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Globetrotting A to Z: Milford, Conn.

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Milford, Connecticut is the kind of place Californians dream about when they envision a snowy winter or a romp through autumn leaves.

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Just an hour and 20 minutes north of Manhattan by car or slightly more by train, this suburb-with-a-heart is postcard perfect. And this year, it's celebrating its 375th anniversary - that's right, on Feb. 12, 1639 the British "purchased" the land from the Paugusset Indians.

In what was called a "turf and twig" ceremony, the Native Americans turned over the land with the symbols of earth (turf) and twigs, according to Milford's recently retired town historian Richard Platt.

Platt tells Examiner,

The purchase price for the initial Milford purchase was six coats, ten blankets, one kettle, twelve hatchets, twelve hoes, two dozen knives and a dozen small mirrors. The date of the purchase was February 12, 1639. The location of this and the "turf and twig" ceremony is not known.

It should be noted that for subsequent purchases the Native Americans demanded English money.

He added that the widely published Aug. 22 date was "when the settlers met in Robert Newman's barn in New Haven and organized the First Church (and the town)." Newman was one of the early "planters" in the town, who literally helped grow the community.

These days, Milford has sprawled far beyond its roots along the Wepawaug River in the town center. One can travel for miles and indulge in more modern pleasures: the Connecticut Post Mall, built in the 1950s, bowling alleys, Starbucks', Whole Foods and numerous auto dealerships.

Yet, what makes Milford Milford is its attachment to and association with history. The National Register of Historic Places cites several historical spots and homes in the town such as the River Park Historic District, a charming locale boasting mallards, swans, a spectacular waterfall and romantic nooks from which to ponder. Trees centuries old grace the spot, just steps from City Hall as well as the post office, and more recently, eateries like Cafe Atlantique (free wireless, outdoor seating and rotating artwork indoors.)

Visitors should definitely check out the beaches if the weather's warm (late spring to late summer, more or less) including Gulf Beach, located on Gulf Street, about a mile from New Haven Avenue (which crosses the town.) Milford also offers unique attractions such as birding hikes - contact the CT Audubon Society via their website here. After all, Connecticut is home to a wide and colorful variety of birds, from the State Bird the Red Robin to the Scarlet Tanager, Broad-winged Hawk, Blue-winged Warbler, Common Tern, Long-Tailed Duck and, ubiquitous to Milford, the Mallard.

This is the perfect time to book your trip to New England because the leaves are about to change. While in Milford, make sure to rent a car and drive up I-95 to see the vibrant red, gold and tangerine leaves pop. Visit spots such as Mystic (yes, where "Mystic Pizza" was filmed and do try a pizza there!) and Newport. If you have time, head up through Boston and into Maine.

A few facts:

  • Milford can claim one of the state's first Jewish temples, The Hebrew Congregation of Woodmont, which is considered a "resort synagogue" along the shore of Long Island Sound. The National Register of Historic Places states that it's a "modest frame structure in the Colonial Revival style, with a larger community hall next door, [and] the synagogue is in an excellent state of preservation." Jews were not permitted to worship publicly in the Constitution State until 1843.
  • Both George Washington and Aaron Burr spent a little time in Milford. The former, according to legend, ate breakfast here in 1789; the latter, according to historian Platt, was "put up in a tavern overnight" for the audacious act of trying to travel down the Post Road on the Sabbath in 1801 or 1802.
  • Speaking of the Post Road: Milford and nearby Straford show signs of where the first postal carriers traveled all the way from Boston. The road was the precursor to modern postal service, as it allowed mail transport between New England and New York. For more info, click here.

Logistics:

  • Fly into Hartford (Bradley), JFK, LaGuardia or even Newark. Just visit Expedia and/or Internet surf for the best deals. LaGuardia is this examiner's pick because one can take a cheap inner-city bus in Manhattan (the number 60) for just 2.75 directly from the airport to the Harlem Metro-North stop. Click here for information on the buses; click here for Metro-North info. Warning: the buses recently required buying a ticket to board; this is apart from your standard Metro North card, which you can buy at any subway station. There are kiosks located along 125th Street where you board the M60. You must have already bought your Metro North card down in the subway station, then you will insert the card in the machine, let it spit out a ticket and you're good to go. Hold on to that paper ticket! They may or may not check, but generally you must show it upon boarding. If you fly into Hartford, you can take a city bus, too, that will take you close to the Amtrak station (ask about this at the airport). From there, take Amtrak to New Haven, and at New Haven's Union Station switch to Metro North. From JFK, take the Air Train (click here for more info). In New York, a cab will run you over $50.00 into the city proper. One can, of course, rent a car at any of these airports and that is always recommended. If it's winter and snowy and you don't know how to drive in this type of weather, avoid this latter option.
  • Where to stay: The Residence Inn, just a short drive up I-95, is a great home-away-from home and includes a small kitchen, TV, and cozy dining area with all-you-can-eat buffets. A small pool outside can become rather cramped in summer, so hit the beaches instead. Another option, the Hilton Garden Inn, is a little cheaper and offers close proximity to restaurants, bars and the nearby mall.

Other tips:

  • If traveling to Milford between Nov. - late Feb., make sure to check the weather report and pack accordingly. A warm parka, gloves, snow boots, warm socks and a hat that covers one's ears are a must. This examiner enjoys shopping online at www.llbean.com.
  • Californians are super friendly. New Englanders are kind but more reserved. Don't be put off if people don't say hi to you when you walk down the street.
  • Enjoy some clam chowder, lobster, oysters or other seafood while here. Not a seafood fan? Head over to New Haven for some of the best pizza in the world. Try Frank Pepe's!

For more information on Milford's history, please visit: http://www.milfordhistoricalsociety.org/milford-history.html

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