New city history book shows Milford, then and now

Milford Then & Now is a pictorial history full of old photos and postcards of every corner of Milford, with a modern photo included to record the changes over time. The book was released Dec. 5. Author Michael F. Clark will be signing copies of the book Saturday, Dec. 10, at 3 p.m. at the Milford Public Library.

Michael F. Clark grew up in Milford — Devon specifically. Growing up here, and working at some landmark locations, he has quite a fondness for the city. That fondness ultimately led to the publication of his first book, Milford Then and Now, which was just published Dec. 5.

The book is a collection of Milford photographs and brief historical accounts that show what areas of Milford used to look like and what they look like today.

“The First United Church of Christ held its first service in New Haven, Connecticut in 1638 and was organized by the Rev. Peter Prudden,” reads the caption underneath a present day photo of the First United Church in downtown Milford.

Clark, 53, said he started collecting pictures to hang on the walls of his home, and that’s when he came across the bevy of photographs and postcards showing Milford in its earlier days.

More at home in the real estate business, writing a book wasn’t in his plans. But he said he connected with Milford author Katherine Krauss Murphy, author of Woodmont on the Sound, on Facebook and she encouraged him to write the book. Both Woodmont on the Sound and Milford Then and Now are published by Arcadia Publishing, which specializes in local and regional historical books.

Clark grew up on Spring Street in Devon, and he attended the former Lenox Avenue School and later Jonathan Law High School. He has fond memories of a less crowded Milford, when it was okay for him and his childhood friends to play Wiffle ball and other games in the streets near his home.

He also fondly recalls working at some of Milford’s landmark locations when he was around high school age. He worked as a sales clerk at the old Harrison Hardware store, which is today Colony Pizza.

“The basement looked like something out of the 1700s,” he recalled with a laugh.

He cleaned the parking lot and fixed speakers at the old Milford Drive-In theater, which was where the new ShopRite is today.

He washed dishes at the old El Torero Restaurant on the Boston Post Road, and worked as a bartender at Aldarios Restaurant, which recently closed and is now the headquarters for the Knights of Columbus.

In his book he notes other jobs, too: “I worked for the CETA (Comprehensive Employment and Training Act) program at Central Grammar School one summer, mopping and waxing floors and going to Donahoe’s on River Street for a cheeseburger, cherry Coke, and a bag of greasy fries for lunch. I wouldn’t trade those memories for anything.”

As a child, and even as a young adult, he said he never thought much about Milford’s history and didn’t really start thinking about the city’s history until he started looking or those photos to hang in his house.

“I was so taken aback when I came across pictures of Devon 100 years ago, the bucket cop, the Memorial Bridge, Walnut Beach, and landmarks around the town green,” he writes. “I became hooked.”

He spent about four months putting the book together after signing a contract with Arcadia. He had to get permission for photos that were not his, and he had to research Milford History. His primary source was the book History of Milford, Connecticut.

His book is divided into sections about worship and education, Fort Trumbull Beach, coastal scenes, Woodmont, Devon, Myrtle and Walnut Beach.

Chapter five is dedicated to “Historic Milford,” and opens with a photo from 1912 of American Army soldiers marching up River Street to Broad Street.

“In 1912, the Army and National Guard conducted war games in the area with over 20,000 soldiers participating, including military plans that were the first ever used in military training exercises,” the caption under the photo states.

There’s a picture of a trolley running through downtown Milford, the Connecticut Post Mall when it was not an enclosed mall but a collection of stores including Kresge and Alexanders.

There is also a photo of Perry’s Restaurant, said to be the place where the lobster roll was born.

“It is said that Perry’s, owned by Harry Perry, was home to the original lobster roll that started there sometime in the 1920s, when Harry Perry put hot lobster meat on a soft roll drenched in butter for one of his regular customers named Ted Hales,” the book states.

Milford Then and Now sells for $21.99 and is available in Milford at Canvas Patch, Milford Photo, Howe’s Drug Store, the Chamber of Commerce, Historical Society, and Pete’s Deli in Devon, as well as and Barnes and Noble.

Clark and his wife Missy no longer live in Milford. They moved to Madison because Clark said Milford had become too congested and too expensive. Madison today reminds him of what Milford must have been like 100 years ago, a bit quieter and less developed.

“I still love Milford, but the cost of living in Madison is lower,” he said.

“Milford has a rich history — something that should be cherished and not taken for granted,” he writes in his book. “I am proud to have grown up in Milford and to have called it my home.”