Flashback: J.C. Miller
by Richard Harms, Archivist

Fifty years ago, the decision was made and approved to purchase J. (John) C. Miller's Knollcrest Farm, one of three sites on Grand Rapids' southeast side being considered as the location for the new campus of Calvin College and Calvin Theological Seminary. The site, 166 acres when purchased, was the result of J.C. Miller's purchase of the Earl Grossman house and apple orchard in 1931 and subsequent purchases of a portion of the Ravenswood Golf Course and several small farms. Miller enlarged and modernized the Grossman house into what he called the manor house, now De Wit Manor.

J.C. Miller in front of the Manor House (now De Wit Manor)Miller was born in Grand Rapids in 1888, the fourth of five children and oldest son of John Miller and Katherine Betz. The elder Miller was an immigrant from Switzerland and became a milk dealer in Grand Rapids. J.C. Miller's younger brother went into the family business, but J.C. attended McLachlan Business College (later merged with Davenport Business College, now Davenport University ) and began working for Wolverine Brass Works, which manufactured plumbing fixtures in Grand Rapids. Miller was the foreman of the polishing and plating department by 1902 and served in that capacity until 1919, when he became a traveling salesperson and organized Grand Rapids Metal Products. In 1920, he became a sales agent for the A.P. Munning Co. of Matawan, N.J., a manufacturer of grinding and polishing equipment and supplies, and in 1923 organized the J.C. Miller Co. to expand the sales work for Munning. J.C. Miller Co. also began to manufacture and distribute its own polishing and buffing materials.

Financial success from this business allowed Miller to start other businesses, such as Crampton Manufacturing, Production Die Cast, Miller Welding and Miller Tool & Die. Further success came from his share of the American Tripoli Co., which mined tripoli-porous, lightweight, fine-grained, crystalline silica used as an abrasive and a polish-in Ottawa County, Okla., and processed the mineral in nearby Newton County , Mo. This was one of only four such mines in the world.

His business success also allowed Miller-previously an amateur ice skating sprint champion, bicycle racer, wrestler and boxer-to pursue his interest in athletics. He owned (1931-1932) a minor league professional football team, the Grand Rapids Maroons, which won the Michigan State League championship in 1931. He also rode saddle horses for recreation on the new farm, which he named Knollcrest. Knollcrest was also the site for entertaining his friends; he hosted picnics and boxing matches, sparing little expense on such occasions. During the 1940s, he sponsored Pete Mead, a middleweight who contended for the world championship and, in his last fight, was knocked out by Rocky Graziano.

Miller was married twice and did not have children. In the 1950s, as he began retiring from active involvement in his business interests, his second wife no longer wanted to live in Grand Rapids, preferring the warm winters in Florida. Miller sold his beloved Knollcrest to Calvin College and Seminary in 1956, and the Millers moved to Palm Beach, Fla. He died of a heart attack in 1960 at the Tampa (Fla.) airport.