No Place Like
Bill Miller’s Love of the Outdoors
by Bill Weaver
“I’ve always loved the outdoors,” says Bill Miller of his decision to buy a home in Elkinsville, Indiana at the very same time that everyone else was selling out.
Raised on Spearsville Road, near Bean Blossom, Miller joined the Peace Corps after graduating college in 1963, working with his wife in Indonesia and Thailand. Returning to the United States they trained other Peace Corps volunteers. “But then I got on as full-time director for the Kingdom of Tonga in the South Pacific. I thought, ‘Now that we’re going overseas I’d like to save some money or invest it.’ So we looked for property and this was available at Elkinsville.”
That was right after the US Army Corps of Engineers had vacated most area residents to build Lake Monroe. “It was a good time to buy because everybody was so discouraged,” Bill remembers. “People told me, ‘Bill, that’s crazy. You don’t want to buy out in the middle of nowhere!’”
But what other people saw as negative Bill saw as positive. “I grew up in the outdoors,” he says. “Hunting, fishing, and things like that. I thought this was a perfect place. It’s contiguous to the Hoosier National Forest and the wildlife refuge of Lake Monroe, across the creek is Brown County State Park and Yellowwood State Forest. There are 50 or 60 thousand acres of public land contiguous with this property.
“I’ve always liked this end of the county,” he continues, “because it was least developed. Van Buren Township has always been the least touristy, the least cluttered, it had more of the old Brown County I grew up with. It’s a different world back here.”
Upon returning to the United States in 1973 the family tried living in the remote location but soon realized that to get the children to school regularly they needed to live in Nashville. The country home was used on weekends.
“I had a stone quarry here on the hill,” he says. “It was a slow time for building so I worked in Columbus as director with People’s Alliance. We worked with low-income people to teach them how to be advocates for themselves—how to deal with landlords, schools, government.” In 1978 he joined the US Department of Agriculture.
“In 1987 Karen Zody came to me and said that the people who used to live in the area were looking for a place to have a reunion. I was trying to restore things here so I told Karen, ‘Yeah, why don’t we set it up?’” And that’s how the annual Elkinsville reunion began. Each year the original inhabitants of the valley and their children gather at Bill’s property on the foot of Browning Mountain to reminisce about old times and catch up on their scattered families.
“The first year we had it in August and it was hot and there were a lot of bees so we chose the first Sunday in October—it’s cooler and no one has to worry about knowing the date. People were so happy to be reunited. Out of that came lots of friendships,” he smiles. “I’ve learned so much by hosting it—it’s been a gift to me.”
With the passing of time the number of people who return has diminished, “But it’s still nice,” he says. “People bring their families and go hiking, sit and talk, have a nice pitch-in meal, and then bring out lots of pictures and memorabilia. I admire all the people that lived here because, quite frankly, the government treated them very roughshod, ripped them out of their homes and didn’t give them adequate compensation for their property. They’ve taken lemons and made lemonade rather than being bitter about it. That’s important and good.”
His project these days is to restore the old post office building, which sits at the southern edge of where the town used to be. “I think it was built in 1879 but I can’t tell for sure,” he says. “I’m interested from the historical standpoint—if I was doing it for profit it wouldn’t work.” he laughs. “I see so much of the history of Brown County being torn down and not preserved. It gives me the opportunity to be outdoors and preserve a bit of history. It’s a big job.”
Bill restored his own home in 1994. “I lived in a trailer here and would come home at night and work,” he remembers, “on weekends, on vacation, holidays. I tried to keep the integrity of the outside but also make it a nice place to live.
“It was surprising how many people would stop by and offer to help because they were so happy to see somebody trying to save the house. I had lots of help from neighbors and friends who would pat me on the back and encourage me. There were many times I needed that to get through. It was that challenging. It was also that rewarding.
“To live in this house is very nice,” he adds. “It’s got lots of good vibes from the past. Sometimes you live in a house and it’s just a house and sometimes you live in a house and it’s a home. This one is a home.”
Bill has lived in places that some people would call paradise but to him there is no place like Brown County. “It has always been a wonderful place to be from and come back to. It’s a place people dream of having a home.
“The biggest asset of Brown County is the wonderful people that live here,” he continues enthusiastically. “That’s why the artists that came here in the early 1900s were able to establish an art colony—because they were welcomed. There is such a wonderful blend of people. It’s a good place to live and raise children. That’s one of the reasons I came back after traveling—it was a good place to raise children.”