Milford’s Shipbuilding Past

by Dana Kester-McCabe

During the age of wooden sailing vessels many of Delmarva's deeper creeks and rivers once had shipbuilding operations.

One interesting reason to visit Milford, Delaware, is their public art project of colorful boat sculptures. Throughout the town are whimsical replicas of a ship called the Augusta which was built at the town's very own Vinyard Shipyard in 1927.

Local artists and high school students have decorated the eighteen miniatures now on permanent display on the town's Riverwalk Plaza and in the downtown district. The yacht that inspired them, the Augusta, is a reminder of the days when shipbuilding was a major part of the economy here, when many towns on Delmarva's deeper creeks and rivers had shipbuilding operations.

During the age of wooden sailing vessels our region had vast forests with an abundant supply of great white oak trees. Milford's shipbuilding industry was in full swing by the time of the American Revolution. There were as many as six different operations in the town. At the height of its success during World War I they built patrol boats and submarine chasers. During Prohibition these boats were used as "Rum Runners" chasing bootleggers.

It was at the end of the war in 1917 when the William B. Abbot shipyard launched perhaps the biggest ship built there: a 174 foot long, four masted schooner, called the Albert F. Paul. It took a month of high tides to float the ship down the Mispillion River to the Delaware Bay. The ship was a commercial cargo vessel used to haul coal, salt, and lumber up and down the Atlantic seaboard. She made 99 trips before the Paul family sold her in 1942 for $40,000.

On her first voyage under new ownership she was on her way back to port in Baltimore from Turks Island in the Bahamas carrying a load of salt, when she was torpedoed by a German submarine. The u-boat had spotted the unarmed ship sailing alone in heavy seas about 160 miles north of Cape Hatteras. They followed her for about two hours before sinking her. The entire crew of eight hands went down with the ship. That particular sub was destroyed by RAF flyers a little more than a year later off the coast of Spain. The Albert F. Paul was listed as missing until after World War II when her name was found on a German manifest of vessels they had sunk.

While the Albert F. Paul was perhaps one of the biggest ships built in Milford, the Augusta has become the best known vessel built there. Originally named the Chechako, it was a 20 ton power yacht, 47feet in length, built for a man named George W. Pennington at the Vinyard Shipyard in 1927. The pleasure vessel became a prototype for many other luxury yachts produced there. But the Augusta eventually fell on hard times. Sudler and Joan Lofland bought the Vinyard Shipyard and then found the Augusta languishing in dry dock across the bay in Tappahanock, Virginia. They brought her back to Milford to restore her with the help of the Milford Museum.

As our forests ran out of the large white oak trees needed for large sailing vessels, the steel industry took over shipbuilding and so one by one Delmarva's shipyards closed down or became boatyards building smaller work boats and pleasure crafts. There is now only one operation building larger seagoing ships on Maryland's Eastern Shore: Chesapeake Shipbuilding on the Wicomico River in Salisbury. And, the Vinyard Shipyard is considered the last working shipyard in Delaware. You can see the Augusta there if you visit the Milford Shipyard Area Historic District which was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1983.

Visit our website for more information and links to other maritime museums here on Delmarva which tell the story of our bygone shipbuilding industry.


Vinyard Shipyard - City of Milford

Images of America - Milford, Delaware
By Dave Kenton

Recalling These Ships' Heyday
By Frederick N. Rasmussen

Lofland Researches Locally Built WWII Subchasers
By Bryan Shupe

Delaware in World War I
By Brigadier General Kennard R. Wiggins Jr. (DE ANG Retired)

Delaware’s Last Shipyard. A Place Where History Survives
Leigh Giangreco

New Missions on the Mispillion
By Chris Poh

Milford Shipyard Area Historic District

Albert F. Paul