Map shows the north half of present-day Lyon County, KS. The double line is the Kansas Turnpike; n-s thru Admire is Hwy 99. The dotted line angling across the top is the route of the Santa Fe Trail, ca. 1821-1870.
In 1846 the Sac and Fox tribes agreed to go to a reservation, and that fall 2,000 tribesmen came to Kansas on an area of about 20 by 30 miles; with most of it in the next county, the west line extended about 3 miles into what is now Lyon County. With pressure from white settlers, these tribes were induced to cede a strip of land off both the east and west side of their reservation (Kansas was opened to settlement in 1854). Eventually pressure from white settlers caused the Sac and Fox tribes to move to Oklahoma in 1869.
By 1868 Thomas Condell had purchased several sections of land in northeast Lyon County, forming the foundation of what became the Miller ranch. A story is related that a few years after Thomas Condell bought the ranch, he sent his son with a large group of cattle he was selling to the market in Kansas City. The son sold the cattle and ran off with the money. The rancher was heart broken that his own son would do this, and the loss of the money was a serious financial hit. From then on Thomas Condell lost a lot of his drive and interest in ranching. In 1877 the ranch was mortgaged; it was paid off in 1881, a year after Thomas Condell died. In 1882 the Condell heirs sold 5,077.4 acres to brothers William and Hiram Miller.
The town of Miller and the Miller Ranch were to become dreams-come-true for Hiram Miller, Kansas politician, banker, and ranchman. Miller saw many of his ideas develop into reality before his death in 1912. The Miller Ranch operation at one time had nearly 10,000 acres. It was so big and did so much shipping of livestock that when the railroad was built in 1886, a station was established there for the ranch shipments of cattle and hogs. At that time, the Millers had a town site platted and recorded, but the intended town actually had little more than a post office for the ranch and its workers. Stock pens were built in a large area on the south side of the tracks. Those who worked at the ranch had their homes and families in a small community north of the tracks, which became known as Miller.
In 1906 a grocery store (pictured above) was opened, and in 1910 a general store and lumber yard. The Millers again filed a town plat in 1910, and lots were sold as the town got off to a good start. Other early businesses included a hardware and implement shop, and a blacksmith. In 1915 a lunch room, barber shop, more stores and the Miller State Bank opened; in 1941 the Miller Bank merged with the bank at Admire. A telephone office was established in 1916, also a filling station.
A boarding house used by the Miller Ranch was moved to town and became known as the Miller Hotel; the telephone office and post office were both in the hotel. Mr. and Mrs. Bill Ball ran the hotel and telephone office from 1916-1946. They also had a livery stable, and Mr. Ball was drayman (a dray is a wagon or sled used to carry heavy loads) and mail carrier, and Mrs. Ball was postmistress from 1919-1922.
Located on the east side of the west boundary road of Miller, the Miller Canning Company factory was built and operated from 1917-1921 by the Miller Ranch owners to give employment to families in the area during a period of economic hardship. Area residents rented land from the Miller Ranch to grow tomatoes and green beans for the canning factory. In 1919, by the end of September more than 24,000 cans of “Double Circle” brand tomatoes had been preserved at the factory that year, and manager William Schultz indicated that they expected to put up 12,000 additional cans of tomatoes by the end of the season. Remarkably, a few of the labels survive, as with the sample shown here. The factory had bought all of the tomatoes that were offered from that part of the country, but most of the supply was furnished from the gardens of the Miller Ranch. That year some of the gardens had produced a yield of 200 bushels of tomatoes to the acre, in spite of dry weather that season. According to records, 33 people were employed at the factory, most of them women. The factory was closed in 1921, and half of the building was moved to the ranch headquarters for use there.
After Hiram Miller’s death in 1912, his son Clyde Miller managed the ranch although he spent much of the year in Topeka. Clyde’s son-in-law, Kenneth Kline, managed and owned the 4,300-acre ranch with his wife following his marriage to Irene Miller in 1920, until 1946. The acreage of the ranch varied over the years. Some of the land was sold and Walter Porter purchased the remaining 4,900 acres in 1958. Photo, Miller P.O. with Postmistress Ethel Smulling-Blackwell, 1950’s.
In late 1930 a fire destroyed a general store, a barber shop and another business, while the intense heat cracked windows and blistered paint on the hotel and hardware buildings across the street. The Great Depression of the 1930’s ended most of the business development in Miller.
