Vinyard’s Shipyard receives historical marker

MILFORD — While Vinyard’s Shipyard has seemingly been cast off by many who thought the facility had reached its bitter end, J. Sudler and Joan Lofland’s chart led them full speed ahead in its direction.

The shipyard lived on from 1896 until 1951. It sat unused until the pair bought it in 1996.

Restoring the historic shipyard has been no easy task, but one they’ve greatly enjoyed, Ms. Lofland said during the dedication of a historic marker placed at the location Saturday morning by the Delaware Public Archives.

“I thought that brick building was spectacularly beautiful,” she said. “What interests us most is finding something at the end of its life so we can help save the history. That’s what would happen if it continued to sit, all this history would be lost.”

Senator Dave Lawson, Milford Mayor Bryan Shupe, Joan Lofland, Rep. Harvey Kenton, J. Sudler, Senator Gary Simpson and State Archivist and Director of the Delaware Public Archives Stephen Marz celebrate the unveiling of MIlford’s newest historical marker at Vinyard’s Shipyard. The Chronicle/Jennifer Antonik

Senator Dave Lawson, Milford Mayor Bryan Shupe, Joan Lofland, Rep. Harvey Kenton, J. Sudler, Senator Gary Simpson and State Archivist and Director of the Delaware Public Archives Stephen Marz celebrate the unveiling of MIlford’s newest historical marker at Vinyard’s Shipyard. The Chronicle/Jennifer Antonik

Mr. Sudler had similar thoughts during a short ceremony commemorating the event.

“The important part was the people that came with the yard. They are talented, generous and became our friends. And apparently that’s a tradition here at the yard,” he said.

Some of those new friends, which included dignitaries and family members of former shipyard employees, were there Saturday morning to help celebrate what they considered a momentous occasion for their families and the community.

“I think it’s extraordinary to have those people here and have them interested in what we’re doing here,” Mr. Sudler said.

Herrese Appel-Adams of Lincoln was just one found in the crowd.

She remembers riding down the Mispillion River with her father, Frank, and two brothers to help test drive boats made at Vinyard’s Shipyard.

“Someone had to do it,” she said reminiscently.

Frank Appel was an employee of the yard working as the head mechanic before he started his own business, Appel’s Marine in Little Heaven.

“He was 6’7” and wore a size 16 shoe,” she chuckled. “Everyone knew Frank.”

While he was the head mechanic, Mr. Appel took a yearly trip away to attend school so he could stay on course with the latest information.

“I wish my dad would have been here to see it. It’s awesome,” his daughter said of the historical marker unveiling. “It’s really something. I walk over on the river sometimes and look over here. I remember catching turtles, too.”

Mr. Appel passed away in 2003, but not before he shared his life’s work with his children.

“My dad joked a lot. There were stories,” she said. “We spent a lot of time here… even Saturdays.”

Stephen Marz, director of the Delaware Public Archives and the state archivist, said the Saturday unveiling of the historical marker at the shipyard was truly an exciting event.

“We never thought we’d be here like this. It’s the cherry on the sundae for us,” he said excitedly.

“And it’s Saturday,” Ms. Lofland chimed in quickly.

The historical marker program, which began 85 years ago, was transferred to the care of the Delaware Public Archives in the 1990s. More than 570 markers have been put in place through the program.

Placement of markers are not sought out by the Delaware Public Archives, rather chosen by local community members who hope to tell the history of people throughout Delaware.

“All of the work done to restore this place took 20 years of hard work,” Kevin Barni with the Delaware Public Archives said. “But we try to move very quickly in the marker process.”

Senators Gary Simpson and Dave Lawson and Representatives Harvey Kenton and Dave Wilson were in attendance along with Milford Mayor Bryan Shupe.

“Can you imagine what this facility would look like without them behind it,” Senator Simpson asked the crowd. “It would be a crumbling part of this city. It only took Joan and Sudler 100 years to realize it was there. It has brought attention to Milford’s heritage.”

In its prime, Vinyard’s Shipyard used to bring people to town just by being a successful business and a staple to the community, according to Mayor Shupe. Its foundation in Milford was “not artificial,” a “microcosm,” or little world of its own, that he hopes to continue supporting as Milford grows again.

“It’s the kind of microcosm that we want to see in the downtown area. Whereas before, it was a place you didn’t want to go,” he said. “It’s an incredible site. We’re getting closer to what a final solution would be.”

Jennifer Antonik can be reached at mc@newszap.com

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