Cara O'Donnell Spring 2018
As visitors make the turn onto Broad Street in Milford, there’s something about the town that will immediately seem a little familiar. Not necessarily in a déjà vu way, but rather as if the town is welcoming guests home. That’s Milford, a small Victorian village in Pike County in the heart of the Pocono Mountains. It’s a region that’s known for its ski resorts and lakes, outdoor recreation and family-oriented lodging complexes. But Milford stands out, not only for its nostalgic friendly feel, but for its unique country elegance that’s both charming and inviting.
Milford is hardly a hidden gem; it was named one of the Coolest Small Towns in America in 2017 by Budget Travel. Frommer’s once bestowed the same honor, and Atlantic magazine once called Milford “the prettiest county seat in America.” In fact, the village has been a country respite for New Yorkers since the Gilded Age. It’s also home to the annual Black Bear Film Festival, the Milford Music Festival and a Winter Lights Festival, and the town used to host an annual Science Fiction Writers’ Conference.
But Milford truly shines even without the festivals and extravaganza; in fact, that’s what drives its appeal. Broad Street (the main thoroughfare through town) is lined with shops, cafes and art galleries, each manned by friendly locals who are more than happy to share their favorite spots throughout town or to help a visitor out with restaurant or sightseeing suggestions. After all, many of the locals were once visitors themselves, eventually choosing the charm of Milford over big-city bustle. Don’t miss the Artisans Exchange, which has become one-stop-shopping for anyone looking for the newest works from local and regional artists. The Craft Show, located in a huge historic home, showcases everything from handcrafted furniture and carvings to garden gnomes and country chic décor. If visitors are looking for the perfect items for a picnic, Fretta’s Italian Food Specialties (yes, the same Fretta family of the famous Fretta’s in NYC’s Little Italy) is an authentic salumeria. And for those with a craving for sweet treats, Irene’s Kitchen is a delight, offering desserts and candies of all kinds. The building is hard to miss; it’s painted bright pink.
Milford offers several quaint Victorian-era bed-and-breakfasts for guests looking for that homey experience that really lets them become a part of the town, even for just a day or two. There’s the cozy Harrington House, an 1860s Victorian home just steps from downtown and surrounded by lush gardens and a giant wrap-around porch. Laurel Villa, which once served as a stagecoach shop and as the summer home for a local theater, offers guests a relaxed, country setting as well as a full restaurant that’s open to the public in addition to overnight guests.
But, of course, the grand destination downtown is the Hotel Fauchere, located right on the main thoroughfare of Broad Street and the place to see and be seen in Milford. The hotel, on the National Register of Historic Places, is a luxury boutique hotel with three restaurants that has a storied past. The current owners found old guest registers with names ranging from Andrew Carnegie and Mae West to Babe Ruth and numerous presidents. In fact, one legend of the Hotel Fauchere is that Gifford Pinchot and Theodore Roosevelt once sketched out the plan for the National Park Service on a napkin while dining at the hotel. The property closed in the ’70s, but the Fauchere was purchased and reopened its doors in 2006, having been renovated and restored to its original grandeur.
And speaking of Pinchot, one of the leading attractions for visitors to the community is Grey Towers National Historic Site, his former estate in Milford. Pinchot (the son of conservationist James Pinchot) was the first chief of the US Forest Service and a two-time governor of Pennsylvania. Built in 1886, the Pinchot family lived on the estate before it was eventually donated to the US Forest Service in the 1960s, the same organization Pinchot founded decades earlier. Today, the mansion itself and surrounding 100-plus acres are open for guided tours; visitors can also take advantage of self-guided tours of the various trails and gardens, some of which have been restored to reflect Mrs. Pinchot’s own gardens in the 1930s and 1940s.
The scenic vistas of Grey Towers are just the beginning of the outdoor wonder to be discovered in the areas surrounding Milford. Springtime flowers wash the landscape in a sea of pastels and lush greenery newly awakened from the cold of winter. The McDade Trail, which starts at Milford Beach, offers spectacular views of the river as well as the trees and fields beyond, and of course, no visit to Milford would be complete without a trek to at least one of the area’s majestic waterfalls. The three-tiered Raymondskill Falls is the tallest waterfall in Pennsylvania. In fact, if the drops from each tier are added together, the waterfall is only a few feet shorter than Niagara Falls. It’s worth the trip, as is the climb on one of the nearby trailheads of the Cliff Trail System that leads to what locals call “the Knob,” a point overlooking all of Milford and acres of forests and fields below. The view is simply breathtaking.
Another option is to take a day outside downtown Milford to explore the vast Delaware Water Gap Recreational Park, a popular destination for those looking to spend some time in the great outdoors of the Pocono Mountains. The park offers activities ranging from hiking and boating to fishing and camping, as well as trails leading to even more scenic waterfalls. Delaware Water Gap is another nod to the conservation and environmental moments of the ’60s and ’70s, and it’s a wonderful opportunity to get out and have a truly picturesque outdoor adventure.
If history and architecture are on the agenda, visitors never need to depart the charming downtown. The self-guided walking tour of the Milford Historic District leads participants on a leisurely walk through town to discover more than 50 Victorian buildings ranging in styles from Gothic and Queen Anne to Italianate and others, all of which are listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Maps can be picked up at hotels and inns, as well as at a variety of other businesses downtown.
Also downtown is the Columns Museum, operated by the Pike County Historical Society, which features a collection of artifacts and other items, including Civil War memorabilia, historic farm tools, musical instruments and more. It’s most well known as the home of the 36-star Lincoln Flag, which was draped over the balustrade in the Presidential Box at Ford’s Theater in Washington, D.C., the night President Lincoln was assassinated. That flag reportedly was placed under Lincoln’s head after he was shot.
Whichever activities visitors choose to discover in historic Milford, all guests can be assured of one thing – that those experiences will be memorable ones. Milford’s appeal is in its charm, its small-village elegance, and its sense of hospitality in the truest sense. Visitors will soon understand why many have chosen this small Pike County village as home.
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