By the mid 19th century, Milford had become well established as a summer resort for the eastern upper crust, and in New York City, 85 miles east, Louis Fauchère took note. The Swiss-born Fauchère had already made a name for himself as the master chef at New York’s world-famous Delmonico’s restaurant, the birthplace of lobster Newburg and the Delmonico steak. He opened the Hotel Fauchère in 1852, and as he had hoped, caravans of his devoted New York patrons followed him out to Milford.
The town’s golden age lasted until World War II, after which, as Americans took to faster cars and the new interstate highways, the tourist trade began to slacken. The Fauchères finally closed the hotel in 1976, and as far as the outside world was concerned, Milford all but slipped out of sight.
In the 1990’s, weekenders and second-house hunters like Strub rediscovered Milford while searching for a non-Hamptons. Then came 9/11, and the desire for a safe haven from the city grew more intense. “Summer never ended that year,” recalls Joe Fretta, owner of Fretta’s, a landmark pork shop in New York’s Little Italy that moved to Milford in the 90’s. “People kept coming all fall. They extended their vacations.”
Art galleries and book and antiques shops catering to upscale travelers have started to appear, and long-established merchants have adjusted their inventories accordingly. “We used to sell only paperbacks,” says Hillary Anthony of the secondhand shop Books & Prints at Pear Alley, “but lately our clientele have increasingly become serious, high-end readers, so now we also have hardcovers and collectible books.” (On one recent visit, I saw a 40-volume set of works by Washington Irving.) Meanwhile, Milfordians have taken steps to revive some of the town’s old luster. They have replaced asphalt sidewalks with locally quarried bluestone slabs, planted trees and curbside lawns, and installed old-style streetlamps.
The Fauchère reopened in 2006, after five years of painstaking work to bring back the building’s original features while adding contemporary boutique-hotel amenities. Within two years, it was selected to join Relais & Châteaux. Bright-striped awnings now shade its front porch, and its hallways display paintings by Hudson River School artists, conjuring the spectacular landscapes and enlightened local patronage that once drew artists to Milford. In the restaurant, chef Michael Glatz interprets Louis Fauchère’s classic dishes and has added a few creations of his own, among them “sushi pizza,” made with tuna tartare, flying-fish eggs, and a crust of tempura-fried rice.
Since 2001, the population of Pike County has soared 26 percent, making it the fastest-growing county in the Northeast. But 33 percent of it is game preserves, conservation easements, and state and national forests. For its green legacy, Milford can thank James Pinchot’s son Gifford, appointed by Theodore Roosevelt in 1905 to be the first head of the U.S. Forest Service and now known as the father of the American conservation movement. “Ours is the greenest county within a hundred miles of New York,” Strub told me. “If East Coast urban sprawl continues at the present rate, it will eventually surround the county, but it won’t possess it. From above, Pike County will look like Central Park, a patch of green in an urban desert.”
Downstairs at the Fauchère, the informal Bar Louis has acquired, if not a scene, then a regular gathering of Milfordians and visitors who compare notes on life in Milford. On summer days, they might have kayaked on the Delaware, hiked in the Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area, or toured Grey Towers. In winter, they might have skied, snowshoed, or browsed in the galleries and shops on Broad Street. They might have enjoyed live music at the Waterwheel or Muir House, or attended an American Readers Theatre play, the Black Bear Film Festival, or a chamber music concert.
While other American towns work to reinvent historic areas far less intact than this living town, Milford has simply carried on and entered a new era. Perhaps it really is possible to live, forward-looking, with the lingering aura of another time, not to mention the parallel universes and altered states evoked by the old sci-fi writers who once convened here.