Milford Home Designated as Historic

Screen Shot 2016-07-11 at 10.30.45 AMBy Terry Rogers

In April, members of the Milford Museum Board of Commissioners dedicated the Colonel Potter House, located at 404 Northwest Front Street, as a Milford Landmark Property. The home is currently owned by Barbara Mitchell. A plaque designating the home was placed on the front of the home and Ms. Mitchell was presented with a certificate indicating that the home was now considered a historic structure in the city.

“This home has some really neat attributes,” said Milford Historian and Commissioner, Dave Kenton. “The fireplace has the same tongue and groove as that found in Parson Thorne Mansion and we believe the mantle is the original. The railing going up the steps appears to be of the period when the home was built and we believe the staircase is the original.”

The home was built in 1817 by Colonel Benjamin Potter who arrived in Cedar Neck around 1777 as a child, moving to the area from Accomac County, Virginia. He was the son of Captain Edmund Potter, who purchased the old 350-acre Hudson Homes tract in Cedar Neck following the death of John Holmes, who had recently died, leaving an unpaid mortgage bond. When Captain Potter died, Col. Potter’s older brother, John R., inherited the mansion and farm on the Mispillion River. Col. Potter left the farm, seeing advantages in the leather-hide tanning business. He set out to earn his fortune buying animal furs and boiling the hides in large wooden vats while treating the skin with quercitron, a tanning solution extracted from the bark of black oak trees.

Col. Potter’s learned the tanning trade at his first business site, which was on the headwaters of Tub Mill Pond, on a 120-acre tract of land where Swan Creek and Improvement Branch meet north of Milford. The farm today is located on the east side of Bowman Road where it meets Tub Mill Road near the Tub Mill Ruritan Club. In 1798, Col. Potter purchased the tanning operation owned by Isaiah Mr. James, Milford’s first successful tanner. Mr. James purchased a three-acre lot along with one for a home, building a brick house that still stands adjacent to the Avenue Church rear parking lot, from town founder, Joseph Oliver. The home was restored in 1983 by Calvin and Virginia Clendaniel. Mr. James operated his tanning business using water supplied by what was known then as “Tanner’s Branch,” but is now known as “Mullet Run.”

When Mr. James died very young at the age of 40, Col. Potter approached his widow, who had remarried Dr. John Owens, about purchasing the tanning business. The widow agreed, but did not include her brick home in the sale. Upon the death of Parson Thorne, his mansion and 300 acres were left to his nephew, Peter Caverly. Mr. Caverly moved into the mansion, managing Parson Thorne’s mill and business until he sold the business interests to Mr. James and Sarah Clayton. However, he kept most of the Thorne farm and mill operation. Land records indicate he only sold one small parcel of land at the eastern boundary of the farm along “Cullen’s Branch.” That parcel was sold to Col. Potter who built a small frame home there on the east side of Mr. Caverly Alley, which is now known as Mill Street.

The first home on the land was basically a caretaker’s cottage for his three-acre tanning business being conducted on what is now the rear parking lot for the church. Col. Potter’s residence was on a high embankment that overlooked the tan yard that he had purchased from Mr. James in 1799. For 15 years, Col. Potter managed the business and saved money, having taken over Mr. James’ tanning business at the young age of 30.

Before his death, Mr. James purchased the lot at 404 Northwest Front Street from Peter Caverly, hoping to keep other tanners from coming to Milford. However, James Clayton of Dagsboro purchased the entire Thorne Mill and farm operation from Caverly before starting a competing tanning operation behind the Miller House at 414 Northwest Front Street. Samuel and Allen Talbot, two businessmen from Easton, Maryland, arrived in town to take possession of Haven Mill, which they had just purchased. They also purchased the tannery and land owned by Col. Potter, allowing him to purchase the lot owned by Mr. James so that he could “establish a home there.”

In 1817, Col. Potter built the home that stands on the property today, hoping to oversee the new tannery he had begun near the Thorne-Clayton Mill. However, Col. Potter did not live in the home long. James Clayton died in 1822 and Col. Potter purchased the Parson Thorne mansion and the tannery operation in 1823 at auction. He sold his newly built home to Joseph Dutton, the new owner of Haven Mills. After Mr. Dutton died, his heirs kept the home until it was sold in 1859 to Dan Collins, a local merchant who then sold the home to William T. Vaules, station agent for the recently formed Junction & Breakwater Railroad. Mr. Vaules remained in the home until he built a modern three-story home at 200 Lakeview Avenue, which was later improved by Dr. G. Layton Grier, who had married Mr. Vaule’s daughter, Ella.

The Col. Potter Home on Northwest Front Street has undergone many changes in ownership, but the beauty of the home has remained constant. The home still has original hardwood flooring on both the first and second floor. Wood paneling shows detail consistent with early 19th century carpentry techniques. In the backyard, there is a very early water well that provided water to the inhabitants of the house and may be the only well of its type still visible in Milford today.

“As soon as I saw this house, I fell in love,” Ms. Mitchell said. “It is so charming. There is no doubt this house has beautiful bones. It needed a few coats of paint on the outside, but the inside was absolutely stunning and I couldn’t resist it.”

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