth Men’s Club, and the River Park Apartments Committee. Residents may have seen him over the years moderating local political debates for the Plymouth Men’s Club.

Stowe has served on both of Milford’s historic district commissions.

“There is a lot of interesting Milford history,” Stowe said this week, “and it’s refreshing to see how much interest people have in their community.”

In addition to answering questions from news reporters and groups, Stowe said, he spent his first six months fielding questions on local history from random callers.

One caller wanted to know more details about fires that took place here in the 1970s.

Another was looking for information about a relative who died in Milford.

And then there have been the occasional calls about ghosts. People have contacted him to find out if there are any hauntings in Milford. Stowe directs those calls to local ghost authority Cynthia Wolfe Boynton, who leads ghost tours in Milford. “She will point them in the direction of things that go bump in the night,” Stowe said.

When he doesn’t know the answer to a history question, Stowe directs the person toward the right authority, or digs into one of Milford’s history books, or for more recent history, news accounts.

While the history, research and interacting with people is great, Stowe said, the job does have a downside. Part of his job is to review demolition proposals and determine if a structure is of historical significance. If he determines a building should not be demolished, he can issue a 90-day delay.

His review is triggered if the structure is 75 years old or more. That role has taken him to some houses he would love to see preserved, like one on Beach Avenue in Woodmont that the homeowner planned to replace with a modern home.

In that case, his job was to see if there was any special historic architecture, or history — like George Washington slept there — that could stall or prevent demolition.

“George Washington didn’t sleep there,” Stowe said, lamenting that he could not stop the planned razing of the 20th-Century beach house.

So while he loves history and Milford’s history, the job of city historian makes it impossible to overlook the parts that are disappearing.

“I can’t avoid it now. It’s in my face,” he said, adding praise for groups like the Milford Preservation Trust that have fought to preserve some of Milford’s historic homes. He also noted the protection that official historic districts give historic properties, offering them an added layer of protection against demolition.

Other than that, Stowe said about his role with the city, “I’m very pleased.”

Stowe is a descendent of Stephen Stow, of Revolutionary War-era fame. Captain Stephen Stow is famous in Milford history for sacrificing himself to care for soldiers infected with smallpox in 1777. He died of smallpox at age 51 after caring for soldiers who had been left along Milford’s shore by the British.

Stephen Stow married Freelove Baldwin, another big name in Milford history, for which the local Daughters of the American Revolution is named.

Arthur Stowe, and his family before him, grew up in Milford, and with the family history, Milford history has been a big part of his life.

He worked under the tutelage of Milford’s first city historian, the late Rutheva Baldwin Brockett, and he said he learned a lot from her.