Magical Milford, Pennsylvania
ABOVE PHOTO: Grey Towers.
By Renée S. Gordon
"The greatest good for the greatest number in the long run"
-- Gifford Pinchot
The earliest European settlers of what would become the United States were confronted with a vast land that contained 1,077,380,000 -acres of forested land, approximately 47 percent of the total land area. Three hundred years later nearly 15 percent of that land was no longer forested. American settlers tended to view the forest as a challenge that needed to be controlled and used for their immediate benefit with scant regard for renewability or future generations.
It is believed that the word "forest" dates from the late 13th-century and referred to an area blanketed with trees usually exclusively held for use by royalty for hunting with strict penalties for poaching by the lesser classes. It may also have been derived from the Latin "foris" meaning foreign or outside.
William the Conqueror became the world's first documented conservationist when he established Forest Law. A Warden and his officers enforced it. This law limited use, hunting, collecting firewood, etc., by the average individual and was so hated that it is mentioned several times in the Magna Carta King John was forced to sign in 1215.
It seems fitting that while conservation efforts began with kings to protect royal rights in England they would achieve their greatest, egalitarian, success in the United States. The American story begins in Milford, Pa., a small town in the Pocono Mountains, with Gifford Pinchot, "The Father of American Conservation," the first Chief Forester of the U.S. Forest Service and state governor from 1923-27 and 1931-35. www.800poconos.com
Members of the Pinchot family settled the area in the 1600s but Gifford's immediate family migrated from France after Waterloo and a failed attempt to liberate Napoleon. In the 1880s Gifford's parents, James and Mary Pinchot, began construction of a summer mansion on their 1,600-acre estate on Milford's outskirts. The family began their residence in Grey Towers on August 11, 1886. The 44-room Norman-Breton manor was constructed of blue stone and was designed with three 60-ft. turrets, 23 fireplaces and design elements that reflected their French heritage. Gifford wed Cornelia Bryce in 1914 and the couple made several additions.
James, alarmed by the deforestation taking place in the nation, prevailed upon his eldest son to study forestry. He began with a limited number of courses in Yale and continued his studies at France's Ecole Nationale Forestiére. He returned to America after one year and began to raise conservation awareness to a national level to facilitate the greatest good for the greatest number of people. Ultimately he would triple the size of national forest lands and help endow the Yale School of Forestry, the first in the country. Grey Towers would serve as the site of the Yale School of Forestry's summer camp and currently the Pinchot Institute for Conservation.
Gifford Bryce Pinchot donated Grey Towers to the USDA Forest Service in 1963 and on September 24th of that year President Kennedy landed in a helicopter on the lawn to dedicate the site. The commemoration of the 50th anniversary of this dedication will be celebrated from now until September of 2013 with a series of outstanding events including the presentation of a specially written drama, 'Forces of Nature.' www.fs.fed.us/gt.
One-hour general and thematic guided tours of the Grey Towers National Historic Site are offered from May- October 28th. Ninety-percent of the furnishings are original, Gifford's office is 100 percent original and there are more than 11,000 artifacts in the home. The outbuildings are considered rooms and the house has a natural flow to the exterior. The only dining room table is in an outdoor pavilion and is known as the Fingerbowl because it is a huge basin filled with water and the balsa wood serving dishes were floated among the guests.
Exterior landscape tours are self-guided with wayside exhibits and a 23-minute film can be viewed in the Playhouse for those with limited time. Programs, workshops and activities are scheduled throughout the year.
Grey Towers NHS interprets the story of a remarkable family dedicated to service to the larger community. It must be noted that all members of the family made singular contributions. Gifford's younger brother Amos, a lawyer, was a relentless warrior in the fight for human and civil rights. In 1915 he helped found the Little Civil Liberties Bureau, now known as the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU). www.greytowers.org
PHOTO: Bloodstained Lincoln Flag at the Museum of the Pike County Historical Society.
Captain Arent Schuyler De Peyster is widely regarded as the first European to enter the Milford area. He was sent in the 1690s, because of his knowledge of native languages, to meet with the seven indigenous tribes on the Upper Delaware to get them to join forces with the English against the French.
