Milanville Historic District
The Milanville Historic District was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1993. Portions of the content on this web page were adapted from a copy of the original nomination document.  Adaptation copyright © 2008, The Gombach Group.
The Milanville Historic District is situated at the confluence of Calkins Creek and the Delaware River, with the river to the east and New York State beyond. Wooded hills to the west form a backdrop for the community. The creek flows west-to-east along the northern edge of the district. Route 63027 (River Road) and Route 63029 intersect at the center of the village, forming a Y-shaped district. The Milanville Historic District has nineteenth and early twentieth century vernacular architecture, influenced by Queen Anne, Italianate, Greek Revival and Gothic Revival architectural styles. Buildings are wood framed, most of them built between 1850 and 1910. All buildings the size of garages or larger have been counted. They range in style and size from small, one-car garages to sprawling, 15-room residences. No building exceeds two-and-one-half stories in height. Architectural integrity is generally good.
Set back in varying distances from the road, most residences and outbuildings are surrounded by lawns and landscaping that features mature shade trees. The few extant commercial buildings are closer to the road and unlandscaped.
Properties in the western section of the Milanville Historic District are associated with the tannery/acid factory complex. Although the original factory buildings have been dismantled, the owners' residences and the company store are intact, and buildings that once served for factory storage (known locally as the Phone Company Building have been converted to apartments. From the tannery area along Calkins Creek, there is a steep incline, with the old school and the c.1880 school, to the west, holding a commanding view of the village, in winter when the trees are not in leaf.
From the intersection in front of the Volney Skinner House, Route 63027 winds to the east and south. Residences on the south and west side are elevated, at varying set-backs, above the road. There are no side-walks in the village, but dry-laid, stone retaining walls and flagstone walks lead from the road to the full-width, front porches of the Volney Skinner House (c.1840), the Weston Skinner House (c.1870), the Frank Davis House (c.1900) and the Milton Skinner House (c.1910). Buildings are more scattered on the north and east side of the road, where topography is uneven.
The eastern end of the district is anchored by the Skinner's Falls Bridge (National Register listed, 1988), a steel Baltimore truss bridge spanning the Delaware River. The bridge's access road curves sharply to the north, with Skinner's barn (c.1900) on the east and overlooked by the Milton Skinner House (c.1900). The Skinner property, with its wide expanse of lawn, extends to the road fork, where the bridge approach road curves to the southeast and Route 63027 continues south, as River Road. The Nathan Skinner House (1815) and the Milanville Methodist Church (1910 can be seen from this point, although vegetation and the curving road obscure views of other buildings.
The oldest buildings in the community are side-gabled, wood frame, clapboard-sided residences, with hints of Greek Revival influence. The Nathan Skinner House (1815), the Volney Skinner House (c.1840), and the Eli Beach House (c.1840) each include these features, and display frieze band ornamentation below their rooflines. Other buildings are more typical of rural, vernacular styling of the Victorian era. The Milton Skinner House (c.1900) is the most stylish of the residences, with vergeboard, truss and fishscale shingle ornamentation within the steeply pitched cross gables, and full-width front porch with posts surmounted by decorative millwork brackets. The Milanville School (c.1880) displays picturesque architectural styling, with Italianate style bracketing along the roof line, a belfry with two-tiered roof, and tall arched and rectangular 6-over-6 windows.
The architectural integrity of Milanville's buildings of Milanville's buildings is generally good. Although the Old School and the Swendsen House have been remodeled, other buildings — notably the Milanville School (c.1880), the Volney Skinner House (c.1840), the Milton Skinner House (c.1900) — have recently been saved from deterioration, and repaired with sensitivity to their historic character.
Few modern buildings intrude upon the district's historic appearance. Most of non-contributing buildings in the district are outbuildings. Of the 20 major structures, residences, and commercial buildings, only six are non-contributing, resulting in the overall impression of a high ratio of contributing to non-contributing buildings. Of the 13 buildings designated as non-contributing, six of then are garages or rear outbuildings. The great majority of buildings within the district retain their simple, vernacular styling, with wood-frame construction, clapboard siding, gables, and full-width front porches. The non-contributing outbuildings are generally wood-frame, weatherboard or novelty sided, one-story gabled buildings, used as storage sheds or garages, and located unobtrusively to the rear of contributing buildings. Their location and size, coupled with the screening of landscaping and topography, results in their having little impact on the district's overall appearance.
Alterations to contributing buildings tend to be additions added to the rear, often when residences (e.g., the Eli Beach House, Milton Skinner House, the J. Howard Beach House) were converted to use as boarding houses in period between 1910 and 1940. New owners in the 1980s and 1990s have stabilized many of the deteriorating older buildings, and renovated them without major alteration to historic exteriors. In a few cases (e.g., the Old School House and the Phone Company Building) extensive alterations designed to convert buildings from public or commercial use to residences have severely compromised the buildings' historic architecture by alterating windows, doors, and siding; these are listed as non-contributing buildings within the district.
The high ratio of contributing to non-contributing resources, the unobtrusive nature of building alterations, and the overall impression of architectural integrity are important factors in qualifying the Milanville Historic District for National Register listing within the Historic and Architectural Resources of the Upper Delaware Valley.
