Milton is an unincorporated section of Albemarle County on the Rivanna River. In the early and mid-nineteenth century, it served as a commercial port until eventually being supplanted by the railroad. It was also the location of the University of Virginia's airfield, Milton Field.
In 1789, in response to an eager ambition to build up towns within the county, an act of the Legislature was passed that vested 100 acres of Bennett Henderson in Wilson C. Nicholas, Francis Walker, Edward Carter, Charles L. Lewis, William Clark, Howell Lewis, and Edward Moore. The land, which was located on the Rivanna River at a place called the 'Shallows,' was intended to be laid out as a town, sold in half acre lots, and to be called "Milton."
More than 20 lots were sold within the next ten years. The first disposed of was purchased by Christian Wertenbaker, and among others who became lot holders were Joel Shifflet, Edward Butler, Richard Price, James and John Key, William Clark, Jacob Oglesby, George Bruce, and Joseph J. Monroe. Milton was soon in a thriving state, rapidly growing and transacting a prosperous business. Up until the War of 1812, it was the chief commercial center of the entire county.
At the beginning of the nineteenth century, the proposed town of North Milton was established by the Legislature and laid out by Thomas Mann Randolph on the north side of the Rivanna opposite of Milton. The only land on this site that was ever sold was Lot 8, which was conveyed to John Watson in 1802. A tobacco warehouse was established there and, for a short time, conducted under the same inspection that possessed the oversight of the warehouse at Milton.
In the early years of the nineteenth century, Elizabeth Henderson, the widow of Bennett Henderson (on whose land the port of Milton had originally been laid out), sued out a writ of dower against those who had purchased lots within the town's limits. The decision was that the widow was prohibited by the 1789 Act of Assembly authorizing the establishment of Milton, vesting its land in trustees, and granting them power to sell. The case was eventually appealed to the District Court; although its ultimate decision on the matter can never be known (as the relevant records have long since disappeared), it is probable that the lower court was not sustained. Elizabeth's legal counsel in this case was George Poindexter, a man originally from Louisa County who had settled for a time in Milton before moving to Mississippi while it was still a Territory of the United States. He later successively served as a judge, an aid to General Andrew Jackson at the 1815 Battle of New Orleans, a representative in Congress, a Governor of Mississippi, and a United States Senator before eventually dying in 1853.
Milton served as one of the geographic boundaries within which the activities of the Rivanna Navigation Company were officially confined following its creation in 1811, the other such feature being the town of Columbia. Except during times of flooding, the town served as the head of navigation on the Rivanna and developed into the shipping port of perhaps three-fourths of the county, as well as a large section of the Valley. Long lines of wagons would pass over Swift Run and Brown's Gaps, and crossed the Southwest Mountain at Thurman's (then called Hammock's) Gap, bringing their loads of grain, flour, and tobacco to the warehouses of the newly-erected town. The brook on the north side of the river, which originally bore the name of Mountain Falls Creek, was renamed to Camping Branch after the multitude of wagoners who camped with their teams along its banks.
Milton was the seat of a public tobacco warehouse called Henderson's (long after the Henderson family itself had moved to Kentucky) that was regularly equipped with a corps of inspectors. For numerous years, William D. Fitch, Jacob Oglesby, John Fagg, and Richard Gambell discharged the functions pertaining to that office. A large merchant mill was also constructed by the Hendersons. A number of firms conducted the trade of Milton, and in some cases laid the foundation of large fortunes; among these were Fleming and McClanahan, Henderson and Conard, Peyton and Price, Divers, Rives & Co., Brown, Martin Dawson, William and Julius Clarkson, and David Higginbotham and Co.
The business of Milton gradually declined as Charlottesville grew. When the town of Scottsville was established in 1818 and the site of the University of Virginia was subsequently fixed near the county seat, Milton's prestige was completely broken, and it subsided into the hamlet which now crowns the river hill. Lizzie Petit Cutler, an influential nineteenth century author of Southern United States literature, was born at Milton in 1831. During the mid-twentieth century, the site of the town hosted Milton Field, an airfield owned and operated by the University of Virginia.
- Web. Canal society celebrates Jefferson the businessman, Tim Shea, Charlottesville Tomorrow, April 28, 2013, retrieved April 29, 2013.
- Web. Abandoned & Little-Known Airfields: Central Virginia, Paul Freeman, retrieved April 29, 2013.
- Web. Albemarle County in Virginia, C.J. Carrier Company, 1901