Ezra Miller

(All pictures at bottom instead of intersperred in text)

Ezra Miller, my great-great grandfather, was the eldest son of Ezra Wilson Miller and Hannah Ryerson Miller. His mother died when he was six, and so he was raised for many years by his stepmother Sarah Westervelt Miller. He had two brothers, Joseph and Charles and one sister, Eliza, as well as several stepbrothers and stepsisters.

Ezra was born May 12, 1812 on a large farm near Edgewater, New Jersey in Bergen County. It is said that he grew up on an estate in Flushing, Long Island. He received a classical education as a preparation for becoming a physician. However, his enthusiasm for mathematics and mechanics resulted in his entering the engineering profession. At 21, he was said by his teachers to be a very brilliant "mechanical, mathematical, hydraulic, and topographical engineer."

In 1840, he married his cousin, Amanda Josephine Miller, the daughter of his uncle Seth Miller, and they went to live in Hamilton, Long Island. While he was engaged in widening the Narrows (map below), a young government engineer was sent at the same time to rehabilitate the Forts - Lieutenant Robert E. Lee of West Point.

He enlisted in the New York State Militia, and by 1842 had become colonel in charge of the 3rd Regiment, 1st Brigade, Horse Artillery. Later, in Wisconsin, he was colonel in charge of the 8th State Militia, whose mascot, "Old Abe", the famous eagle, is the insignia of the airborne troops of today.

The family moved to Wisconsin in 1848 where Ezra was a surveyor of state, federal and railroad lands. Amanda Josephine Miller (called Joe) had been born in Albany in 1844; her brother, Ezra Wilson (called "E"), was born in Fort Hamilton, NY in 1845; and Harriet Martha Miller (called Hattie) was born in 1847. Two more children were born in Wisconsin: Jordan Gray Miller in 1850, and Franklin Pierce Miller in 1855. They lived in a log cabin in Janesville, and the children remembered walking to school through deep snow, and having to thaw their lunches out around the wood stove. Their granddaughter, Adele Miller Clifton, remembered hearing that Amanda had brought slips and seeds of her favorite plants along with her, and soon made a show place of her garden that attracted visitors from many miles about.

While in Wisconsin, Ezra was elected a justice of the peace, appointed a colonel in the militia, and elected to the state senate. However, it is as an inventor that Ezra Miller found his greatest satisfaction. While doing a survey for the Northwestern Railway, he became concerned with the great number of accidents to both workers and passengers that were caused by the oscillation and telescoping of the cars. After many years of experimentation, he was able to correct the problem with a combination platform buffer and coupler; his patents bearing the title "Miller Trussed Platform Automatic Coupler and Compression Bumper" are dated 1863, 1865, and 1866. In 1868, one Levi Janney, a dry goods clerk from Alexandria, Virginia, became interested in the possibilities of the coupler, and although he had had no mechanical training, made a slight improvement in Ezra Miller's invention. By 1887 there were so many couplers being patented that the Mechanical Division of the Association of American Railroads had to designate one pattern as standard for the railroads. They chose Levi Janney's improvement of the Miller coupler, calling it the "Janney-Miller". Eventually the Miller was dropped, then the Janney, and finally the railroads manufactured their own versions of the coupler. One of Ezra's last activities was filing suits against the Pennsylvania and other railroads for failing to pay him the fees for his patents in 1884.

While a genius in his profession and a born leader of men, Ezra Miller was no business man. When his son-in-law, Marshall Littlefield Hinman, suggested that he protect his invention, perfect and manufacture it, he promptly refused, saying "it is my gift to humanity". In 1864 he wrote happily "my improvements are saving an average of one human life a week" and in 1869 "my friends kindly predict I will make a fortune. I only know I am working hard and rendering a valuable service to the world." One of his obituary notices bears this tribute - "Ezra Miller, whose career made railroad traveling safer."

He did make a fortune with the royalties however, and he started to spend this money with great enthusiasm in building a showplace estate in Bergen County, New Jersey.

My great-grandmother was married in Brooklyn in 1868, presumably at her parents' house at 311 Hamilton Street. While living there the Millers began to buy up land in the Mahwah area of New Jersey. After the original fifty-acre purchase which cost $8,800, the colonel bought land from other neighboring landowners, finally amassing an estate of 356 acres. Improvements were begun in the summer and autumn of 1873, and by the following summer there were thirty workers employed full time on the mansion. Ezra was his own architect. His plans were grandiose even for that era of splendor. The house was 100 by 80 feet in dimension, with three floors and a mansard roof. There were thirty rooms with suites for each of the five children and their families. The family moved into the house in 1875, but work continued on for several more years. By 1877 it was reported that they had spent over $100,000 and that they would spend another $100,000. The outbuildings included a stable, a hennery, sheds and a carriage house. A reservoir was built to insure a dependable water supply and there was sufficient pressure to bring water to every room. Hydrants were installed on the grounds, and were capable of sending streams of water to the house within two minutes of an alarm. The gardens featured a fish pond, conservatories, and several miles of drives. In 1882, it was reported to be "one of the most beautiful rural homes in the United States." Oweno, as it was named, became a showplace for the area, with its stables of racehorses, its herd of prize Southdown lambs, and its two domesticated buffalo that grazed with the cattle.

