North and South Walnut Street: Milford, Delaware


Milford, Delaware's prosperous, 18th century ship building days are long gone, but from that wealth-producing era came the investment used to expand downtown and develop a new main street — North and South Walnut. Well-to-do families in Milford spared little expense when building on Walnut Street, whether in the Federal, Greek revival, or a Victorian architectural style.

Designated Area

A five block stretch that runs South between NE 4th Street to S Maple Avenue.

Since 1995 more than $2 million has been spent improving Walnut Street, including burying power lines. Photo courtesy Gary Norris.

Planning Excellence

Given the street's architectural grandeur, as well as its growing number of unique businesses, access to the Mispillion River walkway, and role as the main venue for the town's developing visual and performing arts scene, there is a level of energy and vibrancy about Walnut Street that is comparable to main streets in cities two or three times as large. Adding to this energy is the pride residents have about Milford and the motto of the town's marketing campaign, "Art Town, River Town, Home Town."

With the decline in shipbuilding, Milford's economy shifted to agriculture, dental supplies, materials and innovations through the pioneering work of L.D. Caulk, and, more recently, tourism. To help Milford capitalize on its history and unique character, the town renamed its revitalization committee Downtown Milford Inc., (DMI) in 1995 and made $2.2 million in public and private investments during the next five years, including sidewalk and street improvements, erosion control, and the Mispillion River walkway.

In 2007, additional improvements were made along Walnut Street including removal of utility poles, burying power lines, adding benches and sidewalk planters, and adding historic lighting. Complementing these physical improvements is a rebranding and marketing campaign, and Walnut Street's inclusion as one of Delaware Main Streets in 2008.

Led by DMI, the rebranding and marketing campaign is using the town's farmers market, music and arts festivals, holiday celebrations, and volunteerism to stimulate economic activity along Walnut Street and throughout downtown. For Walnut Street business owners George Caroll and Chuck Stanko, the campaign confirms what they discovered themselves when they "drove up and down the East Coast looking for a small town with a homey feel" where they could locate a bakery and coffee shop.

Local businesses along Walnut Street and elsewhere downtown have donated $40,000 over the past several years for city-initiated improvements and programs. Photo courtesy Gary Norris.

Defining Characteristics, Features

Planning, Revitalization

  • Milford settled 1680; Walnut Street not established until local merchant and plantation owner Joseph Oliver lays out first city streets (1787)
  • Downtown revitalization committee arises from City Council Workshop discussion (1992); city council motivated to revitalize downtown business area including Walnut Street
  • Comprehensive plan (2008) addresses city economic issues, preservation initiatives
  • Downtown Milford Inc., wins four outstanding achievement awards at the Maryland/Delaware Revitalization Conference for its work on Walnut Street, downtown area (2010)
  • City's 2013 draft comprehensive plan highlights economic development efforts; recommends development of historic preservation ordinances to ensure integrity of historic character
  • Survey finds 61 percent of residents agreed city needs historic preservation ordinance (2008)

Community, Economic Support

  • Downtown Milford Inc., (DMI) encourages volunteers to help with large "hayrack-style" baskets on the lampposts along Walnut every spring as part the In Bloom program
  • Fire damaged several buildings along Walnut Street (2003)
  • DMI participated in federally supported "Project Pop-Up," which provides rent-free commercial space on Walnut Street for three months to selected entrepreneurs (2012)
  • Every year, The ART project, organized by DMI, chooses artists from the region to turn four-foot boat models into creative interpretations of the town motto; boats replaced on the Riverwalk
  • Since 2004, 20 downtown businesses, many located along Walnut, contributed $40,000 to the city's revitalization and development causes through donations and sponsorships
  • City and private sector have contributed to downtown signage, now valued at $70,000; includes historic and cultural signage, downtown directional signage, business signage

Activities, Events

  • Since 1997, River Walk Farmers Market held every Saturday on South Walnut
  • Toasting the Town St. Patrick's Day Pub Crawl held every St. Patrick's Day along Walnut Street
  • Annual Holiday Stroll along Walnut occurs several days before Christmas
  • Milford Community Parade occurs in October, temporarily turning Milford into state's second-largest city; includes music, food, activities along Walnut Street
  • Mispillion Arts League holds "Fine Art Show" every year featuring food from 10 Walnut Street restaurants, bakeries, and cafes; event showcases Milford's growing art scene
  • Bug & Bud Festival celebrates Arbor Day, drawing more than 8,000 visitors; activities along Walnut Street include ladybug costume parade, live entertainment

The entrance of the Mispillion River Walk from Walnut Street. Photo courtesy Gary Norris.