Train station key to Garden Street rehab

MILFORD – Bringing life back to the Garden Street area could begin with the rehabilitation of the old train station, a team of planning and design professionals told residents at the end of a two-day workshop last weekend.

Focusing on what everyone agreed is a bleak section of Milford, leaders of the “design charrette” said the area could someday be home to an attractive mix of uses, including a farmers market, art studios, an antique co-op, a commercial kitchen and maybe a museum honoring the railroad or the quarry industries.

The station house for the B&M Railway barely looks like a train station now, but it once made the intersection of Garden and Cottage streets a destination.

It could do that again, said architect Kyle Barker, whose slide show included an old photo of the Garden Street Depot from probably the late 19th century with several people standing on the platform.

Built in 1853, the train depot, located across from the police station, has low-quality additions to its front and rear, Barker said. With those additions removed and the rest of the building painted in historic colors, it could be brought back to its original appearance, he said, and a platform could add outdoor seating space, for perhaps an ice cream shop.

The team, from the nonprofit Plan NH, held what they called listening sessions with residents in Town Hall last Friday, Nov. 1. After brainstorming all day on Saturday, Nov. 2, they presented their conclusions.

Feedback from the listening sessions had a consistent theme, they said: The Garden Street area is full of under utilized spaces and rundown buildings.

The team emphasized the need for gradual, phased solutions and said some public infusion of cash could get revitalization off the ground.

“You would be creating a new neighborhood center,” said Roger Hawke, co-president of Plan NH, that would enhance “one of the best town centers in the state.”

Architect Gordon Leddy showed a map of downtown Milford and said more walkways are needed to connect the area to attractive parts of town.

“Railroad Pond is an incredible resource. You need to play that up … build a pedestrian walkway around the pond,” he said.

Interest in the Garden Street/Cottage Street neighborhood was sparked by Preservation Alliance of New Hampshire, which wants to save the decaying 19th century freight house that lies on the other side of the tracks from the train station.

The freight house is thought to be one of the last of its kind in New England, Milford Improvement Team Director Tracy Hutchins said.

The building was recently purchased from Fred Fuller Oil by Joe Abaid, owner of Milford Power Equipment, located next door. During one of the listening sessions on Friday, Abaid said his immediate plan is to make it secure, clean and dry and eventually use it as a warehouse.

A search through Wikipedia brings up information on renovation projects for historic rail freight buildings, including a completed one in Kansas City, Mo., where a decaying freight house was purchased by a group of investors in 1995 and is now home to three restaurants, including Lidia’s, owned by celebrity chef, Lidia Bastianich.

A major problem with the Garden Street area is too much pavement and not enough sidewalks, team members said, who included architects, landscape architects, an engineer and planning professionals.

With no clearly delineated right-of-ways, there is speeding and driver confusion. Cut the asphalt in half, add sidewalks and landscaping and consolidate parking areas, Leddy said, and maybe build a mini-roundabout at the intersection. After the presentation, Milford’s Community Development Director Bill Parker called the team’s suggestions “energizing,” and said he especially liked the idea of commercial kitchens and farmers markets going into the neighborhood.

“There is so much to tie together,” he said.

Kathy Cleveland can be reached at 673-3100 or at kcleveland@cabinet.com.