A Town's Rejuvenated Heart
A confluence of entrepreneurial know-how, community spirit and governmental aid have Milton’s once-struggling downtown on the upswing again
By Mary Ann Benyo | Photograph by Scott Nathan
From the April 2016 Issue
There was an earlier time “when you never had to leave Milton to get everything you needed,” recalls Lisa Sumstine. The fourth-generation Miltonian (a Bryan before marriage) describes the 1970s and early ’80s: “There was a women’s clothing store downtown, a record store, the hardware store, the grocery store.”
These memories — and her optimism — gave Sumstine the courage to take the job as executive director of Milton’s Chamber of Commerce in July 2013 when things were far less prosperous. “It was tough,” she says. “My main task was to bring people to Milton to spend money. But there was nothing to do. There was not much downtown at all. We went through a significant period of time when you couldn’t even buy a birthday card in town.” The Mercantile had not yet opened, and the building that houses it was vacant. The theater was too. Three other storefronts were empty. Most of the town “slowly turned into a place where people just kind of lived and you had to go elsewhere to conduct business,” Sumstine notes.
Hovercraft of the Avian World
Impressive acrobatics and delicate beauty make the hummingbird a welcome visitor to coastal gardens
Hummingbirds are true avian acrobats. They can dart forward at lightning speed, hover in place like a helicopter or fly upside down or sideways. They are also the only birds that can actually fly backwards. Speeds of up to 30 mph are no big deal — and that may increase to over 45 on courtship dives. Their wings not only rotate but, unlike those of most birds, they also deliver power on the upstroke. To accomplish all this, a hummingbird’s wings must beat about 70 times a second. No wonder they blur.
Of course, all this calls for prodigious amounts of energy. To provide it, their hearts pound at some 225 beats a minute at rest and over 1,200 beats per minute while in flight. (Once, at a bird banding station, I actually held a hummingbird in my hand and listened to its heart — it sounded more like a buzz than a beat, and that was while the bird was at rest.) In order to save energy, hummingbirds periodically lapse into torpor, a sort of short-lived hibernation that allows their heart rate to drop to about 50 beats a minute.
Lewes-area landmark gets a facelift
When retired U.S. Sen. John G. Townsend Jr. bought a farm at the corner of Kings Highway and Gills Neck Road near Lewes in September 1941, it didn’t have a barn on it. There was a house that had been owned by William H. Virden, a widower, and before him the Carter family. But no barn for livestock, or for storage of hay, or even for a good old-fashioned hoedown.
Townsend, who served as Delaware’s 55th governor from January 1917 through January 1921 and in the Senate from March 1929 to January 1941, soon fixed that. He hired William Ritter, who owned large pieces of farm equipment and who moved houses, to transport a dairy barn from an area farm to the Townsend land.
Howard Ritter, founder of Howard L. Ritter & Sons, a Lewes-area company that provides topsoil and gravel, was William’s brother. His son, Ronnie, who now owns Ritter & Sons, remembers his dad telling him that William enlisted the help of another Ritter brother, Roy, who worked for Townsend, to move the barn.
“All I know is what I’ve been told, just hearsay,” Ronnie says. “But Dad told me that they had a lot of snow that year. So William and Roy put the barn on skids and pulled it with a farm tractor to its new location.”