The area that comprises Milan today was the western part of the Little Nine Partners Patent of 1706. Milan was largely a farming and mill town and remains a very rural town today.
The first settler in the area was Johannes Rowe. The son of a Palatine immigrant, Rowe bought from Robert Livingston and built a stone house in 1766 on what is now Rowe Road near the Milan Town Hall. The remains of the house were photographed in 1940 for the Historic American Buildings Survey.
Town and Post Office est. 1818
The New York State Legislature voted on March 6, 1818 to create the town of Milan from the western part of the Town of North East—to be effective "from and after the last day in March" 1818. The session laws stated that the first town meeting would be held the first Tuesday of April and at the home of Stephen Thorn who was elected Town Supervisor along with John F. Bartlett, Town Clerk.
But the name Milan had appeared in other areas of the state and it was not unusual to take European city names at the time. What is now the City of Syracuse was known as Milan for a brief period between 1809 and 1812. A settlement south of Syracuse was originally called Milan in 1790 before incorporation in 1802 as the Town of Locke. An unincorporated village there continued to be referred to as Milan but gave up its Milan Post Office designation on July 29, 1817, becoming "Locke" Post Office. This cleared the way for the operation of the Milan Post Office on August 14, 1818 at what is now Case's Corners.
So in 1818 the name "Milan" was secured for both the town and one of the hamlet Post Offices.
A town "in-between"
The main thoroughfares for the community ran from the Hudson River to Salisbury, CT and travelers referred to the road as the "turnpike." It later became recognized as the Salisbury Turnpike and sections of the road still exist today and bear that name.
In addition to farming and local mills in Milan, lead and iron were mined in areas around what is now Millerton, NY and Salisbury, CT which was then brought to Livingston's Furnaces at Ancram in Columbia County. Milan was "in-between" those towns and the river and as a result had a great deal of important commercial traffic going east/west through the town.
Remains least populous town
The early population peaked in 1840 at 1,745 residents and went into decline until 1930 with only 622 residents. It was the opening of the Erie Canal (1825) and then the development of the railroad and the move to river cities and the western migration that caused the decline. Also, Milan's soil was hilly and rocky and tough to farm. Then following the 1930s and the Great Depression the population grew again, due in part to the construction of the Taconic Parkway which ended in Milan at the time, and then the post World War II boom.
The 1840 population level was reached again in 1980, some 140 years later. From the 1980s to the turn of the new century Milan was one of the fastest-growing towns in Dutchess County.
Milan remains the least populous town in Dutchess County.
State Historic Markers
Partial list of New York State Historic Markers in Milan: