Bygone days loom nearer in Milford, where an entrepreneur is turning an historical Interurban depot into a gathering place of a different sort.
P.J. Leidle is renovating the vintage Texas Electric Railway Building, with plans to open the Milford Depot as a restaurant this fall.
“I love that old building. I always wanted to renovate it,” she said.
Old rail tracks set in the city’s wide main street are continuing reminders of the electric train line that once connected rural Texans with excursions to the big city.
According to research published by the University of Texas at Arlington, the Texas Electric Railway provided passenger and freight service to North Central Texas from 1916 until 1948.
“With Dallas as its center, the railway operated three lines: one to Sherman and Denison, one to Ennis and Corsicana, and one to Hillsboro and Waco. These routes gave the Texas Electric 226 miles of track, making it the longest interurban west of the Mississippi River,” researcher Gary Spurr wrote.
“While primarily a passenger line, Texas Electric Railway also offered mail and express service. In 1928, it began to haul freight as well and provided streetcar service in several towns that it served. The Texas Electric Railway was the last independent interurban line in Texas by 1942. While the line operated throughout World War II, ridership declined after the war due to the surge in private automobiles, buses, and trucks. The last run of the Texas Electric was on December 31, 1948,” Spurr wrote.
After the only café in Milford closed its doors a few years ago, newcomer P.J. Leidle started encouraging other prospective businesspeople to open a new one.
Eventually, she chose to take her own advice.
“After trying to put other people in business, I decided, ‘I’m going to do this myself,’ ” she said.
“About the same time I decided to do this myself, the grocery store came back in and everything started happening. There was so much pent-up action in this town that it all happened about the same time,” she said.
A longtime businesswoman with a background in finance and accounting, Leidle is a long way from her New York beginnings. She grew up on Long Island, but life’s adventures brought her west and eventually, seven years ago or so, to the historic little town of Milford, where multiple generations of experience brought her back to culinary roots.
“Like everyone else, I’ve always wanted to own a café. My mom was a cook. I think that’s where I get my love of food service. I love food and I love to cook,” she said.
Her cuisine of choice is American home-style cooking, with plans to open for breakfast and lunch initially, and eventually for weekend dinner. She will be looking to hire a good local cook.
Fiscally conservative, she has done much of the work on the Milford Depot property herself or with friends, paying as she went along, and she is finalizing the layout and completing permit work.
“I’m here to make a small living, do something for the time. I’m hoping we have a good time at this small café,” she said.
In many ways, Milford, Texas (population 685 as of the 2000 census) is light years away from Long Island, N.Y., Leidle said.
“I call it the last frontier – it’s as far away from Waco and Dallas as you can get. And if I order anything, it’s always the last thing on the manifest,” she said.
Residents would like to see a gas station in Milford, where residents say theirs is the only exit on Interstate 35E where there’s not a business on any of the four exit corners.
Milford city secretary Sandra Smith offices across the street from the Milford Depot. She brings her lunch to work each day and she watches the progress on the new restaurant in the old building with interest.
“Milford has no place to eat, so it will be nice to have something downtown. We’re looking forward to it,” Smith said.
There are signs that progress is making its way back to the small town that, like others on U.S. Highway 77, got the cold shoulder from traffic when I-35 came in.
Across the street from the Milford Depot, a dance studio is coming in and an antique store has opened its doors. In the next block, blacksmith Cliff Yeary has his studio and there’s a new bed and breakfast in town.
Waxahachie businessman Joe Kennard is opening Miss Millie’s, a restaurant and music venue with a Texas twist, at 900 Water St., close to the Interstate.
“It’s going to get here eventually. Waxahachie is getting pretty populated and things are starting to push in. … Milford’s been sleepy for a long time, it’s time to get some services in town,” Leidle said, quick to add that the town’s location – between Waco and Dallas – suits her fine.
“I like being out here in the country. And I like the people in Milford,” she said.
Contact J. Louise at jlouise.larson@wninews. com or 469-517-1451.