Robert C. Miller was a blacksmith who was born around 1806. He had married Elizabeth Carver of Frederick County, Virginia, in April of 1826. Presiding over this ceremony was one of Newtown’s leading Methodist pastors and head of the Stephensburg Academy, John Bell Tilden. The Millers eventually had seven children. Two of their sons, named James W. (b. 1826) and George T. (b.1831), also became blacksmiths.
The Millers bought the Stone House from the Mytingers for $500. This price, as we discussed previously, was $250 more than Mytinger had paid when he purchased the property from the estate of Henry Jackson. The story of the Miller family’s occupancy in the Stone House is more about economic hardships than expansion and financial growth. In fact, to better understand what happened during the Miller’s period of ownership we need to discuss the larger picture of economic hardship that was gripping the nation at this time. Beginning in 1837, while the Myingers still owned the property, there was an economic downturn in the United States, that lead to a depression which essentially lasted until 1843. Fueled by years of prosperity, speculation, and the monetary policies of the Andrew Jackson administration, “the Panic of 1837” began in the spring of that year. American banks had stopped exchanging specie (gold and silver coin) for paper currency. President Jackson had earlier issued an executive order requiring that the purchase of government lands be paid for in gold and silver specie instead of bank notes. Jackson had also refused to renew the charter of the Second Bank of the United States resulting in the withdrawal of Government funds from that bank. In short, the perception was that banks had printed more paper money than they had gold and silver to back-up. Other factors that contributed to this credit bubble and the subsequent crash included the withdrawal of British investors from U.S. markets. By the time it was all over, hundreds of American banks had failed. Despite a minor recovery from 1838 to 1839, things did not improve again until 1843. Unfortunately, the economic recovery of 1843 came too late for the Millers.
This depression would have made things difficult for tradesmen in Newtown. While repair jobs on existing durable products (like wagons) may have continued during this period, there would have been a general decline in orders for new products. In turn, trade shop owners would have laid off journeymen workers and relied more on slaves and the free (but less skilled) labor of their apprentices. We do not know if Miller, who was in his mid-thirties when he purchased the Stone House, owned his own shop. It is likely that he did, as it is difficult to imagine him taking on the purchase of the Stone House with the wages of a journeyman. With seven children, the oldest being around fourteen years old when he purchased the Stone House, Miller seems to have been confident of his income sources.
Nevertheless, by the summer of 1843 the Millers had become desperate. They sealed off the stone side from the log side of the house turning the property into a duplex. On 13 June 1843 Miller mortgaged the property to Jacob Mytinger’s brother-in-law, Alexander Marks, in order to pay off Miller’s debt to Mytinger. On 25 July 1843 they mortgaged the log section to James and Andrew Redd, who eventually foreclosed. (More on the relationship between the Redds and the Millers will be addressed below.) On 29 July the Millers sold the stone half of the house and its adjoining lane to the south to cabinet maker/carpenter Frederick S. Shryock and his son Charles E. Shryock for $200. The deed that records this sale also includes valuable information about how the lot behind the Stone House had been developed and how it was being used at that time. It references a detached kitchen that once stood with its southern end straddling the newly created property line between the two sides of the house, and a “lane” that passed to the south of the stone side giving access to the rear of the lot from Main Street. The Millers retained the use of the entire detached kitchen even though its southern end was technically on the Shryock’s property, but the lane to the south was to be used exclusively by the Shryocks. It is possible that this driveway dated to the earliest period when the Stone House was being used by Peter Upp as a tavern. It is also likely that this lane was used by Henry Jackson when he owned both lot 47 and the Stone House on lot 48. Jackson’s probate inventory mentions “A parcel of lumber in the store loft.” This reference, along with others to large quantities of building materials, implies that Jackson had a storehouse on his property to keep these materials. This lane could have served that storehouse. Apparently, a major part of this lane was actually on lot 47 to the south. In 1845 Frederick Shryock purchased an additional strip of 7½ feet along the property line from lot 47 to the south. He paid $15 for this strip of land that ran in a straight line to Mulberry Street and included all the “improvements” thereon. Although there is no specific mention of them in these deeds, the existence of this lane, and Shryock’s purchase of the land it occupied strongly implies that there were other outbuildings standing behind the stone side of the property. Otherwise there would have been no reason for the Shryocks to go through the trouble of purchasing the 7½ feet along the property line to maintain the use of the lane. It is easier to understand the importance of this lane when you consider how it made it possible to drive a heavily loaded wagon, with its team of horses, from either Main or Mulberry Streets through the length of this long narrow lot without the need to back it up or turn it around. Backing up a wagon, or making sharp turns with them can prove to be an extraordinarily difficult task.
After the Millers lost the log side to foreclosure they did stay in the area. (See below.) Robert Miller is listed as purchasing small items at the 1848 estate sale of his former neighbor Frederick Shryock. Robert Miller was listed again in the 1850 census in Newtown/Stephensburg as a blacksmith along with his sons James and George.