On Monday, July 21, officials at the city, state and county level toured the Vinyard Shipyard as part of the process of determining the feasibility of the Cityof Milford purchasing the property from Sudler and Joan Lofland. Mr. Lofland led the tour of the historic facility, which is the last of seven shipyards that were in operation during the late 1800s on the Mispillion River in Milford.
“The original shipyard was owned by Wilson Vinyard who began operations here in 1896,” Mr. Lofland explained. “Joan and I purchased the property in 1996 and the property was in serious disrepair and had been condemned. We have spent the last 18 years restoring and researching the property, bringing it to what it is today.” There have been three master’s thesis written on the shipyard, along with three professional videos. In addition, Mrs. Lofland has written a book about the Vineyard family as well as the shipyard that she is in the final stages of completing.
The shipyard is located on the south bank of the Mispillion River behind Calvary Church. According to the extensive research into the shipyard by Mrs. Lofland, the yard built more than 150 ships, including 14 wooden sub chasers that were guilt for the World War II war effort. The Lofland’s have restored three ships built at the yard – the Kismet, the Vignette and the Augusta.
“We built our retirement home here in 2003, intending to live out the rest of our days here,” Mr. Lofland said. “During the past ten years, however, the Riverwalk has built up around us. Since launching the Augusta, we began to see that this property should belong to the city. We have spoken to many experts who tell us we should make this happen during our lifetime rather than bequeath the property after our death. That was why we decided to evaluate the possibility of public ownership of the shipyard.”
Representatives from the Delaware State Tourism Office, the Milford Museum, Milford School District, the City of Milford and Senator Gary Simpson participated in the tour, which included the payroll office and several buildings used as part of the shipbuilding process. According to Mr. Lofland, the property is approximately two-and-a-half acres.
Inside the payroll office where Wilson Vinyard, his son, Wilson “Sonny” Vinyard and their accountaint, Tom Baker, the Lofland’s have created a tribute to those who were at the forefront of Milford’s strong shipbuilding history. Artifacts displayed show the painstaking research Mrs. Lofland has done to bring the history to life. In the shop areas, Mr. Lofland explained the various machinery displayed throughout the property. When Senator Simpson asked when the last time the yard had been used as a working yard, Mr. Lofland said “last Monday.” He explained, however, that the yard had not been in daily operation since the 1920s when 10 patrol boats were built for the Coast Guard during Prohibition.
“I would like to see the machinery stay in operation,” Mr. Sudler said when asked what his vision was for the property. “I would hope a non-profit organization could come in and run the yard and the boats, but I think the City should own the property.” Mr. Lofland explained that the property currently separated the two sections of the Riverwalk which is another reason he hoped the city would purchase the yard.
“I think this has tremendous potential as a working museum,” Senator Simpson said. Mr. Lofland said that had always been his vision, but that he didn’t have the knowledge or the ability to do that himself. That was why he thought city ownership with a non-profit organization created to run the yard was the right option.
“The City needs to seriously consider this,” Claudia Leister, Executive Director of the Milford Museum said. “Starting an organization now to get the ball rolling might be the best way to begin. There are a lot of people out there who are boat people who would love to get in on the ground floor of something like this.”
Mayor Bryan Shupe asked everyone attending the tour to give their thoughts on the City purchasing the property and to provide any suggestions they may have on the best way to proceed. “I want some feedback from others, but I feel this has tremendous potential for the city,” Mayor Shupe said. “This could be beneficial to economic development, to tourism in the city and in many other ways, but I need input from residents and organizational leaders in order to get things moving.”