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Chapter 6 - The Miller Era

Charlotte News, March 11, 1960, p.1B
Mecklenburg County Poor House and County Home


In 1933 a change in management inaugurated a new era in the life of the county home, one that would restore it as an object of civic pride. John Sutton Miller, a Pineville farmer who had attended Davidson College, had been hired to manage the Home’s farming operations. When the superintendent of the Home was abruptly dismissed, Mr. Miller and his wife, Lillian Crow Miller, took over the running of the entire facility. One member of the family or another would be in charge of the County Home until it closed as a county facility in 1972, forty years later.


In the time of John Miller, Sr., and his wife’s administration, the County Home moved away from its nineteenth-century origins as a catch-all for all of society’s unfortunates. Federal and state institutions arose to take more of the burden of care for persons who were poor or facing mental health challenges. The changing demographics skewed the resident population of the County Home towards the elderly. In addition to providing food and shelter, County Home employees took over more medical responsibilities for patients as well. The Millers’ management of the Home earned them the respect of the citizens and government, as evidenced by the fact that a bond referendum in 1954 passed by a wide margin and allowed for the construction of a new home, which opened in 1956 as the “Green Acres Rest Home for the Aged.”


In his long tenure at the County Home, John Miller, Sr. was recognized for “efficient and kindly management.” (Mecklenburg Times, April 22, 1954) He and his wife lived on the grounds and raised their children there too. John Miller, Jr., the son of the long-time superintendent, also managed with sympathy for the people under his charge. He told interviewers a story of a long search on a cold night for an inmate who had walked off. He described the mix of emotions he felt when the man was finally found:


I didn’t know whether to kill him [laughs] - not literally - or hug his neck. So, I hugged his neck. I picked him up and carried him and set him in the car. I sure was glad to get that gentleman back home.


On July 17, 1996, John Miller, son of John and Lillian spoke to Shelia Bumgarner, a librarian with the Carolina Room, and Lois Yandle, a local historian, about his experiences growing up in and eventually taking over the leadership of the County Home / Green Acres. In ninety minutes of conversation he explained how the farm and home operated, how it adapted to new laws and changing demographics, and how it grew to serve the county better. Throughout the interview, the substance of his answers showed a thorough knowledge of the Home and the tone in which they were related showed a warm-hearted approach to the business of providing care.


A recording of Mr. Miller’s full, unedited interview is kept in the Carolina Room. His responses have been extracted from the entire conversation into nineteen snippets from one to four minutes long each. Follow the link below to listen to them. They are described in the text at the end of this chapter.


Interview of John S. Miller, Jr., on July 17, 1996

Carolina Room, Charlotte Mecklenburg Library

  1. Introduction (1:14)
    1. John Miller’s father was hired to manage the farm operations of the County Home in 1932.
    2. He became superintendent of the entire facility and served until his death in 1960.
    3. His widow, Lillian C. Miller, took his place for a few years before Mr. Miller himself took over.
  2. Operation of the Farm (3:20)
    1. Farm and dairy farm
    2. Provided milk for the Home, the Tuberculosis Sanatorium, and a women’s reformatory across Tryon St.
    3. Incarcerated women did laundry service for the county
  3. Inadequate Care for Mentally Ill (3:28)
    1. Families not usually part of the patient mix in the 1930’s
    2. Jail cells used to isolate mentally ill – no other treatment
    3. Under Mr. Miller, Sr., the incarcerated residents were sent to Broughton or Goldsboro.
  4. Physicians (1:5
    1. Dr. McLaughlin put in the most years of service
    2. He served all the County institutions and maintained a private practice
  5. Reports + Fire Prevention (1:34)
    1. Grand Jury conducted yearly inspections.
    2. New building with improved fire prevention measures installed during father’s administration.
  6. Crops Raised (1:35)
    1. 25-40 acres of garden: beans, squash, tomatoes, okra
    2. Hands made $0.75/day during the Depression
    3. Corn, grain, hay grown
    4. “10-mule farm” – based on calculation that one hand with one mule could plow 15 acres.
  7. Inmates’ Work (2:52)
    1. One could paint, one was a blacksmith, another did repairs
    2. After 1950, “inmates” became “patients”
    3. 1960, “County Home” became “Greenacres Rest Home”
    4. Cemetery on the grounds
  8. Inmates’ Quality of Life (3:28)
    1. Ratio of men to women
    2. Durations of stays in County Home
    3. Care of the sick and terminally ill
    4. Notable residents
  9. Farm Work, Diet (2:38)
    1. Snapping peas, peeling peaches
    2. Cannery operation at the Home
  10. Worship Services + Movies (1:16)
    1. Local churches supplied pastors on a rotating basis
    2. Theater-operators would show movies once a month
  11. Changing Conditions (3:04)
    1. Physical condition of residents changed over the years
    2. Social Security, public housing reduced number of residents there out of economic need
  12. Social Security (2:21)
    1. Listening to the elderly
    2. The effect of Social Security
    3. White liquor, playing cards
  13. Stories (4:09)
    1. Attended elementary through high school at Newell.
    2. Stories of residents walking off, or of assuming responsibilities in the Home
  14. Managing the Home (4:17)
    1. Dismissal of Superintendent in 1932
    2. State and Federal cost-sharing
    3. Rising cost of care at Green Acres
  15. Growth in University Area (3:26)
    1. Increase in land values in area.
    2. “People of vision” in Charlotte
    3. Water and sewerage key to development
  16. Suppliers to the Home (1:10)
    1. Bid Process for wholesale goods
    2. Purchase and dispensing of drugs
  17. Integration of the Home (3:04)
    1. 1961 - New addition to existing building for black patients
    2. Late 1960s, gradual desegregation under pressure from federal government
    3. “We made it work”
  18. Lakes at County Home (2:05)
    1. Two lakes at two different times:
    2. One was a WPA project, which was later filled in
    3. A second was built by Blythe Construction
  19. End of Green Acres (4:20)
    1. Became Private Facility in 1962
    2. Mecklenburg County reassumed responsibility [1972]
    3. Hospital built on site, patients relocated