Miller Church: Pioneer family set aside land for chapel and cemetery

April 2010 Posted in Arts, Culture & History, Other, School

Richard Miller, who came to a land claim on the Abiqua River in 1847, later donated property for a church and cemetery to be used by the community. Today, descendants and others maintain the historic Miller Church and Cemetery.

By Margot Miller

Are you still celebrating Oregon’s 150th birthday? Those responsible for the upkeep of the historic Miller Church and Cemetery on Highway 213 just north of Silverton have been working hard to commemorate this historic time in the state’s history.

The pretty little wooden church at the cemetery is on the National Register of Historic Places, listed as Oregon’s “only burying church.”

In 1847, Richard and Margaret Stanton Miller and their large family moved to a land claim on the Abiqua River. The donation land claim was a square mile in size.

Richard Miller, known to the local residents as “Uncle Dickey,” was a member of the 1850 territorial legislature, served as chairman of the Marion County Commission and in 1857 was elected from the area as a representative to the Constitutional Committee, which was directed to write a constitution that would represent the people of the soon-to-be state of Oregon.

In 1860, Miller moved to the Scio area to live with daughter, America Kelly, but before he did, he gave a gift of 3 acres of land “in consideration of the love and respect” that he felt for the citizens of the Abiqua precinct. The land was to be used as a public burying ground and for a church, “said church to be open and free to all religious denominations” – quite a statement for 1860.

The Miller cemetery still exists. It is a tranquil, beautiful setting, and a reminder of those very early pioneer families who lived in the area. The cemetery had several graves in it when the land was given in 1860. One is the grave of Damon Smith who died on the property in 1852.

The spot where the Miller Church now stands was once a resting place for wagons coming south from Oregon City. Since that time, hundreds of early pioneers found their final resting place in the Miller Cemetery. An elected cemetery committee has taken care of the property from the early 1900s, and just recently, additional acreage was added to the burial grounds in response to need.

By 1882, the church that Richard Miller had designated was built by Abiqua residents. They chose the architecture of the 1840s, a Greek Revival style. Using local fieldstone as a foundation and felling the timbers for the building itself, they built a solid structure that has held up well since The distinctly sloped floor was an added feature.

During the early part of the century, there was a community congregation that held services in the church. Over the years, the church fell into disuse, and by the early 1970s, there was talk of it being removed.
Local resident Barbara LeDoux contacted the Lionel Miller family, who, along with a group of helpers consisting of interested Silverton residents and other members of the far-flung Miller family, worked out a plan to save the church. Since that time, the church has been preserved well for the future.

In mid-June last year, the immediate members of the Miller family, along with Silverton resident Michael Sharrar, who provided an electricity generator, were able to vacuum the old flooring – probably for the first time since 1882. With a water tank provided by the Herman Goschie family, the simple but beautiful, old 1853 pews were scrubbed and now look new again. Within a week, the church’s exterior was professionally painted by a local company. The church now stands restored to its original beauty.

A committee, made up of several generations of the Miller family works to keep the church in good repair and holds an annual family golf tournament to raise funds for the church. This past fall, Joni Miller Busche of Beaverton joined the committee, representing the seventh generation of Millers to live in Oregon.

Public welcome to help maintain pioneer church and cemetery

The combined committees of the cemetery and the church invite the public to take a look at the 1882 church and old gravestones in the cemetery. The Miller family is recruiting anyone who has a loved one buried in the cemetery or who would like to “adopt” an early stone for preservation.

“We would love to have you help us keep those stones intact,” said Margot Miller. “Just a simple brush and water will remove the lichen and restore the stone to its original beauty.” Anyone who belongs to an organization or church group that wishes to help also would be welcomed, she said.

The Miller Church fund (which is separate from the cemetery funds) was diminished by the efforts to celebrate the state’s 150th anniversary. To make a tax-deductible contribution contact Lionel and Margot Miller, 1836 NE 116th Place, Portland, OR 97220.

“Your donation will be gratefully received and will enable us to continue to provide for the care of the beautiful old building,” Miller said.

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