The Bergen Democrat reported this enthusiastic statement about Ezra Miller from a friend: "The colonel is one of the most genial and social of men, approachable to all, frank, truthful, honest, faithful, and exceedingly generous and charitable, and while his Scotch blood fires quickly at an attempt to wrong him, he is calm and forgiving."

There were other accounts of tall tales attributed to him in the paper, a sign that he was accepted into his new community with good feeling. He fought for a new school for Mahwah in 1880, even though he would have to bear 15 percent of its cost.

His pleasure in his new home was not to be long-lived however. His wife, who had cared for the gardens and conservatory, died in 1881. He ran for state senator on the Democratic ticket in 1883, and though he won, ill health kept him from attending more than a few days of the session. His children rallied around him in these last years, helping him run the farm and entertain. However, he was to die in July of 1885, deeding Oweno to his children with the instructions that it was not to be sold until the deaths of all five. His son, Ezra Wilson Miller, was to manage and rent it.

In order to keep the place in repair and pay the taxes, Ezra W. was forced to hold auctions in 1886 and 1887, selling both horses and paintings. After this, the estate was maintained by selling lots and converting the mansion into an Inn, which proved popular with summer boarders. During the 1890s it was a fashionable place to stay, with the fireworks on the Fourth of July a particular highlight of the season.

"Then in the late evening of August 29, 1899 a fire started in the servants' quarters of the mansion. All of the twenty-two guests made their escape and some of the furniture was saved. However, efforts to stop the fire failed. The fire extinguishers had been removed to the orchard by a guest who did not know their purpose. When the hose was attached to an outside hydrant, it had a knot in it and burst. By the time a second hose was attached the pipes had melted. The house was burned to the ground."

The insurance company paid enough to build a smaller boarding house close to the site of the original structure, and Ezra W. and his wife opened it to guests in 1904. Ezra succumbed to heart problems the following year, but his wife maintained the guest house until it too burned in 1927. The original property was sold in 1908 to George Dunlop of Spring Valley who proceeded to develop it as Cragmere, one of the first planned communities in the suburbs. Ezra's dream lived on in Oweno lake and Miller Road.

Ezra Miller, his wife and four of their children are buried in a family plot at Green-Wood Cemetery in Brooklyn, NY. The Marshall Littlefield Hinmans, though buried in Dunkirk, NY, are mentioned on the center hexagonal monument, and it was they who bought the eternal care bond for the rest of the family in 1904. Correspondence about the cemetery plot has kept the family in touch for decades!

Greenwood Cemetery was one of several large cemeteries which were developed in the middle of the nineteenth century in the large cities of the United States. Since churchyards no longer had enough room to provide burial places for their parishioners, large private cemeteries were established with beautiful landscaping and attractive vistas. The first garden cemetery was Mount Auburn in Cambridge established in 1831 across the river from Boston. Green-Wood Cemetery in Brooklyn and Woodlawn in The Bronx were two of the most famous of the garden cemeteries. Visiting the family graves was an occasion, and the setting was not unlike a magnificent park or botanical garden.

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Ezra Miller (1812-1885)
Ezra Miller (1812-1885)
Map showing location of Mahwah, NJ Ezra Miller with unidentified friend Map showing locations of "The Narrows" and Greenwood Cemetery
Map showing location of Mahwah, NJ Ezra Miller (hat) with unidentified friend Map showing locations of "The Narrows" and Greenwood Cemetery
"Oweno" in 1899 Colonel Ezra Miller mansion in Mahwah "Oweno" in 1899
"Oweno" in 1899 Colonel Ezra Miller mansion "Oweno" in Mahwah, NJ "Oweno" in 1899
"Oweno" in 1899 "Oweno" in 1899 "Oweno" in 1899
"Oweno" in 1899 "Oweno" in 1899 "Oweno" in 1899
"Oweno" in 1899 Amanda Josephine (Miller) Miller (1817-1881) Amanda Josephine (Miller) Miller and daughers Harriet "Hattie" and Amanda Josephine "Joe" circa 1862
"Oweno" in 1899 Amanda Josephine (Miller) Miller (1817-1881) Amanda Josephine (Miller) Miller and daughers Harriet "Hattie" and Amanda Josephine "Joe" circa 1862
Susan Hinman Babcock wearing Amanda's cameo earrings Map of Greenwood Cemetery Deed to Miller lot in Greenwood Cemetery
Susan Hinman Babcock wearing Amanda's cameo earrings Map of Greenwood Cemetery Deed to Miller plot in Greenwood Cemetery
Miller plot in Greenwood Cemetery Blanche (Hinman) Garland in front of Miller plot in Greenwood Cemetery - 1950 Gwen (Garland) Babcock and the Hinman-Garland side of the Miller monument
Miller plot in Greenwood Cemetery Blanche (Hinman) Garland in front of Miller plot in Greenwood Cemetery - 1950 Gwen (Garland) Babcock and the Hinman-Garland side of the Miller monument