Milford book shows city ‘Then & Now’

Michael F. Clark of Madison, who grew up in Milford, is the author of “Milford Then & Now.”

Michael F. Clark of Madison, who grew up in Milford, is the author of “Milford Then & Now.”

MILFORD >> It all started eight years ago when Michael F. Clark searched on eBay for pictures of historic Milford to hang in his house for decoration.

He was in real estate/finances and had no knowledge of history or writing experience, but that search sparked a journey that brought him to old photos and to connections on Facebook.

From there, Clark accomplished something he’d never imagined: He wrote a soon-to-be-released book, with pictures of scenes from his hometown way back when, and today.

The book, “Milford Then & Now,” is set to be released Dec. 5 and is proving popular in the number of pre-orders. He will hold a book signing 3-5 p.m. Dec. 10 at the Milford Public Library, 57 New Haven Ave.

Even Clark is surprised in the interest. He started a Facebook page for the book just weeks ago and already more than 1,000 people have joined.

“I grew up here, but as I started doing research, I became amazed at how much history Milford had,” Clark said.

Through the Internet, he found the pictures and eventually came across the Facebook page “You knew you grew up in Milford when,” where he met Katherine Krauss Murphy, author of “Woodmont on the Sound,” a postcard history of the borough.

Clark’s book of mostly pictures, with explanations of the sites, was done with old photographs and some postcards he bought, borrowed or found in historical archives. He did the “now” by photographing those same sites as they are today.

Murphy said the pictures in Clark’s book are “terrific,” and when he posted on the Facebook page he always had a lot of interesting information with each.

It was Murphy who suggested he contact Arcadia Publishing and The History Press about its Then & Now history series. She was familiar with the company through her own book.

“I knew he had a book in him,” Murphy said. “I’m really excited about Mike’s new book. ... He grew up in Milford and truly loves the city. I really love his enthusiasm.”

Murphy loaned Clark some postcards for the Woodmont chapter, and Clark said Murphy was a huge help in many ways, especially editing his words.

Clark says he doesn’t consider himself a writer, but Murphy, a professional writer and editor, said she likes his style:

“He has a nice way with words, very conversational.”

Clark said he doesn’t consider himself a historian, either, but Murphy said he is a great researcher and has “an incredible knowledge about Milford’s history and neighborhoods.”

Valerie Keller, Northeast marketing specialist for Arcadia Publishing and The History Press, said her company is always looking for new projects to commemorate town histories.

“Having just celebrated its 375th anniversary in 2014, the town of Milford was the perfect candidate,” Keller said.

“Mike Clark was the obvious choice to author the book; a Milford native, he has grown up photographing the city and garnered support for the project from the Milford Chamber of Commerce,” she said.

Keller said the Then & Now series is about “looking at where we were and comparing it to where we are,” to “better figure out where we’re going as a society.”

“History helps us avoid repeating past mistakes, while also helping us to build on past triumphs. What’s more, studying history is just plain enriching on a personal level,” she said.

Clark, who moved to Madison five years ago with his wife, Missy, to whom the book is dedicated, as well as to his three grandchildren, said he also collects Milford artifacts.

The items include bags of seeds from the old Woodruff Seed Co., where the Connecticut Post Mall was eventually built, and a 1930s marketing package for a secretarial school, which was once where the Parsons Government Center stands.

Clark said he and Missy moved to Madison because Milford was getting too congested and expensive, but he has fond memories of growing up there.

Madison is a wonderful place to live and he has already begun research for a combined Madison/Guilford Then & Now book, he said.

In the Milford book, many of the pages show a dramatic change in the city. There is an old shot of the mall in the 1960s as an open shopping center, as it was not enclosed until 1981. The “now” picture shows the modern architecture of the second floor and glass-paneled ceiling.

Clark’s book even includes a rare aerial view of the old Milford Drive-In on Cherry Street, where the new ShopRite stands.

There is much in Milford that Clark holds dear, he said, including the concept of the Memorial Bridge downtown, which honors Milford’s founders. He delights in the strong Native American history of the city and in the Walnut Beach Amusement Park, which was in Devon, where he grew up.

As a baseball fan, one of Clark’s favorite bits of city history is that Lou Gehrig’s mother lived on Cleveland Avenue in Devon from 1948 until she died at Milford Hospital in 1954.

The book also shows places of worship, the shore, Walnut Beach and Fort Trumbull Beach.

It will be available, just in time for Christmas, at area shops, Barnes & Noble, on Amazon and through Arcadia Publishing.