After a modernized railroad station replaced the old depot and was first used in November of 1930, the new Miller depot was destroyed Sunday, Sep. 6, 1931 by an east-bound Missouri-Pacific freight train. Thirteen refrigerated (with 300-lb. blocks of ice) cars loaded with fruits and vegetables from Colorado broke away from the middle of the train, left the track and piled up at the station. At least one went into the station, as shown in the photo. The derailment was believed to have been caused by a dragging brake beam, because of damage found to ties a half-mile west of the wreck. The depot was closed on that Sunday so that there were no injuries, but the new station was demolished, and a Ford car parked on the east side of the depot was damaged somewhat by the falling depot wall; the driver and passengers sitting in the car were not injured. The station agent later found his adding machine in the debris, the only usable thing left in the depot. The railroad depot was rebuilt and the track was repaired, but both the Miller depot and post office were closed in 1958.
Miller Methodist Church services started in 1914 or 1915 and were held in the Miller school until the church building was erected in 1919. The church, pictured here, is still in use.
The first school for Miller children was District No. 93, formed prior to 1907 and located a half-mile north of town. In 1911 a new two-room school was built in town, expanded to 3 class rooms with an addition constructed in 1914. Consolidations with area one-room schools started in 1923, after Stotler Dist. No. 70 schoolhouse burned in 1922. Others were with Waterloo No. 5 in 1946, then Pretty View No. 51 and Pollock No. 46 in the late 1940’s.
On the very cold morning of January 16, 1956, students going to the grade school noticed smoke near the chimney, and alerted the teachers inside and the fire department. While Emporia firefighters and locals tried to save the burning building students with teachers and volunteers managed to save the tables, chairs and other furnishings; they were stored in the high school building. The grade school building was too badly damaged for repair.
Grade school prior to addition. Saving furniture from the burning school, 1956.
Miller High School was organized in 1919 and the brick schoolhouse across the street from the grade school opened in 1920 with 36 students. Due to lack of students it was closed in 1955, and area students attended Allen and then in 1957, Northern Heights. After the grade school burned, the brick building was used for elementary classes until the 1970 consolidation. It has since been demolished, and a monument constructed of the school bricks now marks the site.
Miller High School, 1920–1955.
Miller school buses in 1947
As the area populations changed and student enrollments dropped, the town schools went through a series of consolidations, as follows:
- 1955 – Bushong HS students to Allen
- 1957 – Northern Heights High School opens for all area high school students
- 1966 – all area 3rd & 4th grades to Bushong, other Bushong elem. to Allen
- 1970 – all area elementary students to Admire, other town schools closed
- 2010 – Admire elem. school closed, students sent to Reading and Americus
During World War II in the early 1940’s the U.S. military bought about 5 square miles of acreage for a practice bombing range south of Miller. It straddled the Lyon/Osage County line, with the actual target area in Osage County. One of 3 such ranges used by the Topeka Army Air Base, crews in training located the target and dropped their practice bombs, which were usually thin metal with a 4-pound charge of black powder to make a visible smoke when it struck. Aircraft targeting the range included B-25 Mitchell medium bombers, B-17 Flying Fortress, B-24 Liberator and B-29 Superfortress heavy bombers, and an occasional P-38 Lightning, a twin-boom fighter-bomber. Navy air crews also used the range for training. It was closed after the war and the land returned to farm and ranch use.
Army surplus equipment procured for the Miller Fire Dept.
Miller Fire Dept.
The Hoglund Lumber yard was one of the oldest businesses in Miller when it burned in the mid-1960’s, and the town records were lost in the fire. The need for protection from fire led to the organization of the Miller Volunteer Fire Department, with the first equipment purchased in 1964. Former Army trucks were obtained through the Kansas Forestry Service, residents worked to procure, modify and repair equipment, and the department became a model of its kind.
Miller FD fire fighting demonstration. The front platform assists with fighting grass fires, a hazard in the cattle pastures of this rural area.
Our Land: A History of Lyon County, Kansas, 1976, publ. Emporia State Press. Kansas: A Cyclopedia of State History, Vol. II, 1912, edited by Frank W. Blackmar, Standard Pub. Co. Chicago (available online, see below).
ON THE INTERNET, as of 2016:
http://www.kshs.org/p/county-atlases-or-plat-books/13859 KS State Hist. Society, county plat maps
http://www.ksgenweb.com/archives/1912/ Cyclopedia of Kansas, 1912
http://www.kancoll.org/books/cutler/ 1883 History of Kansas by Andreas/Cutler
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