Harold Reed moved to Milford in 1937 and armed with his folksy charm, some business sense and a four-story former mill building that once housed the McLane Manufacturing Company, began Reed’s White Elephant. Sometimes called “The Largest of its Kind in the World” in postcards, newspapers and even Life Magazine, the quirky establishment encompassing the old factory and adjoining buildings was full of thousands of antiques, collectables, bric-a-brac and who knows what else - the perfect scavenger hunt for any lovers of old wares. Reed and his wife of (eventually) over 60 years, Gertrude, started in the antique business after augmenting their collection of vintage elephant models to over 1,000, including an Italian pottery elephant about 4 feet long and 2 feet high that he refused to sell.
Reed’s distinctive easygoing style was evident in the “Reed’s ‘As ye sow, so shall ye reap’ Page” that was a unique hodgepodge of news articles, advice, advertisements, and anecdotes featured weekly in the Milford Cabinet. A taste from August of 1946: “From where we sat, we would say that ‘Milford blew its horn’ in welcoming home our World War II veterans Saturday. We didn’t get to the dance, take in the barbeque nor any of the licker but we did see the parade, the band concert and street dance and talked with one of the 700 (more or less) cops just before the final bell rang and he reported no accidents, which to our way of thinking was the best part of all.” June 1947: “An hour’s ride in our Red Ford just before dark, up over the hills, on the old back roads, 10-15 miles per hour, what we call ‘Motoring Pleasure Deluxe,’ especially at this time of year. Try it sometime!” In 1944 he tried out “no bed, no board, no service, no nuthin’, just an inn,” which was a kind of mock-up of hotel-related collectables on the second floor of the White Elephant.
Reed sold the business in 1947 and it continued for some years under different ownership, retaining the White Elephant namesake. The end came during a 1966 fire that visited the historic factory building during an 18-inch snowstorm. Fire departments from 10 nearby towns raced to assist but it was of no use. The whole building went up in flames along with thousands of collectables.