Saturday, December 6, 2014

Excerpts from the Memoirs of Oscar Miller written in the 1950's

Excerpts from the memoirs of Oscar Miller as told in the 1950’s
compiled by Marc Haston
The Courthouse and Its Famous Tree
The Courthouse was built in the year 1854, and at the time the large courtroom was on the ground floor and occupied the whole central portion of the building with county offices on each end. The clerk’s and recorder’s offices were in the east end of the building, and the treasurer’s and auditor’s offices in the west end as at present. In going back and forth from and to these offices it was necessary to pass through the big court room. There is a large, round stone inserted and built into the west wall, on which it is shown that Caleb Starke, William Magnus and Andra McCoy were the county commissioners at the time this courthouse was built; and it also shows that Edwin May was the architect.
The Architecture of this old building is very pleasing. Although it has stood the ravaging storms of over one hundred years, it shows but little effect of time or age. This handsome structure will today stand a very favorable comparison in grace and beauty with any of the new courthouses of the state. When it was first built the large courtroom, which occupied most of the ground floor of the building, was exceedingly ornate and beautiful. The ceiling extended to a considerable height with a vaulted ornamentation much after the fashion of a cathedral. The majestic height of the walls and ceiling of this room was very impressive. From the apex of the courtroom swung three large and elaborate chandeliers with three rows of lamps, one above the other, to each chandelier.
The judge’s desk, from which he presided, was a high elaborate affair with a good sized counter suitable for books and papers. The approaches to the judge’s platform were entered by possibly five steps on each side. This gave the judge considerable elevation above the lawyers and jury. There was a nicely ornamented fence separating the court and lawyers from the audience room, which had a seating capacity of probably two hundred people. Above the dais where his honor, the presiding judge, sat was a very large painting which represented the goddess of justice. The exterior walls of this building were constructed or red brick, but of recent years the outside walls have been coated to represent stone.
The upper part of the clock tower was actually built out of stone. About seventy-five years ago a small tree made its appearance on the south side of this stone tower. Great efforts were made by the city to destroy it by shooting it off, and they even got out the fire engine and attempted to blow the tree off, but the stream of water was not strong enough. Mr. Ripley in his “Believe It Or Not” notes proclaimed it to be one of his unbelievable wonders. This tree on the tower has now become a wonder of the world. Today it stands up there in all its majesty on the tower over two hundred fifty feet from the ground. People from all countries of the world have looked at this famous tree with wonder and astonishment. As the years have gone by, the people of Greensburg have become fully reconciled to the existence of this lofty visitor, and have done much to extend its life and perpetuate its existence.
Now, while speaking of this courthouse, I find by county commissioners’ records that my father, Augustus Miller, was a commissioner for a period of six years, from 1889 to 1893 inclusive. He had been county commissioner in Rush County, Indiana for two terms before he came to Greensburg in 1881. By serving in that office he naturally became acquainted and proficient in handling county business. I never did regard my father as a politician, but he seemed to impress the public mind very favorably. As a farmer and businessman he could be counted as a conservative. He had voted for Abraham Lincoln; and, of course, he was a Republican. I think he must have cast his first vote for John C. Freemont, who was nominated as the first man to be chosen as a candidate for president of the newly organized Republican Party. This new party was made up of the old Wig party, the Freesoil and Know Nothing parties, together with a number of Democrats who had become dissatisfied with the VanBuren-Polk administration, and the cheap and unsatisfactory money conditions under Jackson.
In speaking of my father Augustus Miller, I may have to hazard a repetition of saying something I have already said in these memoirs. My father was a man of good, sound judgment. His education was obtained from common schools of Rush County, Indiana, where he was born. He was never swept away by any isms and fly-up-the-creek schemes that might have been floating about the country to catch the unwary. He attended to his own business and did not muss around into other people’s affairs. However, he was very generous and helpful to any of his neighbors who might be in trouble or in need of assistance.
As to my father’s nationality, I think he was mostly of German blood; however, his mother may have been of English extraction.
The Commissioners Buy the Toll Roads
