Sunday, October 23, 2016

A trip down Miller Ridge with Marjorie Miller Shaw

This post is primarily for members of my extended Miller family, but as always others are welcome to come along for the ride. It involves a small stretch of territory southeast of Albia in Monroe county on the Blue Grass Road that was (and still is by some) called Miller Ridge.

My (distant) cousin, Marjorie Miller Shaw, was born there in 1905 and 86 years later, in 1991, when she and her husband, Olen Shaw, still were living in Silver Spring, Maryland, I asked her to conjure up a trip down the ridge for me, traveling from east to west, and talking a little about who lived where.

Marjorie was a pioneering Miller genealogist, a hardcore boots-on-the-ground researcher of a type who would hardly be recognized by many of the sissified search-engine find-and-merge computer jockeys claiming the title today (the latter description now includes me, of course, although I never "merge.")

To reach Miller Ridge today, drive a short distance east of Albia on Highway 34 and turn right on paved 201st Street, also called Airport Road, and once that road turns to gravel, just keep going. You're approaching the "Ridge."


I've marked a few Miller family landmarks on a section of the 1875 Andreas Atlas map of Monroe County (top) so that I can, hopefully, provide a moderately coherent explanation of how one of the multitudinous Miller families that once populated Monroe County's Pleasant and Mantua townships hangs together. Miller Ridge snakes across the southern border of Mantua Township.

William and Miriam (Trescott) Miller, who were my great-great-great-grandparents, arrived in Monroe County from Van Buren immediately after it was opened for settlement during May of 1843. They had been early converts of Mormon prophet Joseph Smith Jr. in Ohio and had followed his directions during the 1830s to relocate to northwest Missouri, settling just north of Haun's Mill in what now is Caldwell County. When the Saints were driven out of Missouri, the Millers and dozens of their extended family members and friends came up into Iowa rather than going on to Nauvoo, Illinois, and parked themselves in Van Buren County to await the opening to EuroAmerican settlers of what previously had been territory of the Sauk and Fox, including Monroe County.

William and Miriam settled during 1843 immediately west of what now is Pleasant Corners Cemetery, not far southwest of Eddyville --- then the principal Des Moines River crossing point. They're buried there, in unmarked graves. Their enthusiasm for the LDS faith had long since waned and William reverted to Baptist, becoming a founding member of Pleasant Corners Baptist Church just to the south.

Joseph and Mary McMulin --- who had come to Van Buren County from Ohio during 1838 but were not Mormon --- also were among those May, 1843, first settlers. They claimed land just north of the now-ghost town of Fredric a short distance south of Pleasant Corners. Their affiliation was with the Church of the Brethren a short distance to the south, east of a place first called Fairview, later Cuba.

William and Miriam Miller's son, Jeremiah, married Joseph and Mary McMulin's daughter, Elizabeth, during 1849 and they brought their family west to English Township, Lucas County, during 1867. These were my great-great-grandparents.


Meanwhile, William Miller Sr. apparently wrote back to his kinfolk living in Ohio and during 1846, the first of his nephews, sons of Stephen and Lydia (Lamb) Miller, began to arrive in Monroe County, too. This is the branch of the family that settled some distance to the south on Miller Ridge. Stephen died during 1852 in Portage County, Ohio, and not long thereafter, Lydia (Lamb) Miller joined her children in Monroe County, becoming the matriarch of Miller Ridge.

Before all was said and done, the following children of Stephen and Lydia had settled on or near Miller ridge: Alpheus Franklin Miller, George Miller, John Miller, Harriet (Miller) Miller, Minerva (Miller) Walker and Alvin Miller. Of the Stephen and Lydia Miller children, only Lucinda (m. Ralph Dewey) settled elsewhere --- at Washington, Iowa.

Daughter Harriet added extra complexity to the family mix by marrying, in Ohio, her first-cousin, William Trescott Miller, son of William and Miriam (Trescott) Miller. One of their sons was the Rev. Ambrose Miller --- a great friend of my great-grandfather, Joseph Cyrus Miller --- and the source of the middle name of my grandfather, William Ambrose Miller.

The principal burial place of these Miller Ridge pioneers was Smith-Beebe Cemetery, just north of the old route of Highway 34, north of the ridge. This most likely is the oldest cemetery in Monroe County and one of the county's earliest settled places. When the original survey of Monroe County was taken, the Smith-Beebe Cemetery site already was occupied.

Got all that?


The following map, lifted from the 1906 Monroe County atlas, shows the ridge as it was occupied at the time --- nearly all of this has been swept away by now. But it is possible, if you're curious and patient, to follow along on Marjorie's little tour, using this map. This and the other map will enlarge if you right-click and open in new windows. Ignore the areas filled in in crayon (these were a feature of the copy of the atlas digitalized at University of Iowa Libraries).  I've marked "The 160" where the tour begins. Here is Majorie's tour:

"I will try to give you a picture of Miller Ridge as you asked me to do.

"To our family, it started about 5-1/2 miles east of Albia (slightly south) in the valley before the three Trimble Hills. To the left (north) as we travel east there was a lane which went back to what we called "The 160," which meant a mostly wooded farm of 160 acres with a house, barn, etc., which was owned by my father (Nelson Miller) and his brothers, Boyd and Wallace, in partnership or alone for many years. No one ever quite moved out of the house, leaving carpets, stoves and any furniture which was surplus to them. Any of the John Miller family could go there between jobs or farms.

