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One Tank Trips: Milford, Pennsylvania awaits your discovery

Grey Towers

 

 

By Jeff Bahr

A charming village

Located just over an hour from Kearny, northeastern Pennsylvania’s U.S. Rt. 209 is a scenic joy to behold. But it wasn’t always so. The route once served as little more than a shortcut for truckers looking to get from I-80 to I-84, and vice versa. But that was before the National Park Service saw fit to scoop up the scenic corridor through which the route passes, and improve it as the “Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area.”

Nowadays, a lowered speed limit and around-theclock weight scales have scared off most commercial vehicles. Tourists blissfully inch along a lovely stretch that features towering cliffs, cascading waterfalls and river views, and which ultimately delivers them to the real show stopper: the historically rich and cuteas- a-button river town of Milford. Sometimes, it’s plain to see, the government actually gets things right.

Even today, Milford recalls an era when women toted umbrellas on sunny days; horses and buggies clambered up crude dirt roads; and the town’s gentlemen were just that – gentlemen. It’s a chunk of Victoriana preserved at its finest and a great place to spend a day or a weekend.

Inauspicious beginnings

It’s hard to believe that Milford was once considered a bit rough around the edges, but it was. According to historical accounts, the town was adopted by waves of roving “marauders” during the late 19th century. These purported (imagined?) ne’er-do-wells descended upon the village in menacing pack form, riding “their blasted twowheeled contraptions” to the various watering holes and inns. But don’t jump to conclusions – these were not motorcycle gangs. This group of desperados rode fire-breathing “safety” bicycles made by Schwinn and Raleigh, which at the time were all the rage. Truth be told, these “wheelmen” were drawn to the area not for debauchery, but rather for the region’s flat and scenic river stretches – and the town of Milford was located right in the thick o f it all – hence their attachment to it.

Nevertheless, the bicyclists’ seamy reputation didn’t dissuade the town’s inns and restaurants from enthusiastically courting their favor. The riders’ money, it turns out, was just as good as anyone’s. In fact, more than a few establishments struck it rich by catering to the tired and hungry cyclists.

What the bicyclists knew back then, everyone knows now. Milford is indeed a great place to point your vehicle at. Virtually every block features an enticing restaurant, antique shop or boutique, and a good many of these are housed in quaint, period buildings that somehow defied the “progress” bulldozer. Milford also features its share of attractions that simply can’t be found anywhere else. Let’s take a look-see.

Gifford Pinchot and Grey Towers

Grey Towers is situated at the village’s western end. The sprawling 43-room Medieval-French mansion was constructed in 1886 by wallpaper merchant James Pinchot (1831-1908) and later deeded to his son, Gifford (1865-1946), who became the first chief of the U.S. Forest Service as well as a two-term governor of Pennsylvania (1923-27, 1931-35).

Pinchot’s son, Dr. Gifford Bryce Pinchot, dedicate the mansion, and its surrounding acreage to the U.S. Forest Service in 1963. Declared a National Historic Landmark by the Secretary of the Interior, Grey Towers was dedicated as the Pinchot Institute for Conservation following a visit by President John F. Kennedy in September of that year. The U.S. Forestry Service currently manages the site and guided tours of the mansion and outbuildings are available for a fee. However, there’s no charge to walk the grounds and the encircling trails, and a stroll through this sublime scene suggests why Pinchot became so enamored of woodlands.

Columns Museum and the Lincoln Flag

After assassin John Wilkes Booth shot President Abraham Lincoln at Washington’s Ford Theater on April 15, 1865, the mortally wounded statesman was laid on the floor and a large American flag, hurriedly taken from the balustrade, was placed beneath his head by stage manager Thomas Gourlay. The bloodstained flag was reportedly retrieved by Gourlay and handed down to his ancestors.

Today, the “Lincoln Flag” hangs in the Pike County Historical Society’s Columns Museum. The story of the flag’s lineage is fascinating, and the documentation backing up its validity is compelling.

A separate pavilion is devoted to the Hiawatha Stagecoach – an ornate and original carriage built in the mid-19th century – and art lovers will appreciate landscape paintings created by John Newton Howitt, a 20th century artist heavily influenced by the Hudson River School style.

 

‘Hots and Cots’

There are many good eateries and inns in the area. The circa-1828 Dimmick Inn located at the town’s center offers quality food and lodging, as does the considerably pricier Hotel Fauchère situated just north of it on Rt. 209. The Tom Quick Inn, built in 1882, is located a block north of the Hotel Fauchère. It, too, offers fine food and lodging to weary travelers. For those on a budget, there are an array of motels located in nearby Matamoras, Pa., just five minutes north of the village on Rt. 209.

Other things to see and do:

If you visit Milford during the warm summer months, another treat awaits. Milford Beach, located one-mile east of town on the Delaware River, features lifeguardprotected swimming. Fishing is also popular on the river, especially during the annual “shad run” during May and June. The 32-milelong McDade Trail can be accessed from the Milford Beach area. Here visitors can hike, bike, or crosscountry ski their cares away.

If you like to get high (in the most literal sense), you can’t do much better than Elks Brox Memorial Park in Port Jervis, N.Y., a 10-minute drive from Milford. Here, a snaking road climbs up, up and away from Rt. 97 to a bluff that features breathtaking views of Port Jervis, New Jersey’s High Point obelisk (the state’s highest point at 1,803 feet), and the Delaware River valley.

A short drive on scenic Rt. 97 brings visitors to Hawk’s Nest. This famed stretch of road, perched hundreds of feet above the Delaware River, is noted for its many exaggerated bends or “S” turns. For this reason, Hawk’s Nest attracts sports car aficionados and go-fast motorcycle riders like moths to a flame. While the practice is far from legal, it’s not uncommon to find such devotees “strafing” through the turns at blistering speeds more appropriate for a racetrack than a public thoroughfare. But don’t let this dissuade you. Occurrences like these are intermittent at best. Park at a pullout, get out of your car and watch the gentle arc of raptors gliding high above you. It is then that you will fully appreciate how Hawk’s Nest earned its name.

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