Contributed photo/Patrick Sikes / For Hearst Connecticut Media

How has Milford changed over the years?

Using Google Earth, we can see how Milford's development has changed the city's landscape over the last 30 years.

MILFORD — With its strong commercial base, lengthy coastline and bustling neighborhoods, Milford has over the years become a destination for many in the area to shop, work, live and play.

When one commercial tenant leaves, another is usually ready to step in. In some cases, this type of change has been marked by the demolition of longtime community staples, like a beloved entertainment center making way for a more modern shopping plaza.

But the city, which according to U.S. Census data has a population of just over 52,000, has had its ups and downs in terms of population growth, with 2020 marking a decrease of about 700 people over the 2010 census.

One thing that has changed significantly is the coastline, with major upgrades completed over the last few decades on some of its beaches, including the state park located within the city's borders.

Hearst Connecticut Media looked at if and how certain sections of town have changed over the past 30 years. 

Smiles Entertainment Center/REI

A representative for the former Smiles Entertainment Center on Boston Post Road blamed video gaming systems, along with competition from Chuck E. Cheese, for the business' closure in 2011.

For 25 years, local children and teenagers would visit the site for its arcade games, batting cages, boat rides, miniature golf, lasertron, pool tables, and to have birthday parties.

Several years after its closure, the building was demolished and soon after a new shopping center was built, now home to Panera Bread, Sleep Number and Verizon stores.

Tim Nash, route supervisor for Amusement Consultants Ltd. of New York, which owns Smiles Entertainment Center, wheels out an ATM from the building Wednesday in Milford. Peter Casolino/Register

Tim Nash, route supervisor for Amusement Consultants Ltd. of New York, which owns Smiles Entertainment Center, wheels out an ATM from the building Wednesday in Milford. Peter Casolino/Register

Peter Casolino/Hearst Connecticut Media File

The site is now also home to an REI Co-op location that opened to much fanfare in 2016.

"This change made our commercial corridor much more attractive because we have more offerings," said Mayor Ben Blake.

Showcase Cinemas/Total Wine & More

The former Showcase Cinemas property on Cherry Street was the site of famous films for decades before Total Wine and More opened in 2015.

"When I was growing up, it was a drive-in movie theater before it was an indoor cinema," said Blake.

In 2014, the Showcase Cinemas building was demolished to make room for a new retail site that an expanded ShopRite store would anchor.

Kevin Wright of Milford, an usher at Showcase Cinemas in Milford changes out the signage to advertise the new Star Wars movie.

Kevin Wright of Milford, an usher at Showcase Cinemas in Milford changes out the signage to advertise the new Star Wars movie.

Mara Lavitt/Hearst Connecticut Media File

The supermarket opened its doors to customers in 2016.

"ShopRite moved across the street because they were where Bob's Stores is now," said Blake. "One of the reasons Boston Post Road is so popular is because Milford has the most on and off ramps than any other city or town in the state, so it's easy on and off for all these shops and stores for commercial areas. It's one of the things driving a lot of retail success on the Post Road."

Schools

The newly opened Platt Technical High School is the first school to be built in the city in at least 30 years.

The school, which is part of the Connecticut Technical Education and Career Systems, opened in the fall of 2022. The new 224,000-square-foot high school accommodates about 988 students and was completed at a cost of about $123 million.

The Milford Public Schools, on the other hand, has not built a new school in the last three decades, but there have been major remodels to existing buildings.

The district has also relocated many of its alternative high schools.

"The Academy was relocated from a temporary facility (located on Quarry Road) to the newly refurbished property on the corner of Gulf Street and New Haven Avenue," said Kathy Bonetti, the district's communications director.

The most significant change in the district was the remodeling of East Shore Middle School.

Students exit buses for the first day of school at East Shore Middle School in Milford on August 31, 2022.

Students exit buses for the first day of school at East Shore Middle School in Milford on August 31, 2022.

Arnold Gold / Hearst Connecticut Media

"This was a massive remodel and update," said Bonetti. "There was the addition of wings to the school. This project also removed several portable classrooms buildings that were less-than-favorable at the time."

In the fall of 2024, the school district will have renovated another one of its buildings when Pumpkin Delight Elementary School completes its renovation.

Beaches

One of Milford's most popular beaches, Walnut Beach, has had significant changes throughout its history.

"From the east side of Naugatuck Avenue to the sand bar and on to Charles Island and from north to Monroe Street was Myrtle Beach," said Eleanor Russo Benefico, a longtime area resident who once contributed to a book written about the area. "Walnut Beach was just a little area. The area that was redeveloped was Myrtle Beach."

But it's a state park that most recently saw major upgrades.

Within Milford's 17.5 miles of coastline is Silver Sands State Park. The park has been visited by many locals and visitors from across the state. Until 2019, beachgoers could only use portable bathrooms at the state park.

Milford beaches including Silver Sands May 5, 2020, during a limited gathering and social distancing enforcement during the COVID-19 pandemic in Milford, Conn.
Milford beaches including Silver Sands May 5, 2020, during a limited gathering and social distancing enforcement during the COVID-19 pandemic in Milford, Conn.Contributed photo/Patrick Sikes / For Hearst Connecticut Media

In 2019, the state park saw $9.1 million of improvements added for visitors to enjoy.

The state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection added bathrooms, changing areas, a building for lifeguards and law enforcement offices, a snack bar with a wraparound deck, and additional parking space as part of the multi-million dollar plan.