The Miller Family
By Sheila Mason Gale
When I attended Dr. Helen Baldwin School, the students were always arranged alphabetically and I sat next to Joseph Miller all through grade school. I was a cheerleader with Darlene Miller. Elmer Miller was my bus driver for all twelve years of school. Recently, I talked with Dorothy S. Miller who retold the Miller family history:
Paul Miller was born in Germany and came to America when he was 17 years old. He settled in a German settlement on Long Island, met and married his wife, Frieda. After a time, Paul decided he wanted to be a truck farmer and he began looking for a farm. He checked out what is now the Dean farm on Cemetery Road, but decided against it. On the way back home he spotted a piece of land on what is now Miller Road, that reminded him of the farm he grew up on when he lived in Germany and although it took several years, he purchased it in 1922. They moved into a ten-room farmhouse built in 1790 (the house is still standing today). They had no trouble filling the house since the Millers had nine children when they moved to Canterbury and went on to have a total of ten: Henry, Paul, Dorothea, Eddie, Robert (husband of Dorothy), Joseph (father of Joseph and Darlene), Elmer, Frederick, George and Ann.
The Miller Road section of Canterbury was a great place to raise children with wide open spaces and lots of activities like swimming, boating and fishing in the summer and skating and sliding in the winter. The water in the Little River was crystal clear. There was also lots of work to be done - planting vegetables, bringing them to market, raising chickens and pigs and milking the cows.
There were three mills in the Miller’s neighborhood that made lumber, hoops and coffins. The coffin mill manufactured its own fabric to line the coffins. One local woman used this fabric to make her wedding dress. A step dam was created for the mills and you can still see part of the structure today and the massive stones used to create it. Eventually, the lumber mill was taken down and the Millers used the lumber to build a garage on the other side of the road across from their house. The town built a bridge across the Little River in front of the Miller’s house. Paul’s son Robert was sure this would wash away since, when they were children, the river would flood and the water used to slap the bottom of the bridge floor. They were afraid to cross it when that happened.
The Miller children walked to Gayhead School (the house on the corner of Gayhead and Water Street) dreading the first day when their Pop (Paul) went with them to advise the teacher that if the children misbehaved at school and were punished, they would also be punished at home. Since it was a one-room schoolhouse with all eight grades, the older children often taught the little ones and the teacher and the older boys had to maintain the stoves and arrange for drinking water. On a warm spring day, they would hide their shoes in a nearby stonewall and go barefoot to school. There were separate outhouses for boys and girls. I’m sure the bathroom visits were short ones in the winter.
After completing school, the Miller children worked at odd jobs until they were old enough for steady jobs. Six of the Miller children built homes in Canterbury, raised their children and lived here the rest of their lives. Of the original family members, only Elmer and Frederick are still living today.
Beginning in 1958, on the second Sunday of August, the Miller’s started a family tradition. They gathered in their sister’s (Dorothea Miller Dean’s) shady back yard for a picnic get-together. It was moved, two years later, to brother-in-law Theodore (Ted) Dean’s property where everyone gathered around “Cranberry Lake” and raft, canoe, water ski or sail and eat great food. This tradition continues today.
This is the story of a hard-working, industrious family, who, by simply making a better life for themselves and their children, became part of Canterbury’s history.