Robert Miller and Casco Methodist Church Robert Miller

Robert Miller

by: Charles Young

Robert Miller tells about his boyhood fascination with a small old country church where his grandmother was the organist when she was a teenager. Robert eventually bought the old pump organ and restored it. More

In 2002 Robert wrote about his recollections of a visit to our family;

"I was at Camp Chaffee for basic training during the spring of 1955 and visited your grandmother at the rock house on 18th Street. I also visited your parents. I remember that also being a rock house and that the kitchen was located in front. It was interesting to read how that came about, and that your father designed both houses. I even remember that your mother served a beef stew with vegetables for the meal."

My father took the picture of Robert during that visit. It looks like the setting was at Mount Vista, a cliff at Van Buren near Highway 59 overlooking the Arkansas River toward Fort Smith. We visited this place sometimes on the weekends. Houses mostly obscure the view of the river now, but at the time there were no houses in that area.

Dad (Dayton Young) worked for Robert's Uncle Eldon at his print shop in Washington, Missouri for a few months in the mid 1930's. During that time he stayed with Robert's grandparents, George and Anna Miller.

Robert Miller bought the old pump organ from the Casco Methodist Church for $100 on September 7, 1967. A few days later he wrote the story of his longstanding fascination with the church and the old organ in it.

Some Recollections Of The Casco Church

By Robert Miller

"My first visit to this church is still as vivid in my mind as though it were yesterday, although the age I was at the time is not. I would judge that it was 10 or 12 years. My uncle, Milton Miller, was in the habit of taking us for occasional Sunday afternoon rides, and it was one of those that brought about my first visit and association with this small, remote and charming country church of some of my ancestors. I had heard mention of its existence, but it made no impression upon me until my first sight of it. I had heard that my Grandmother Miller had played the organ here when a girl. After this first visit, my interest was aroused to find out more about it. My grandmother told me that she was the first to play the organ when she was 16 years old, and served as church organist for several years. Her father had hauled the organ to the church on a sled from New Haven in the winter of 1886. This was the first musical instrument to be used in this church, built in 1871, and was the cause of much controversy at the time, as many thought it to be an "instrument of the devil." However, it eventually won acceptance. This organ remained in the church until Sept. 7, 1967 when I purchased it from the congregation for $100. It was replaced with an inferior electronic instrument.

To get back to the first visit, it was a Sunday afternoon, in the fall I believe. At this time, the church was even more isolated than it is at the present time. We wound around and through country roads until making a sharp turn, and there it was - in a beautiful setting - a clearing in the middle of the woods. It seemed as though we were entering another age, isolated and forgotten by time. I was so anxious to see the inside, and if the organ was still there. I remember climbing up and trying to peer through the closed shutters. After trying windows, my uncle found one that was unlocked. It was the one on the far left of the church. As he opened it, I could hardly wait to get inside. He boosted me in.

The small ornate reed organ was the first thing I saw, under the window opposite, facing out into the church. There was a patterned, green carpet runner completely across. It was a though the church had not been disturbed since the day it was built. There was a wall clock ticking in the corner in back of the organ, and a wood-burning stove in the center of the room with the pipe running straight up and then to the back wall over the center of the pulpit. There were coal-oil lamps with reflectors around the walls between the windows. The walls were tan with about a 6 inch band in brown around the windows and door, and a matching arch painted over the pulpit. In the semi-circle of this arch were painted the words in German "The Lord Is My Shepherd." The ceiling was narrow tongue and groove, painted white. When I played the organ, the sound was unbelievably beautiful. The room was amazingly "live." I remember being aware of the echo, which I now know as reverberation. We didn't stay very long, and I remember not wanting to leave, wishing that I could stay there and play the organ forever. My love for the organ was already deeply developed, and I didn't have access to any. My ambition then was to become an organist in a church like this! Also, at this time my love for old things began to emerge, although I wasn't aware of it as such at the time.

The oldness and mellowness of this place has left a lasting impression on me. I visited this church many times in the following years, playing the organ each time, and the attraction I felt for it never diminished - until my visit there in 1961. I had taken various snapshots of the place, inside and out, through the years, but I never got any really good ones of the interior. I had arranged for a photographer friend of mine and myself to make a visit and take some pictures. This was November, 1961. As we approached, my enthusiasm sunk. A big utility pole stood at the edge of the field with wires leading to the corner of the building. I was afraid to look inside. As I opened the door, I received a distinct shock. The walls had been repainted a light green; green and white block tile had been laid on the floor, and celotex had been put on the ceiling. A gaudy religious mural framed in pine had been hung across the front of the church, about 3 by 10 feet in size. A raised platform had been built across the entire front and carpeted. A new pulpit and lectern had been made of pine and then covered with a high gloss varnish. The entire effect and atmosphere had been completely destroyed. These people had a perfect 19th century gem and had completely ruined it. But I'm sure they considered it all "improvement." A gas stove had also been installed in the rear left corner, with the vent pipe running directly out of the side wall. There is a large aluminum (bomb shaped) gas tank about 20 feet out from the side of the building. This and the utility pole and wires detract considerably from the appearance of the church, but otherwise it remains essentially the same outward original appearance.

Relatives are buried in the quiet graveyard at the rear of the church. My unexplained fascination with this place still remains, and my vivid memories of it are constantly alive."

Robert Miller later added more details about the church and the organ;

"A label inside the organ on the swell in back of the sound panel under the keyboard indicates the date tuned, November, 1886, and the name of the tuner (now illegible), so it can be presumed that it was the winter of 1886 when it was taken to the church. It was manufactured by the Western Cottage Organ Company, Mendota, Illinois.

Since the first remodeling that I refer to, there have been two more since, and for the better. The second one was in the late 1970's. A near-by Lutheran church was struck by lightning and a fire resulted. When they restored it, they gave the old pews to the Casco Church. They are very nice, oak, ca 1890. The next, and best was about 1990. In this one, they pretty much restored the original paint colors and design. Except "The Lord Is My Shepherd" in the arch in back of the old pulpit. The angels and swag were restored from the original outlines under the old paint. Nothing of the old pulpit or furnishings remain, but what they did was well done by a professional.

After I acquired the organ in 1967, I completely restored and refinished it. In 1991 I donated it to the Old German School Museum (also dated 1871) of the Hermann Historical Society. Hermann is a small picturesque German community about 30 miles west of Washington, Missouri on the Missouri River. The organ now has a good home and is appreciated. I have played it for many public tours and occasions there including the Mai Fests and Ocktober Fests."

1996 Robert Miller  
Robert Miller sent me a copy of the Casco Salem Methodist Church history which was printed for the 100th anniversary in 1971. It is reproduced here.

Robert Miller is my second cousin. He was born in 1930 in Washington, Missouri. After a career as a church organist and music librarian at two St. Louis libraries, he retired and moved back to Washington, Missouri.

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