DELAWARE | MILTON
For this week’s Small Town Wall, we’re keeping to the East Coast and heading just south of New England to the First State! Today, we’ll be exploring some of the weird and wonderful attractions that make Milton, Delaware, a road-trip-worthy hidden gem.
Present-day Milton sits on land settled by English colonists in 1637, though natives of the Leni Lenape and Nanticoke tribes already inhabited the region long before Europeans arrived. Initially founded by the English in 1763 as "Head of Broadkiln,” this settlement was essential for shipbuilding because of its access to Delaware Bay (much like last week’s town, Mystic CN on the Mystic River!)
In 1807, the Delaware Legislative changed the settlement´s name from “Head of the Broadkiln” to “Milton” in honor of famous English poet John Milton, and it has retained this name these two centuries later! Milton remains a relatively small community- even after all this time, its estimated population is barely over 3,000. Don’t let its small size fool you, though! There’s plenty to see & do on a visit to this tight-knit community.
LOCAL INSPIRATION: WARRINGTON MANOR LAVENDER FIELDS
Of particular note (and inspiration) to me is this historic farm-turned-paradise, the Warrington Manor Lavender Fields! Seeing fields of lavender reminded me of a pleasant time I spent in England many years ago- and that vibrant purple sealed the deal on what color to use for the background of this wall!
The Manor farm has been growing lavender since 2003 but has operated as a working farm continuously since the 1850s. The land was first cultivated as an orchard, primarily growing peaches, apples, and pears. Over the years, the farm has also produced grain and sugarcane, processed sorghum, held cattle, and operated as a dairy farm for some time! The current owners took great strides to restore the property in the early 2000s, and it now hosts over 3,000 lavender plants of four different varieties.
Washington Manor has since become a prominent year-round agri-tourism destination. Here guest can cut their own flowers in the fields, visit the quaint cottage store, or attend demonstrations on lavender’s uses in the farm’s restored nineteenth-century barn. I, for one, would love to visit and do all of the above- or simply frolic in the fields and bury my face in flowers… but I suppose they might find that a *bit* odd.
GRAB A COLD ONE: DOGFISH HEAD BREWERY & TASTING ROOM
One of the worst-kept-secrets and best-known-attractions of Milton, Delaware, is the wonderfully “off-center” brewery, Dogfish Head Brewing! This brewery has called Milton home for just over 25 years, and in that time, has grown from a small craft offering to a nationally-known and respected brand.
As a former server at a craft beer bar (s/o to The Cloak & Blaster) and now an employee at a creative agency + brewery, I have a bit of a soft spot for craft beer & welcoming breweries. I’ve known of DFH for some time, but I was not aware until now that they brew in such a charming small town!
That being said, I have to admit I was impressed with the variety of tours that DFH has available at their brewing location (pre-COVID times, of course.) Not only that, but they also adopted a fantastic steampunk treehouse from Burning Man, have a killer tasting room & food menu, AND opened their very own inn geared towards “beer lovers and adventure seekers (as if there’s a difference.)” All of these out-there, unique offerings pair perfectly with their tagline- “off-centered beers for off-centered people.” I’d go so far as to say Dogfish Head’s presence in Milton contributes to its personality as an “off-centered” small town in all right ways.
ODD & INTERESTING: THE FUTURO HOUSE
After Dogfish Head’s Steampunk Treehouse, this is definitely the most Intagrammable hunk of metal in town. Of course, I’m talking about the Futuro House, a spaceship-like dwelling currently situated near a small airport in Milton.
The Futuro House is one of the last of its kind- it's one in a series of ninety-six prefabricated houses built in 1968 by Finnish Architect Matti Suuronen. Suuronen believed these prefab homes would solve the housing crisis of the 60s, but sadly they never quite took off. (I’m so sorry, that was both a UFO *and* small airport pun. Couldn’t help myself.)
Although these structures failed to astronomically change the housing market at the time, they have garnered quite the cult following. You can track down sixty-nine of the remaining Futuro buildings on this website and see some of the others’ former locations. As for this particular Futuro house, luckily for us, its current inhabitant is one friendly fella by the name of Richard Garret.
Garret has been renting the Futuro House here for “ages now” from a Milton-native family who sold them in the early ’70s, and despite its cozy confines, he absolutely loves the place. Richard does mention that "if the Futuro has any tradeoffs, it is a lack of closet space. A function of the shape. One tends not to acquire too much,"... but luckily for those of us who would like to see his spaceship home, he finds that the "visitors are a delight.”
THIS TOWN IN HISTORY: THE MILTON ART NOVEAU THEATRE
Another notable (and far older) piece of architecture in town is the historic Milton Theatre. First built in 1905, the original structure has survived three major fires, several nor’easters, and severe water damage from the Great Storm of 1962. Decades of neglect and standing empty nearly spelled its demise, but members of the Milton community rallied for its restoration and revival.
Over the course of its history, the two-story building served, at one time or another, as the Town's basketball hall, fire station, social center & community stage. Various retail businesses & restaurants also thrived there. It was best known as the place to go in the ’30s for art noveau silent films, then ‘talkies”, and then live country-western performances.
These days, the Milton Theatre hosts everything from local and touring musicians to comedy nights and community events for the holidays. It’s heartwarming to me to see not only a historic community space preserved, but also that it is still used as a gathering place to bring together the members of this small town.
Milton, Delaware, is one small town of 3,000 whose personality is undoubtedly more than the sum of its parts. From preserving its history in functional spaces like the Warrington Manor Farm and the Milton Theatre to celebrating oddity and innovation at Dogfish Head Brewery and the Futuro House, Milton is a town where what’s new is celebrated, and what’s old is made new again. It is this balance that makes Milton an especially road-trip-worthy destination in my book.
I’ll see you back here next week for a look at one of the most distinctive, recognizable small towns in the country- as we head back South to the Peach State!
"The stars, that nature hung in heaven, and filled their lamps with everlasting oil, give due light to the misled and lonely traveller." - John Milton