Lifelong Milton residents remember separate communities
MILTON—When Judy Kunkel was in grade school, students had a chant they liked to recite: "West is the best, east is the least."
Kunkel and her classmates grew up in Milton Junction, the west side of what is now the city of Milton. Their friendly "rivals" lived in Milton to the east.
It took some time, but in 1967, the two municipalities merged into one. On Sunday, a handful of residents and city officials celebrated Milton's 50th birthday with a small ceremony at the Milton House.
Those who spoke to The Gazette agreed everyone now sees Milton as a single community with a few remaining reminders of the time before.
"People who have lived here long enough understand that, and newcomers never saw it any other way," said Doug Welch, Milton Historical Society assistant director.
Still, Kunkel and others still answer "Milton Junction" when asked where they're from. The answer is a result of habit and a sense of pride, Kunkel said.
"That's the side you grew up on," she said.
Dave Schumacher was a Milton City Council member around the time of the merger. He grew up on the east side and doesn't remember much of a sense of rivalry, but the two municipalities had their differences.
Milton was a pious, God-fearing village whereas Junction was the home of blue-collar workers who enjoyed a drink from time to time. Schumacher fit well in Milton, considering his father was a minster and Schumacher studied the same profession.
Kunkel for her part remembers her family enjoying the local taverns and pubs. She also remembers going to the east side to buy new shoes for the school year but otherwise sticking to Junction's businesses.
When the two villages officially voted to merge, it seemed a decision long in the making.
"In '66, we really were quite a community in transition," Welch said. "All the talk about merging always kind of ended with the question, 'Why should we do that?' About '66, then the question transitioned to, 'Well, why not?'"
Before the vote, both communities wanted to buy garbage trucks but opted to buy one together and share it. Milton Union High School, which is now Milton Middle School, was built right between both communities and had students from both, Welch said.
Overall, the transition went well, Schumacher said, although a few addresses, Kunkel's included, changed.
"I don't remember any real problems with that," he said. "I think it went fairly smooth."
The merged municipality had a smaller budget in 1967 than the two villages combined the year before, Welch said.
"So they immediately saw cost savings," he said.
Remnants of the two communities include the two distinct downtowns that still exist today.
"It's kind of cool that each side still has their own downtown," Kunkel said.
Before the merger, the east side of Milton had a fire department, and Junction and the town of Milton had another. After the merger, only one survived. The Milton Fire Department today is owned equally by the city and the town, Welch said.
"And that's something that probably should have and could have been corrected at that time," he said.
The Milton Fire Department might be better off today had it been established as entirely city owned and contracted with the town of Milton, as it does with other towns, Welch said.
"I'm not sure if Joseph Goodrich had in mind in his vision a merger when he was settling this area," Mayor Anissa Welch told the audience during the event. "I believe both of our communities have stayed true to Joseph Goodrich's values and visions and tradition of community and keeping our small-town values while we grow together."