Oweno – Colonel Ezra Miller
This unattributed article was first published in The Old Station Timetable, October 1978.
The property surrounding the Betsy Ross School in Cragmere was the site of Colonel Ezra Miller’s estate known as “Oweno”. Some of the local craftsmen’s stone work done in the 1870’s is still visible in this area. The Athletic Field was the picturesque “Oweno” lake where the townspeople enjoyed the displays of fireworks on July 4th. (Photos of the Miller estate are on exhibit in the Old Station Museum.)
Col. Ezra Miller, son of Ezra Wilson Miller of Westchester County and Hannah Ryerson of Pompton, was born near Fort Washington, which was located near what now is the terminus of the George Washington Bridge in Fort Lee. Both of Col. Miller’s parents were possessors of abundant means, but his father’s bad health kept him from business other than his farm.
Born on May 12, 1812, he lived 5 years near Fort Lee, then re-moved to New York City for 3 years, then to Rhinebeck, N. Y. because of his father’s health for another 3 years, and finally the family moved to Flushing, N. Y. where the Colonel grew up and where he received a thorough English education. His family wanted him to follow a career in medicine, but his natural inclination was more to mathematics and engineering.
On Sept. 23, 1833, he enlisted in a company of horse artillery of the New York State Militia. In six years he was appointed Adjutant and a year later commissioned a Lieutenant Colonel, and in 1842 he was promoted to full Colonel.
In 1841 he married Amanda Millar, daughter of Capt. Seth Millar and the couple moved to Fort Hamilton. In 1848 Col. Miller and his family moved to Rock County, Wisconsin, where in the town of Magnolia he engaged In surveying for the U. S. Government and the State of Wisconsin. He also was elected Justice of the Peace there.
In 1851 Col. Miller was appointed by Gov. Dewey of Wisconsin to a full Colonel of the State Militia. In 1852 he was elected to the Wisconsin Senate and served as one of the managers of the State Institute of the Blind.
It was while In Wisconsin that Col. Miller began to devote his attention to the railroad industry. At that time railroad accidents were quite prevalent and passenger cars that exceeded a speed of 10 mph were dangerous. The cars were coupled by chains and the oscillating effect of the cars acting independently at each end of a chain often led to derailments and, more seriously, to telescoping.
Col. Miller invented an automatic coupler known as the “Miller’s Platform” which kept tension between the cars, stopped the oscillating and prevented telescoping — a valuable step forward for the railroad industry.
He patented his invention and licensed its use in Russia first and in most other countries thereafter. It soon became the universal coupling method for railroad cars.
In 1872 the Millers purchased 50 acres of land just east of the Mahwah railroad station. Tradition has it that Colonel Miller located his mansion on the hill so that he would have from his veranda a commanding view of the passing railroad cars using his patent. In time he increased his estate to about 350 acres.
The 30-room mansion was three stories high with a mansard roof. All of the Miller’s five children were married and had apartments especially provided for them ”when visiting at home”. There was a large stable, carriage house and other smaller buildings. There were extensive gardens and a conservatory. A special attraction was the two domesticated buffalo that grazed with the cattle,
Col. Miller was described by a friend as, “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.” Colonel Miller died in 1885.