Couple turns home, farm into showplace

Vickie looks over some of her glass antiques on display in the Miller home.

When asked what he does for a living, Doug Miller simply tells people, “We farm.”

But a visit to Doug and Vickie’s pioneer homestead on the 2,700-acre farm that Doug operates just outside Indianola reveals there’s a lot more going on at the Millers’ besides farming.

Doug has combined his passion for restoring old buildings with his love of farming to restore his family home and farm into a showplace, learning center, and tourist attraction.

The Millers’ family home was built in 1879 by Doug’s great-great-grandfather, Henry Miller. Doug restored a schoolhouse built in 1906, and he is in the process of restoring the barn that was built in 1881.

“I would have been an architect if they had calculators back when I was in college,” Doug said with a laugh, adding that he and the slide rule never got along. Doug did pursue a degree in history, and before that he considered becoming a dentist.

But when Doug returned to his family farm in 1971, he knew that farming was in his blood for all time.

SCHOOLHOUSE

The old country schoolhouse originally was located across the road from the Miller farmstead, and was moved onto their property in 1953.

Doug started his renovations in 1994, making improvements a little at a time. His most recent project involved completing the winding staircase that leads to the second floor — a safer alternative to the ladder used when the building was a functioning schoolhouse. He also built a staircase on the outside of the building for a fire escape route.

The restored building is multifunctional, serving as a guest house, a public meeting center and even a Sunday school classroom.

Doug calls himself a practical preservationist. “When I restore something, I try to keep many of the same elements as the original building, but at the same time I want it to be functional,” he said.

Some noteworthy antiques are scattered throughout the renovated building, including a country school desk, a baby cradle that rocked four generations of Millers, and a teacher’s bell, grade book and American flag.

HOMESTEAD

The original Miller home was built in the Italian-Victorian tradition, with period design elements such as the wrap-around porch, window seats, pocket doors, a small music room, and a guest room and parlor.

Doug’s parents did some remodeling in the 1960s, and Doug and Vickie began their major renovations in 1976.

“We had two generations of contractors in the same family do work for my parents and then for us,” Doug said. “We basically removed what my parents added, and the contractors often remarked, ‘Those Millers just can’t make up their minds.’”

Today, the Miller home is more reflective of the Queen Anne period than the Victorian Age. “We kept adding more closets and other storage areas,” Vickie said. “I love to decorate, so I redid most of the rooms over the years.”

A tasteful collection of prized antiques from both Doug’s and Vickie’s families grace the Miller home.

“We don’t go antiquing,” Vickie said. “I just use special pieces that were handed down through the family because they have meaning.”

Some pieces in their collection include a Seth Thomas mantel clock, Doug’s grandparents’ dining room suite and buffet and china dishes in the tea leaf pattern that were handed down from both sides of the family.

A set of restored English sleigh bells, Italian soft pottery, and cut glass bowls, as well as pressed and ribbon-glass pieces, also are encased in their refinished antique cabinet.

The light oak fireplace mantel was used in Doug’s great-grandparents’ home in Fairmount, and the oak secretary also belonged to Doug’s great-grandfather.

FEELS LIKE HOME

The Millers have interspersed some new furniture pieces into their home décor that nicely complement the antiques.

“We tried to restore the house pretty accurately, but we still want it to be livable,” Doug said.

While Doug spends his days farming and renovating old buildings, Vickie works full-time as chair of the board of trustees for Danville Area Community College. Both Millers also are active in the community.

“This part of Illinois is home to me,” Doug said, adding that he and Vickie have traveled extensively. “Flatlanders like us will travel to look at anything, but we’re always glad to be back home.”