When I was growing up in the rural lake country of southeastern Michigan, the little town of Milford wasn’t even a wide spot in the road. If anything, it was simply the spot where the railroad and the highway conspired to cross the river. An old train trestle with a rope swing is how I recall it.
I remember being very young and sitting on a blanket in the grass with my mother, along the banks of the river, watching as my dad and some of his buddies launched themselves impossibly out over the water on the rope and then, letting go in mid-swing, dropping with a great splash. It was daring-do of the sort that I’ve never witnessed before or since. It’s the youngest and most boyish I ever remember my father behaving.
The two lane road was old pavement, heavily patched, with grass growing to its edge. The only thing that defined the margin was the grassy embankment which the county plow occasionally undercut. The random car that passed along raised a cloud of thin dust that slowly drifted and settled. Between cars, the air was silent, save for the buzzing of summer bugs and the sounds of young voices cavorting in the river. I don’t recall ever seeing a train, although I’m sure they came through regularly. There was at least one building there because I remember buying ice cream. Surely there were more. Presumably there was a mill at one time – down at the river ford.
That’s the way I remember Milford. You got there by taking old Commerce Road west out of town and driving through open fields full of pheasants, scattered woodlots, corn fields and apple orchards on a straightaway stretch until the road turned a tad south, linked arms with the railroad in a dosey-doe and crossed the river.
Eventually, Detroit found Milford – oozing outwards and encompassing it. Trying to find the rope swing today is like trying to figure out how they wedged all those buildings onto Manhattan Island. Or more appropriately, what it looked like before the Indians gave it up. I eventually found the spot, because I managed to find the trestle. It’s behind buildings now, a dirty parking lot marking the grassy field. The road has been widened, and then widened again. The river doesn’t look deep enough to dive into, nor does it look inviting.
A guy that I went to high school with became a Baptist preacher and eventually moved to Milford where he presumably tended his flock in the midst of the gathering urban gloom. I heard that he had been shot in the middle of the night, in his own bedroom, by an intruder. The reasons for the shooting weren’t exactly clear, but the preacher left town in a hurry – leaving both his flock, and Milford, untended.