| Washington County, Iowa
|Memorial Miller Gave Land for School
by Oneita Fisher
Who was Memorial Miller, and why should "Walnut No. 7" have been known as the Memorial Miller School
for 100 years?
The County Historical Society held its annual business meeting at the little-room country school five miles
south of Washington on the Brighton road Sunday afternoon. The premises and building were deeded to the
society in 1962 after serving the community since 1858, according to records in the office of county
superintendent Dwight Bode. The original log schoolhouse was farther east and not centrally located in the
district. That explains why Memorial Miller gave the land for the school, across the trail from his home.
In 1858, James Buchanan was president of the United States; the Lincoln - Douglas debates were "live";
Ralph Lowe was Iowa's fourth governor and the railroad had been completed to Washington in September of
that year. The Brighton road was the main trail from Chicago to Kansas City and points west. Brighton was a
thriving town, rivaling Washington in size.
Memorial Miller (the Memorial is a family name from his mother's people.) came to Iowa in 1844 from
Kentucky where the family had slaves, as this was before the Civil War. His mother once rode horseback from
Ky. to Virginia to visit her parents.
Memorial married Isabelle Mckinnie, and his sister, Elizabeth, married Walter Mckinnie. They moved to a
farm north of Miller's.
The Miller farm was a popular stopping place for people traveling west. One family in a covered wagon had
lost a seven year old girl on the road. Mr. Miller let them bury the child on a knoll north of the house until they
could return for her, or, if they couldn't make the trip, he promised to have the remains moved to a cemetery in
By the next spring there were four graves in the little family cemetery, with more added every year. Mr. Miller
bought three white pine seedlings from a nursery stock peddler and set them near the stones. Today they are
giants guarding the acre plot otherwise lost in a forest of tall corn.
One day as Mr. Miller rode home from Washington after the war, he gave a lift to a returning soldier. He may
have expressed some sympathy for the south because the soldier forced him at gun point to drive him on to
Brighton. Afterwards, Mr. Miller remarked "I was mighty glad to take him." Southern sympathizers in the
township drilled for a time on Sunday afternoons in an area along Walnut Creek.
Only four of the 10 Miller children lived out their adult lives. Several grandchildren still live in this community.
While Mr. Miller was helping thrash in the fall of '88, he stepped up onto the side of a grain wagon to reach an
apple. The driver didn't notice and started the team causing Mr. Miller to fall. Several ribs were broken; one
punctured a lung, and accident that meant certain death in those days. Mrs. Jay Carris, a granddaughter,
remembers being taken to see her grandfather on his deathbed, and the burial in the family cemetery north of
At one time there was a heavy stand of walnut timber along the creek, leading to the Walnut district and school
name. The spring from which school children carried water is slightly south of the school near a limestone
bank the children called the" sugar bank," according to Mrs. Otto Walton who attended Memorial Miller school.
The community has always been close-knit with regular meetings well attended. There have been as many as
38 pupils enrolled at one time, in more recent years when the Lylse Wilson, Harlan Neuhart, Nelson, and other
Karle Libe remembers the Literary Society meetings every two weeks from after - cornpicking until Spring -
work time. Crowds were so large that the overflow sometimes had to listen through the outside. Mrs. Walton
has loaned me the "minutes" and program book of the society, for 1907 and '08, which will make another
column. A "repeat" of one of the programs might prove to be an interesting entertainment, along with a debate
such as the members enjoyed.
The rich gumbo mud was a problem, but not an insurmountable one. When the Garret girl died during the flu
epidemic four horses were hitched to each buggy and 6 to the hearse on order to travel to the cemetery in
town. More recently, a little first-grader, Bev Wilson, got stuck in the mud as she walked home alone and had
to stay there till the teacher came along and pulled her out.
Fred Longer says that, after the "literary" meetings when he was small the young men would ride off toward
home, shooting their six-guns into the air, shouting and whooping it up in exhuberant show of good spirits.
Part of the house where Richard Longer lives was the home of the section foreman, possibly during Brighton's
"Railroad War." (Have to check a few more facts, such as dates.)
Times would have seemed hard, to us; Mr. Schantz says his folks tied bunches of buck brush together to use
as brooms, but the early settlers managed with what they had and left a fine heritage for the rest of us.
To retain the name of "Memorial Miller School" would be a fitting reminder of the past.