"Proceeding east on the "Blue Grass Trail," at the top of the hills (two or three red clay hills with a house  on the left side at the top of the eastern-most hill) --- Before my time a big family, Trimbles, lived there. One daughter, I believe, was the first wife of James Miller, son of William and Harriet Miller. Another Trimble daughter was the third wife of Onie Piper, a Lamb descendant and cousin of the John Miller and his brothers' and sisters' families (Onie's mother, Gracia, was a Lamb descendant).

"The  next house east was the Lewis Parry farm with William Parry's family there in the first decades of the 1900s. Their only connection was the marriage of Lucy Miller (daughter of Harriet and William Miller) to a son of Lewis Parry.

"The next place east was through a lane which turned to the left, going north a short distance to the farm of Albert Miller and Lydia (Roberts) Miller. Later, a second house was built back there for their son, Elton, and his wife, Lola (Cornford) Miller. Elton later became a United Brethren minister, as was his father-in-law.

"The next place of Millers was the John Miller farm a short distance on the right, still going east. He and his wife, Amelia (Hoskins) Miller, came there soon after their marriage in Portage County, Ohio. The family belonged on the ridge, or at least a member of that family did, until about 1936 when Carrie Miller sold (Carrie was the last of the family "at home") it to Victoria Pickerell, a young teacher and a Lamb cousin coming through the Harrison Ames branch. Later, she married Emmett VanDalen. They are both deceased and, as far as I know, their two children own the place. I was born there in 1905.

"In 1909, Nelson Miller, my father, bought the Morgan place owned by Olive Tyrrell Morgan. Her son, Ren (Philander Lorenzo Tyrrell), and wife, Eliza, lived there with her. My father had a small cheese factory there until 1912, when we moved to Albia. After that, my uncles, Wallace and Boyd, owned the place.

"Just east of that on the right side of the road was the Harrison Ames home --- Lamb cousins. The next on the left side was the Frank Lindsey place. Mrs. Lindsey (Victoria) was a daughter of Harrison Ames.

"Just down a small hill was the Alpheus Miller farm (on the right). By my time he had died and his daughter, Adelia (Dele) and husband, Las (Lawson) Carlton lived there with his sister, Angie.

"Almost across the road was what had been the Lydia Lamb Miller home, whose son Alvin was single and living with her there when she came from Ohio. In the early 1900s and until probably the 1940s, Adolphus (Dolph) Carlton, son of Dele and her husband, and his wife, Elsie, lived there with their three sons.

"East of there, on the left side also, in the early 1900s, until probably 1930, Bertha Miller Sinclair and husband, Willie Sinclair, lived. Bertha was a daughter of Albert and Lyda (Roberts) Miller. They had Kenneth and Eva, their children, there with them. That was "the Duffy place" early, then Boyd and Leoti Miller owned it.

"The next two buildings were on the left side, too. These were the Miller Ridge Methodist Church and the Miller Ridge school.

"About a quarter mile east, where the road divides going north toward Avery and southeast toward Blakesburg and just at the north corner, was the Dyghton (Dyght) Miller and wife, Ann Tyrrell Miller --- with a foster son, Harold Riggs --- place.

"On that road north from there was the James Miller home with his second wife, Nellie Brady I believe, and a son, Jerry (probably short for Jeremiah). Then the Milt Walker and Ethel (Miller) Walker home. Ethel was the daughter of Ann and Dyghton Miller. They had two daughters, Violet Walker (later West) and Zella, who died young.

"A little farther north was the Clark and Kate (Roberts) Carlton home with Nora (Newman), Irwin, Alice, Ruth (Chrisman), Lina and Helen (Anderson). Kate was a sister of Lyda (Roberts) Miller, Albert's wife --- also it made Lyda her sister Kate's aunt!

"Just as you leave the Carltons on the road going east on the right side of the road was Llewellyn Ames and his wife, Annie (Tate) Ames. He was a brother of Victoria Lindsey, son of Harrison Ames. That was about the end of the Miller connections on that road.

"Going back to the place where the road divided, going southeast, right there William Miller and Harriet (Miller) Miller had lived. William was dead, but Harriet lived until 1915. Her son, Clifton "Cliff" and his wife, Eva, lived there with her. They had one daughter, Grace, and Harry Earl, Jamie, Maurice, Eugene and Mason "Teddy." By about 1910 they had built a house in their side yard for Minerva Miller Walker and her husband, William, who had moved from Albia in their older age to be near Harriet and the family to care for them. They had no children."


That's the end of Marjorie's tour. She concluded her letter of July 21, 1991, "I remember Alvin, Minerva and Harriet of Stephen's children, Alvin's wife and my grandmother, Amelia, John's wife, and Minerva's husband, William Walker. Any further detail you might like on these families, I might have it in my head!"

And of course there are days when I ask myself, "now why didn't I ask Majorie that?"

When they were in their 90s, Olen and Majorie moved from Silver Spring to Michigan, where one of their sons and his family lived. Olen died in Ann Arbor on Dec. 26, 1994, and Majorie, on Oct. 23, 1998, at Salem. They are buried in Worden Cemetery, near Salem.

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