A Virtual Walk Through Jacksonville History

Stop 20: John Miller House(s)

 

Our next stop is an interesting combination of virtual and real—and the two are so different that it’s hard to believe we’re talking about the same house. Let’s turn left on South 4th Street and then right on East Main and proceed to the corner of South 3rd Street and the John Miller House.

 John Miller House, 110 E. Main, Jacksonville, OR – 2020

This one-story ranch style building that now serves as commercial office space housed Jacksonville’s City administrative offices for almost 40 years prior to their relocation to the historic Jackson County Courthouse (see Stop 1). But once upon a time, this same structure was an elaborate Queen Anne style home!

John Miller House, 110 E. Main, Jacksonville, OR—1927. John F. Miller by front hedge.  Photo Source: SOHS

In 1883, John “Gunsmith” Miller had purchased the entire block on the south side of Main between 3rd and 4th streets. John Miller (sometimes spelled Muller), a Jacksonville gunsmith and hardware merchant, was born in Bavaria in 1830. He learned the gunsmith trade in Europe, beginning as an apprentice and eventually becoming a master gunsmith. At age 20, he immigrated to the United States, settling first in New York and then in New Jersey where he found employment as a gunsmith.

In 1855, he married 20-year-old Mary Smith (also Schmidt or Smutz), a native of Baden, Germany. Orphaned at the age of 10, Mary had decided in 1853 to come to the United States to better her life.

John “Gunsmith” Miller
Photo Source: SOHS #24685

Mary Smith Miller 
Photo Source:  SOHS #8985
By the time of their marriage, the great surge of immigrants crossing the plains had begun. The newlyweds joined them, moving to Burlington, Iowa, a major outfitting town on the frontier. A gunsmith in those times was in great demand, especially one who could make new rifles as well as “freshen out” old ones, and John Miller ran a very successful business in Iowa for several years. The Millers’ first two children were born in Burlington—Amelia in 1856, and Sarah Matilda in 1859.

But in 1860, the Millers concluded that the Pacific Northwest offered better opportunities. In April of that year, John made up his own outfit, acquired oxen, and brought his family across the Oregon Trail to southern Oregon, settling in Jacksonville.

Jacksonville was a boom town at that time and the most important city in southern Oregon and northern California. Miller’s gunsmith expertise met with immediate success. The Rogue Indian wars had cost the lives of many people just a few years before, and the Modoc Indian War of 1873 was still to be fought. Southern Oregon abounded with game and having a rifle nearby in good working order was only sensible.

By 1861 Miller had purchased a lot at 135 South 3rd Street at the corner of East Main and soon built a small structure to house his expanding family and business—the first Miller House, located across Main from the property we’re visiting today.

First John “Gunsmith” Miller House, 135 South 3rd Street, Jacksonville, OR – 2020

As family and business grew, so did the structure with Miller gradually acquiring the rest of the block. Six more children were born to the Millers: Phillip (1861; died 1864), Phillip (1864), Madelaine Katy (1867), John Frederick (1870), Mary Louisa (1872), and Harry Louis (1876).

During the late 1860s and early 1870s, newspaper advertisements located “Gunsmith Miller’s” shop in the growing South 3rd Street structure “next door to B.F. Dowell’s Law Office” (now South Stage Cellars). The State of Oregon Directory for 1872 contains an advertisement for Miller’s “Hunter’s Emporium, featuring Patent and Home Made Rifles and Shotguns, Revolvers of the latest patents, Pocket pistols, small, neat, and powerful, and Derringers, the latest and best.”

In 1874, following one of Jacksonville’s major fires, Miller relocated his business to West California Street and his newly constructed brick “Hunters Emporium,” also expanding into the hardware business. His family continued to occupy the South 3rd Street location as their dwelling.

As Miller’s fortunes increased, he bought mining property and real estate including the rich “Farmer’s Flat” mine and 240 adjacent acres of orchard. He joined the Masons and the Ancient Order of United Workman, and his family became part or Jacksonville’s elite social circle.

In 1883, when Miller purchased the lot across the street at 110 E. Main, it housed 2 wood frame buildings and a dense thicket of trees, later referred to as an “orchard.” Perhaps business or other interests occupied him in the interim, but it was not until after his death almost 10 years later that either Mary, his widow, or John F. Miller, his son, built one of several elaborate “Queen Anne” style homes constructed in Jacksonville during the late 1800s from house plans published in “The Cottage Souvenir,” one of prominent Tennessee architect George F. Barber’s pattern books.

The Millers used Design 18, described as “a very tasty design and one that will work up in better shape than the engraving shows. In this plan the porch roof extends out over the front steps, a feature which adds very much to the convenience and beauty of the design.

The plan is for a five-room house, exclusive of hall. The cellar way is located under front stairs and is entered from the pantry. A servant’s room could be arranged over kitchen and entered by cutting a narrow passage off from bath room. This plan can be enlarged, reduced, or changed to front in any direction.” The estimated cost to build was $1,800 to $2,300.

Mary Miller and her son John F. and his family enjoyed their elaborate Queen Anne home until her death in 1912 and John’s death in 1930. John F. had continued to run the family business and served as Jacksonville postmaster for 12 years.

Mary Miller  SOHS #24676

John F. Miller SOHS #24696

John F. was also an avid gardener. He landscaped the Main Street house, and in 1912, when he moved the post office into the family’s former hardware store, he decorated the building with flowers and plants “hanging from the ceiling and piled in corners.” The Jacksonville Sentinel described it as a “combination of a parlor and a greenhouse.” The U.S. Postal Service authorities were not as impressed and eventually required Miller to remove the plants.

Following John F.’s death, the house was sold to R.H. Toft and later to Harold E. Lind, a partner in the Medford firm of Lind Brothers Flooring contractors.

The Lind family was in Klamath Falls when a flu fire burned the upper 1 ½ stories of the house in January 1944. Lind is the one responsible for rebuilding the house and creating its current L-shaped configuration.

 

 

Sources Cited:

Gail E.H. Evans, Jacksonville Historical Survey, 1980.

Joseph Gaston, “Mrs. Mary Miller,” The Centennial History of Oregon, 1811-1912, S.J. Clark Publishing Company, 1912.

George Frank Barber, The Cottage Souvenir, Knoxville, TN, 1892.

The Oregon Sentinel, July 25, 1868.

The Democratic Times¸ September 16, 1861.


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