Milford Hall of Fame bio book celebrates city’s notables

When a city like Milford has been in existence for 375 years, it is bound to have its share of famous personalities.

While there are no U.S. presidents among its alumni, Milford does have its share of notable politicians, inventors, preachers and healers.

All told, 36 of the city’s most notable and famous are featured in a 68-page booklet recently published by the Milford Hall of Fame (MHOF) Committee and available for purchase for $10 at select locations including city branches of The Milford Bank, the Canvas Patch, Milford Historical Society, the mayor’s office at Milford City Hall and Milford Photo.

From the 17th century’s Paugussett Indian Chief Ansantawae and the settlement’s first Colonial era pastor, the Rev. Peter Prudden — to Helen Langner, Joseph Foran and Winthrop “Pink” Smith, the latter all prominent citizens of the 20th century, the booklet captures the flavor of life and the personalities during Milford’s nearly four centuries of existence.

The story is told of how “a most appealing land with a brook and good harbor” was noticed by eventual settler Thomas Tibbals while he and others were pursuing the fleeing Pequot tribe members during the Pequot War in 1637, two years prior to Milford’s settlement in 1639 by the Rev. Prudden and his followers.

Readers will learn of William Fowler’s first mill; the extra allotment of land granted to the widow Martha Beard; the settlement’s first doctor, Jasper Gunn; the Rev. Samuel Andrew who fathered 10 children; and, two men in the early Colonial years, Robert Treat and Jonathan Law, who would eventually become colonial governors of Connecticut.

Milford citizens also played prominent roles in the Revolutionary War period, with Capt. Jehiel Bryan being the subject of a failed raid to Milford to capture him. Then there’s the well-known story of Capt. Stephen Stow, who died helping victims of smallpox put ashore by the British in Milford in 1776, and that of Private Joseph Plumb Martin, who served in Gen. George Washington’s army in good times (Yorktown) and bad (the winter at Valley Forge).

And reminiscent of Paul Revere’s famous ride a few years earlier, there’s the story of Abigail Ann Merwin who, while hanging laundry, observed a British raiding party aiming to capture cattle and pigs hidden in Calf Pen Meadow and who hitched her wagon and with her baby under arm “raced into town banging on a copper pot to raise the alarm.”

There’s also a story on noted 18th century diarist John Downs.

Explorers, inventors

Milford has had its share of explorers and inventors, too, with Peter Pond’s explorations of the west rivaling that of the more famous Lewis and Clark expedition. George Willard Coy is credited as the inventor of the telephone switchboard and Frank Julian Sprague worked with Thomas Edison.

Of course, submarine inventor Simon Lake of Milford needs no further introduction.

Milford was home to George Bird Grinnell, the “Father of Conservation,” and noted historian Edward Lambert, who authored the history of New Haven colony including Milford. Short stories on philanthropists Mary Hepburn Smith, who deeded the Maple Street duck pond land to the town, and Henry Augustus Taylor (Lauralton Hall, Taylor building and Mary Taylor Methodist Church) are included.

The booklet also features stories on Milford’s Civil War “Medal of Honor” winners George William Baird and Charles H. Marsh; motion picture and business mogul Sylvester Z. Poli, whose unique estate still stands in Woodmont; oyster cultivation innovator William Merwin, and a seed cultivator of another kind, E. B. Clark.

Milford’s educational history is also told, with stories on Fannie Elizabeth Beach, Herbert Mathewson and Joseph Foran.

The booklet is the brainchild of MHOF founder Jerry Patton, a local businessman and former state legislator, and the culmination of six years of official existence for the group, which since 2008 has conducted an annual “induction ceremony” each fall where five historically significant personages from the city’s past are formally placed into the Milford Hall of Fame, currently located in the Parsons complex.

Prominent among the membership of the MHOF are the city’s six former and current living mayors: Alan Jepson, Edward Kozlowski, Joel Baldwin, Alberta Jagoe, Jim Richetelli and Ben Blake.

Editor’s Note: Chris Carroll is former executive editor of the Milford Mirror and publication editor of the Milford Hall of Fame bio booklet.