Through the years it has been known as an oval, a square, and a triangle but whatever the shape, there is no doubt that Milford’s common is a treasured location. And yet there was a time in the Spring of 1959, during the height of the urban renewal movement, when the future of Union Square seemed in some doubt. There were even those who proposed turning it into a parking lot.
Officially, the downtown area where Union Street, Elm Street, South Street, Nashua Street, Bridge Street and Middle Street all converge is known as Union Square. But these days, most folks refer to it as the Oval — even though it hasn’t had an oval shape in more than a hundred years. An overhead peek on Google Earth will tell you it’s really a triangle. The area serves as business district, rotary, concert hall, parade grounds, pumpkin festival, and general gathering spot.
But in 1959, the car was king and cities all over the country — Boston as a prime example — bulldozed huge swaths of aging urban neighborhoods in the name of urban renewal. Often their replacements had straight lines in abundance but an utter lack of heart. Certainly, if Penn Station, Ebbets Field, or the entire West End of Boston could fall to the wrecker’s ball, Milford’s Oval could have easily suffered a similar fate. After all, by the 1950s, even Faneuil Hall was basically being used as a parking lot.
In May of 1959, a front-page article in the Milford Cabinet asked readers, “What Would You Do with Milford’s Oval?” It wasn’t just an idle question. There was talk among Union Square business owners that paving over the Oval might make sense as both a parking and traffic solution. Under the bold sub-header “Tear it Up?” the Cabinet asked, “Would you tear up the Oval and make it a parking lot? Or possibly build a garage underneath it — to compete with the proposed garage under Boston Common? Would you chop it up to make more parking space but still keep a little grass and a couple of trees? Or build a skyscraper office building on it?”
That got people going, alright.
The Cabinet reported that a 5-man “Oval Committee” was looking into such suggestions and asked readers to write in with their thoughts. Write they did. The next week, the paper was flooded with letters, all of them defending what was already there. “A college girl” wrote in to say “I don’t see how one could seriously consider converting the Oval to a parking lot. It is one of Milford’s greatest assets and changing it for a commercial purpose would be selling our birthright for a mess of pottage.” A “Milford native” agreed saying, “Let’s keep the Oval. What is to be gained by abolishing it? How many cars would it take care of as a parking lot?”
In subsequent weeks, dozens of letters were published: “I would hate to see the Oval destroyed or made into to a parking lot. As it is now, it makes the village look inviting.” Another resident added that “the bandstand provides the touch of nostalgia needed and is a reminder of a past so well remembered by many.” Robert Philbrick wrote in to say, “I think this question might well be asked in connection with Milford’s Oval — you take it away and what have you got left?”
And so on. Letter after letter came in supporting the Oval and not a single reader seemed in favor of “chopping it up" or paving it over. There were suggestions to repaint the bandstand, add a circular sidewalk, plant new trees, and add benches — most of which would become reality, but Milford had plainly spoken in favor of its Oval.
It is hard to say just how serious proposals were to do away with Milford’s most beloved spot but certainly the strong opinions of Cabinet readers helped discourage anyone who had any big ideas.
Boston's Faneuil Hall in parking lot mode.