- Virginia Johnson
You can find them on a map. Barely. Little towns that used to be rather important hubs dot the Virginia countryside, dating from the days when agriculture ruled along with the horse and buggy or mule and wagon. These central spots, often near rail stations, rivers, or better roads, were communities in their own right and many have faded away as the interstate system grew. The Lost Communities of Virginia, by Terri Fisher and Kirsten Sparenborg, takes a look at these fading places, several of them near our area, including Mineral, Woodford, and Milford.
Fans of Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Café can relate to little Milford, situated in Caroline County and still located on a railroad line. Originally the popular area here was Doguetown, named for the Dogue Indians who used the Mattaponi River for transportation. Milford, named for a nearby plantation in 1792, also used the river as a point for shipping—and inspecting—tobacco. The Mattaponi River was connected to both the York River and the Chesapeake Bay. By the early 1840s, the Richmond, Fredericksburg, and Potomac Railroad ran from Richmond to Aquia Creek with a stop in Milford. Milford’s North-South railroad connections made it a target in the Civil War.
Milford was still doing well in the 1880s and was officially incorporated into a town with four mills, a hotel, four general merchandise stores and daily mail service. Tobacco was still important, and fragile crops such as strawberries and cucumbers would be shipped by train to Richmond, Washington, Philadelphia, Baltimore, and New York City. After another growth spurt during World War II—it was conveniently located near Fort A.P. Hill—Milford slowed down considerably. Passenger trains made no regular stops and the early train depot closed and was demolished in 1955. A newly-enlarged road bypassed the town altogether. Some business buildings remain, but they are empty or used for other purposes. The town’s history does bring people back though. Tourists following Virginia’s Civil War Trails do get off I-95 and drive a bit to see the newly restored Milford Depot.
The Lost Communities of Virginia sets down short, engaging histories of 30 spots off the beaten track throughout the state. It is a shun piker’s dream book, including photos of buildings that may or may not still stand. Part of the authors’ purpose in writing the volume was to embrace these fading towns and “record both their architecture and the lives of their citizens.” They also have hopes of revitalizing them. Now that our transport system is digital as well as physical, many people can telecommute from anywhere, and some may seek to find themselves in what was once a lost community.