The first European settler in Milford is believed to have been Thomas Quick, Sr. in 1733. Tom, Jr. was born the next year. Junior would go on to gain infamy as the "Indian Slayer." Legend has it that after witnessing the murder of his father by Indians he killed 99 men, women and children in retaliation. A monument to Quick was vandalized on an anniversary of Wounded Knee and has been replaced with a far less controversial plaque.
Judge John Biddis, former resident of Germantown, replicated Philadelphia's street plan and named the streets after his family members after purchasing land in Wells Ferry, now Milford. Modern Milford is a National Historic District with 72 percent of its buildings meeting the specified criteria. Additionally Milford qualifies as a "Tree City USA," with a significant number of remarkable trees each indicated by a symbol. Guides are available and include a map, addresses, brief historic background and architectural information. Walking is a wonderful way to see the town and take special note of the sculpted bears throughout the city representing October's Black Bear Film Festival. www.blackbearfilm.com
Forest Hall was constructed in 1863 as the post office at 200 Broad Street. In 1904 an adjacent 2.5- story French Normandy building, now part of Forest Hall, was built as the summer school of the School of Forestry. The building currently features antique shops, galleries, specialty stores and notable architectural features. www.foresthallantiques.com
The Museum of the Pike County Historical Society is located inside The Columns, the neoclassical 1904 former summer residence of the McLaughlin family. The home's 24 rooms now showcase 11 galleries of exhibits that retrace county history through maps, photographs, memorabilia, clothing and artifacts. Displayed in the porte-cochere is the ornate 1800's Hiawatha Stagecoach.
The most unique exhibit is the bloodstained "Lincoln Flag." The flag is one of five that were in Ford Theater on the night of Lincoln's assassination. This flag was hung over the balustrade and later used to cradle the head of the dying president in the minutes after he was shot. The theater's stage manager, Thomas Gourlay, took the flag after Lincoln was carried across the street to Peterson House. He passed the flag to his daughter, Jeanne, who later moved to Pike County. Her son donated the flag in 1954.
Other exhibits of note are the "Davis-Bailey Exhibit," focusing on the first African American family in Milford and the "Underground Railroad in Pike County". www.pikehistory.org
Louis Fauchére, master chef of Delmonico's in NY, established the original Hotel Fauchére in 1852. During the family's 124-year ownership it hosted three presidents and numerous other luminaries including Sherman, Chaplin, Valentino and Henry Ford. The hotel was listed on the National Register in 1980.
In 2006 the hotel was restored and reopened as a boutique hotel with exceptional dining, luxurious amenities including en suite Nespresso machines and outstanding hospitality in an authentic historic setting with mahogany banisters and a marble entry. www.hotelfauchere.com
The Emerson House is connected to the hotel via a tunnel. Here visitors can purchase artisan breads, quiche, sandwiches and freshly baked pastries. Emerson House baked goods are also served in the Hotel Fauchére's gourmet restaurant. www.hotelfauchere.com/dining/patisserie/patisserie.php
Badea & Soul Day Spa at the Fauchére is steps from the hotel. A stunning palette of treatments is available that ranges from a 30-minute Refresher Massage to a 90-minute Deep Tissue Massage and all treatments include the Signature Hand Paraffin & Herbal Foot Bath. Believe me, this spa is truly extraordinary. wwwbadeaandsoul.com
Milford is that rare destination that offers as much for the solo traveller as for a family. It is within a two-hour drive of Philadelphia and yet it provides truly special experiences and world-class accommodations. Milford is a few miles from Dingmans and Silver Thread Falls, two of the highest in the Pocono Mountains and Bushkill Falls, the largest series of falls in Poconos.
This is a great season to visit Milford. There are 23 self-guided trails in the area and visitors can check fall foliage conditions at the Pocono website or by calling 570-421-5565.
The drive to Milford via 209 is breathtaking. The road takes you along a heavily wooded drive and then, magically, you round a curve and Milford appears and the view and the adventures that await you are priceless. www.milfordpa.us
I wish you smooth travels!
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