A trip to the Milford transfer station is relatively quick and painless. Sure, you might find a line on a Saturday afternoon or need a reminder that the shiny cardboard is separated from the standard issue, but as it was described in the Milford Cabinet upon opening in 1980, it is “antiseptic and colorless.” Most importantly, it is not a dump. Our trash is helpfully “transferred” to some other poor town, where it can bother us no more. But as Milford residents of a certain age will tell you, what preceded the transfer station was a dump in every sense – and the rats, smoke, fire, pollution, and smell – oh yes, most certainly the smell – created an unforgettable eyesore (and nosesore) for the town.
After a long history of townsfolk dumping garbage pretty much wherever they pleased – into ponds and rivers, down back roads, off in the woods – by the 1920s, there was at least an official town dump. However, it was located where no sane city planner would want to put it – along a river right off the main drag. Near present-day Keyes Field behind the Paint Works Building, the Cabinet reported in 1945 that, “people in the neighborhood never forgot for a minute it was there. Nauseating smoke rolled up, wafted by the breeze into houses far and near.” Naturally, the garbage seeped into the Souhegan, and “giant rats and swarms of insects” terrorized the neighborhood.
With Elm Streeters ready to storm the citadel, a lovely corn patch of about 15 acres was purchased along North River Road. It wouldn’t take long for this unspoiled ground to become a burning, polluted, stinking mess. The question of what to do with this local scourge would confound Milford leaders for decades.
First, they tried to burn the trash. In 1953, one area resident described the result as a catastrophe. “The wind spreads live cinders to the surrounding homes and woods. We are worn out breathing this stench, trying to keep ahead of the rats and the continual worry of not having property catch afire from the dump at night and being burned alive.” Indeed, Milford’s dump had become a kind of apocryphal town landmark. Later, in 1971, the editorial page of the Cabinet related this unhappy memory: “Once coming home from Montreal to Boston by plane on a clear day we looked across the New Hampshire countryside and felt a nostalgic twinge at the glimpse of smudge which spelled ‘home.’” The flames were no joke. They could leap hundreds of feet into the air, bringing out both an audience and a fire engine.
The man in charge of this revolting fire hazard became a bit of a local celebrity. Daniel Webster, the junkman with the statesman’s name, told people where to put their trash, administered the daily burnings and often complained to the paper about his pay – no doubt with some cause given his daily surroundings. The Cabinet remembered him fondly: “I can see Danny now, etched against a mountain of debris, broom in hand, outlined in the flames and swirling smoke of the blazing dump, carrying on as if his natural element was the inferno.”
So they tried to bury the trash. A new plan adopted in the early 1970s called for crushing the rubbish and covering it with gravel. Its success was short-lived. Each year, the massive heap grew dozens of feet higher, the rats multiplied faster, and nearby white pine and shag-bark hickory trees were felled in the name of the pile’s progress. Officially, the dump was now a “sanitary landfill” but in reality, the smell was worse than ever.
In the late ‘70s, the shadow of what to do about this ever-growing menace hung over every Board of Selectmen meeting just as its stench hung over Milford. By 1979, time was up. The trash monster had eaten its surroundings, and something had to be done.
In the end, the solution was not necessarily the most frugal solution, but it was certainly the easiest. No more burning, no more burying – Milford simply threw money at the problem.
The opening of the transfer station in September of 1980.