J. F. Miller Home ‘Walnut Ridge’ | Gonzales County Texas | c. 1901
This impressive one-of-a-kind at home was designed for a prominent Texas citizen named James Francis Miller, but for many years, stood in a sad state of disrepair. Luckily, work is being done to stabilize the building and hopefully, preserve it for future generations.
James Francis Miller’s Early History
James Francis (J.F.) Miller was born on August 1, 1830, in Fairfield County, SC to Isaac and Susan Swan Miller. In 1842, he moved with his parents to Texas and settled in Gonzales County. J.F. attended school at Reutersville where he studied law. In 1857, he was admitted to the Texas Bar and shortly after, began practicing in the town of Gonzales.
James Leaves For War
He would marry a young local woman named Almira, but when the Civil War broke out in 1861, James enlisted in Company I 8th Texas Calvary. While serving as a private in the Confederate army, he saw action at Shiloh, Chickamauga, and Perryville. And things weren’t much better on the home front. In 1862, his young wife Almira passed away, leaving behind an infant son who died one year later.
After the Civil War
At the end of the war, he was captured and later paroled at Charlotte, NC where he was allowed to return back to Texas where he worked to re-establish his law practice in Gonzales. On May 6, 1866, James remarried, this time to Julia Amanda Turner. Julia was a war widow who had lost her first husband, Benjamin Franklin Batchelor, in an early battle of the Civil War. Julia and James would have one son, Francis Miller, who passed away when he was only 8.
J.F. Miller’s Business and Civic Activities
In 1868, James retired from practicing law and opened a bank with his partner, William B. Sayers. He was also a successful livestock farmer in those days, raising Jersey, Holstein, and Durham Cattle. That same year, Miller purchased lots in the center of Gonzales with plans to build a house, although construction didn’t begin on the property until the late 1890s.
James spent most of his life involved heavily in the civic affairs of his town of Gonzales and the state of Texas. In 1873, James, a 32nd Degree Scottish Rite Mason, was elected Grand Master of the Texas Masons and in 1878, he was elected Grand Commander of the Knights Templar.
In 1883, he was elected as a Democrat to the 48th and 49th Congresses, serving until 1887. He declined renomination to the 50th Congress and returned his focus to his businesses where he was elected as the first President of the Texas Bankers Association.
Construction of ‘Walnut Ridge’
The impressive structure was designed by J. Riley Gordon, a renowned architect who was noted for his designs of 15 courthouses across Texas.
The Greek-Revival style mansion was completed in 1901 and James named it ‘Walnut Ridge’, but sadly, he wouldn’t have the opportunity to enjoy it as he passed away shortly after on July 3, 1902. His widow Julia would continue to live in the home until she passed away inside its walls on April 15, 1912.
The home would pass to new owners who were renowned by locals for the elaborate parties they would host here in the late 1930s.
In the years since then, the home changed hands and eventually fell into a state of disrepair. When I visited in 2017, the grounds were obviously being maintained and locals then told me that its owner was actually still living inside a portion of the home, despite it appearing to be uninhabitable.
Shortly after I visited this home in 2017, a local reach out to let me know that it was undergoing exterior restoration. You can see photos of the HERE that was done over a 3-year span to bring the outside of this house back to the condition it once was. The house is privately owned but not currently inhabitable as the interior has not been restored yet.