The lost town of Miles Station
I grew up not far from the setting of my novel Time and Again but for most of those years had no idea that just down the road from me there had once been a little town called Miles Station. I didn’t hear the name until the 1980s when the county put up a new road sign in front of our farm.
I wondered what a Miles Station was, and so I went to the library to take another look in some of the old history books I had enjoyed when learning about my own little village of Woodburn. And in one book I was amazed to discover the lost town of Miles Station.
The town’s name had nothing to do with a unit of measurement (as I had first thought), and everything to do with a man named Jonathan Miles. He is described in one book as “brave, honest, patriotic, broad minded, God fearing, zealous” and in another as “one of the most prominent citizens in the county…”
Jonathan Miles, like so many Illinois settlers, was from Kentucky, born in 1820 from “good English ancestry.” In 1832, 12-year-old Jonathan moved with his family to the new state of Illinois, settling in Brighton Township. Miles told his biographer “there were no roads here, there being an unbroken prairie over which one could ride for miles without fence or house intercepting his progress.…It often required a week to make a trip to a mill. Wild game of all kinds, including deer was seen in abundance and supplied the table with meat.” He attended the little log school erected in about 1834. Mostly, however, he was self-taught.
The town of Miles Station began when Jonathan Miles built the first grain mill (steam powered) in the area. It drew farmers from miles around and he (and his partners) had a successful grain business in St. Louis. According to his biographer, Miles was “enterprising and industrious, [and] he had not long engaged in business before he was reaping a good income as the reward of his labors, and a successful business…made him a wealthy man.”
One of those enterprises was a general mercantile he established in Miles Station and another was his contract with the Chicago and Alton Railroad. He convinced the railroad to build their line through his town and then sold them lumber with which to lay the tracks. When the railroad failed to pay him, Miles hired a young lawyer from Springfield named Abraham Lincoln to represent him. Lincoln visited in Miles Station several times to talk over the case, which he won, of course. Lincoln was one of the first to invest in the Chicago & Illinois. The Chicago & Alton carried his funeral train on the last leg of its journey to Springfield, Illinois.
Jonathan and his wife Elizabeth Stratton, also a native of Kentucky, had three children: Samuel, Frank, and Charlotte, the girl I fictionalized in Time and Again. In my book, the fictional Jonathan and Charlotte are conductors on the Underground Railroad. Who’s to say they weren’t in real life? After all, Miles was a “staunch supporter of Republican Ideals,” which in that day was code for being anti-slavery. You may read more about the history of Miles Station HERE.
Read chapter one of the Amazon bestselling Christian fantasy, Time and Again, HERE.
I was born not far from the setting of Every Hill and Mountain and grew up “just down the road” from the setting of Time and Again and Unclaimed Legacy. Today I live with my husband in Waterloo, Illinois, where I enjoys reading, gardening, and learning about regional history. We have three grown children, four grandchildren, and two canine buddies Digger and Scout. I love to interact with my readers, so I hope you’ll comment on the various posts here on this website.
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Love hearing how stories come about. Great interview!
~Nancy Jill Thames
Author of the Jillian Bradley Mystery Series
Thanks for letting me yammer on about history–one of my favorite topics.