When my father assumed the office of county commissioner in December, 1889 there existed a large number of gravel and stone toll roads in various parts of the county. These roads were owned and operated by toll companies. Toll gates were erected and maintained by toll gate keepers, and a charge of something like two or three cents could be collected for each mile traveled. To facilitate the collection of tolls, Large poles were erected extending across the road which could be raised or lowered as occasions might be necessary to compel the traveler to pay. In effect these toll companies owned these roads, and were supposed to keep them in repair. (These roads were owned and operated similarly to the large automobile turnpikes that are at present being built in various parts of the United States.)
My father, along with other members of the board, came to the conclusion that these toll roads in Decatur County were a sort of nuisance and for all practical purposes had outlived their days of public usefulness. My father had come from a county where all roads were free. He talked with many of his constituents who had elected him, and tried to create a sentiment for the county to buy the toll roads throughout the county and make all roads free. This idea met with a happy response from the people. The commissioners then proceeded to take legal steps for the appraisement of the roads and the proper appropriations for the money were made and all toll roads in the county were transferred by assignment of ownership to the county. There was but very little opposition to the buying of these toll roads and doing away with the nuisance which had been an eyesore maintained as a back number and hinderance to the freedom of the traveling public. The businessmen of Greensburg gave great praise for the action my father had taken in buying these roads, as a barrier had been removed which hindered people from freely coming to the city to trade with the merchants. The buying of these roads was a movement in the direction of real and beneficial progress, and was such a popular movement that when it came for the election of my father for a second term, he had but little or no opposition.
Many Stone Arch Bridges Were Built
During the time that my father was a member of the Board of Commissioners the question of bridges came up. The members of the Board went together and made a thorough examination of the bridges over the entire county. It was discovered that many of the small bridges over the creeks and streams were in bad condition. Many of them had been built out of wood that had to be repaired of rebuilt from time to time, which was a constant expense to the county. My father thought this was bad economy. There was an abundance of fine stone in all parts of the county. Why not build the bridges and culverts out of stone, constructed in the form of arches, thus having no wood whatever to decay and rot out? To this suggestion the other members of the Board fully agreed; and the building of stone arch bridges was a good and economical idea, as it would not cost much more to build out of stone than wood.
At the next regular monthly meeting of the Board it was agreed that from then on all small bridges and even some of the larger bridges should be of arch construction out of Decatur County limestone wherever it was at all feasible. The other two members of the Board agreed that as Mr. Miller had had considerable experience in such matters, he be chosen personally to look over and superintend the building and repair of all bridges in the county. My father set to work to build a number if one arch bridges over the small streams where the old wooden bridges were in a state of decay and unfit for public travel. He did these small jobs with a gang of men consisting of good stone cutters and stone masons who were well adapted and proficient in this class of work. In all cases plans and specifications were drawn by a competent engineer; and it was my father’s business to see that these plans were carried out. However, where the creek was so large that a bridge of more than one arch would be required, he would be advertised and let to the lowest bidder. But father would always stick to stone construction, and would never advise that bridges be built of wood or iron, for all the creeks and streams in the county. His old Dutch or German ideas were to build to build out of stone which would last for untold ages. He contended that iron and wood are both perishable, while stone arch bridges are beautiful and will last for many generations yet unborn. He has long since passed away, but many arch bridges still stand as monuments to his good judgment and unselfish labor while he was among the living.
The building of stone bridges became so popular on account of their durability and moderate cost of construction that scarcely any other material is now used in Decatur County. The large stone bridge that crosses Big Flatrock River on the entrance into the town of St. Paul was built completely out of stone with high stone parapets to protect the traveling public. This bridge has a series of five arches, all built out of beautiful blur limestone; and the foundation of each arch is securely imbedded in the solid rock that extends under the bottom of the river. This bridge is wide and commodious for automobile travel. I think it was constructed after my fathers term of office had expired; however, it is a fair example of many of the arch bridges that were built while he was a member of the Board of Commissioners. The New York Central Railroad bridge that crosses the river parallel with this bridge is built out of iron.

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