Milanville is one of the most historically significant communities in the river valley, the eighteenth century center of the Delaware Company's Cushetunk settlement. All vestiges of the Calkins Creek settlement were lost during the Revolution, when Indians and Tories raided and burned throughout the valley. However, a number of the original Delaware Company families — notably, the Skinners, Thomases, Calkins, and Tylers — returned and resettled the area.
The extant buildings of the Milanville Historic District reflect the nineteenth and early twentieth century, when the village reached its most developed stage and was a center for lumbering and tanning, then wood distillation. Each of these industries based in Milanville played a key role in the history of the Upper Delaware Valley.
Lumbering provided the first major product to return profits to the area. Milanville's Skinner family, owners of the village sawmill, was the most important lumbering/timber rafting family in the valley. The tannery at Milanville, one of two in the valley, was a major producer of leather for the belts to operate the engines of America's industrial revolution. After the hemlocks needed for tanning were depleted, the Beach tannery was converted to an "acid factory," producing charcoal, wood alcohol, and chemicals used in explosives during World War I. By the 1920s, synthetic processes replaced wood distillation for production of these chemicals, and the acid factory closed.
The sawmill, tannery, acid factory, and creamery are now gone. But the residences and a few commercial buildings remain with strong historic and visual ties to those lost industries.
Within the Milanville Historic District, the earliest extant building is the Nathan Skinner House, framed out at Tammany Flats (seven miles up-river) and floated downstream on timber rafts, in 1815. This is just one of several early Milanville buildings associated with the Skinner family. Daniel Skinner is universally credited with beginning the Upper Delaware timber rafting industry, the key to development and settlement of the region. Daniel's son, Nathan, who built this house, was Wayne County's first surveyor and an important chronicler of the pioneer era. Nathan's son, Calvin, who lived over 70 years in the house, was a lumberman, raftsman and civic leader, who gave Milanville its name (in honor of Napoleon's Decree of Milan). Four other residences in the Milanville Historic District trace their heritage to Calvin Skinner's children: the Volney Skinner House (c.1840), the Weston Skinner House (c.1870), the Illman-Skinner House (c.1910), and the Milton Skinner House (c.1900).
The other important Milanville Historic District family — also associated with a key local industry — was the Beach family. The Eli Beach House (c.1850) is named for Milanville's primary tannery owner, who moved into the house when he came to the village in 1854. The Milanville Store (c.1850) was the company store for Beach's Rock Glen Tannery, later known as Eli Beach & Sons. The J. Howard Beach House (c.1870) was built for the oldest of those sons.
Although one of the smaller communities in the river valley, Milanville has an unusually large number of extant buildings which reflect nineteenth and early twentieth century architectural motifs. Three of these buildings are especially fine examples of vernacular architecture found in several of the historic communities of the Upper Delaware Valley. The Milanville School (c.1880) boasts picturesque styling with bracketed rooflines, arched upper-level windows, and a belfry with a two-tiered roof. It has been converted to a residence without damage to its historic exterior. The Milanville Store (c.1850), a rare example of a local store that retains both architectural integrity and traditional function, is dominated by a full-width, two-story, front porch, architectural feature found in a number of commercial buildings in the valley. The barbershop, for many years the village's polling place, is a commercial building with a boom-town style false front, a style popular for Main Street architecture elsewhere in the valley.
Architectural significance, however, is not limited to these three buildings. The five residences associated with the Skinner family, for instance, retain their distinctive nineteenth and early twentieth century architectural flavor, drawing upon styles popular in the river valley during that period. The Nathan Skinner House (1815) is an example of early Greek Revival building, with post and beam construction. The Volney Skinner House (c.1840) exhibits original Greek Revival massing and frieze band trim typical of that style. The Weston Skinner House (c.1870) is a simple, unaltered residence showing the Queen Anne influence in its full-width front porch and millwork balustrade. The Milton Skinner House (c.1910) is a Eastlake style residence with steep gables and decorative vergeboard. Combined with the other contributing resources of the district, these buildings represent especially well crafted examples of the architectural styles which dominated the Upper Delaware Valley during the period of significance.
With the exception of three non-contributing residences — the ranch style Arthur Holmes House (c.1957), the Puchammer House Trailer and the Ray Davis Chalet (c.1970) — every residence and commercial building in the historic district was constructed during the period of significance, and reflects the architectural styling of that period. Even those buildings (i.e., the Old School and the Swendsen House), which have been so remodeled as to be classified as non-contributing, retain enough of the architectural detail and original building features to reveal their nineteenth and early twentieth century origins.
Anchoring the southern end of the Milanville Historic District is the 1902 Milanville-Skinners Falls Bridge, an intact example of a multiple-span Baltimore truss bridge. Already listed on the National Register of Historic Places, the bridge represents a bridge construction style common to the district's period of significance.
All of the Upper Delaware's villages have a sense of the past, a strong visual link with the nineteenth century and early twentieth century, the valley's most prosperous period. For Milanville, this is especially true. Unlike most of the other communities, Milanville has not been impacted by a major highway. Unlike any of the other communities, Milanville's general store, the village's social center, retains not only its traditional function but also its architectural integrity. Unlike other communities, Milanville has very few modern buildings anywhere in the community.
The topography and natural features, especially the Delaware River, Calkins Creek, and the hills which rise steeply to the north and west, dominate the Milanville landscape, as they did in the nineteenth century. Second-growth timber and matured landscape plantings give the area a greener, more natural look than it would have had during the community's early development. However, it also adds to the general impression of Milanville as a rural community largely untouched by modern construction.
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