Who was Ella I. McMillen and what was her connection to Wittenberg or Springfield, Ohio?
Read the Deed to Ella I. McMillen in 1892 (husband Samuel M. McMillen)
Ella I. & Samuel Melvin McMillen are a good example of a Gilded Age family, who provided unique opportunities for their children and traveled frequently abroad while maintaining a firm grounding in Ohio. Perhaps they are best known for being the parents of the American violinist Francis MacMillen (1885-1973). His papers, including letters from Ella, Samuel and their extended family, are housed at Marietta College’s Special Collections. Within these papers are several unique documents related to the 219 Ferncliff property and to many business dealings in Springfield, Ohio. At one point the family adopt a different spelling of their last name, amending the name from McMillen to MacMillen/Macmillen.
Ella I. Hill was born to Edward and Florence Hill on March 7, 1854. She was one of three daughters and her father was a maker of parasols and worked in fabrics. His business traveled repeatedly to New York and would later be Ella and Samuel’s business representative when they traveled.
Ella and Samuel McMillen were married in Washington County, Ohio in 1873 on February 5th. Their first first child arrived within the year. Samuel E. MacMillen was born on November 28th while the couple resided in Marietta, Ohio. Three years later, their second son, Charles Emmet was born on the 28th of September 1876. In the 1880 Census for Marietta, Ohio, Samuel works as an editor for the Marietta Times and Ella (listed as Ellen) is “keeping house” with the help of a servant, Margaret Sprague, age 26. The two boys, age 6 and 3, reside with them. Five years later, on October 14th, Francis Rea was born and would begin, at the age of five, a promising and life-long career as a violinist.
In 1892, Ella I. McMillen, as the deed reads, assumed ownership of the property at 219 Ferncliff from Flora E. Winger for $5,200. That year Samuel M., Samuel E., and Charles E., were living in Springfield on the southeast corner of Mechanic and Pleasant streets. The following year, the Springfield City Directory records the McMillen men living now at 219 Ferncliff Av. Samuel M. McMillen worked as an editor fo the Springfield Daily Democrat at Buckingham Block and also help the position of secretery and treasurer for the The Democrat Co. He used the stationary to write letters to his father-in-law, Edward Hill (below). Additionally, Samuel M. worked as a collector for the US Internal Revenue office, located in Springfield’s Post Office Building. A letter addressed to Ella, as Mrs. S. M. McMillen, found in the Francis Rea MacMillen Papers at Marietta College’s Special Collections, attests that Ella did reside at times at the 219 Ferncliff property (below).
The two older sons lived with their father in Springfield while their mother began to travel in the US and abroad to Europe with Francis. One photograph, taken in Springfield, Ohio, shows Francis with his two brothers. To assist Samuel MacMillen in care for the house, they had a few domestics living with them such as Mary O’Brien in 1893 and Bridget Kelly in 1894.
By 1900, the MacMillen men had moved out of Springfield, but the family still needed someone to manage the property on their behalf. Charles (Charley) began traveling with Francis as a manager, Samuel E. was working as an editor elsewhere, and Samuel M. was traveling more for the IRS around Ohio. In 1903 Samuel M. MacMillien died and Charley had the responsibilty to travel to London to inform his mother and Francis with the unfortunate news. Just a few weeks later, Samuel wrote to Ella with more details about her husband’s death. See the transcribed letter below.
Cincinnati, O., Sunday, March 29–1903
My Dearest Mamma;
I presume ere this reaches you that Charley will have arrived bearing to you and dear little Francis the sad news of papa’s death. Fortunately for both Lucia and I we were in Marietta but three days before the end came and had the satisfaction of seeing papa while he was still in possession of all of his faculties. He also had the satisfaction of seeing and approving of Lucia. I shall never forget the meeting between them. We went into the room shortly after Charley had cared for him and found him in good spirits. I led Lucia by the hand. It would have done you good to have seen the look of admiration and love which spread over his face as soon as he laid his eyes on her. He said “and this is my daughter”. He put his arms around her and kissed her and she sat on the edge of the bed and held his hand and talked to him for about ten minutes. We then had to leave the room while he received further care. He expressed the greatest satisfaction with her which to me was the thing I had most wished for. I hope you will feel the same toward her. She was a darling and did much to entertain him and care for him during his last hours. I returned to Cincinnati Sunday night and had hardly gotten settled to work when I receive the telegram from Charley saying that papa was dying. I took the first train for Marietta I arrived at six o’clock in the evening of the day on which he died too late however to see him before he passed away. Charley says that I may be thankful that I was spared that pain.
I presume, knowing you as I do, that you will be grieved that you were not here and will be inclined to censure yourself for remaining away. I want to say this however. Every one in Marietta says that you did exactly the right thing and that it would have been simply foolish for you to have come to America. Every one knows the situation and appreciates the fact that you were doing just as papa wanted you to despite your great desire to be with him. And as for papa I believe if you had put in an appearance he would have been greatly provoked despite his intense desire to see you. As you know he worshiped Francis and anything which might have occured (sic) to in any way jepordize (sic) his carreer (sic) would habe been a source of great pain to him. Of course Charley will tell you of all of the details so I need not enter into them. You must not fail to give him full credit for the wonderful work he has just completed. He is without question the first young man in Marietta today and there is not an individual in the city who is held in the esteem in which he is considered. He is the pride of the men, women, girls and boys. His devotion to papa has been saintly. In regard to Francis’ carreer (sic) we did not have a very satisfactory talk other than that he was to use his own judgement in managing his affairs with this exception, viz., that no contracts are to signed until I have seen them and know what is to be done. I think in that respect my business experience makes me a little better able to judge than he. I am thoroughly in accord with the London movement as I have come to the conclusion that an artist no matter how great may be his continental reputation must have success and be a sensation in London before he can do anything in America. Of course I do not know what his chances will be in London but I am convinced that all the people will have to do is to hear him play once and he wil be the lion of the hour. You must keep me posted as to his doings as I am in better position to attend to the writing and newspaper end of the business now than ever before.
Now as to my plans, I presume you will want to know a little of them. Charley no doubt received my special delivery letter sent to him at Marietta before he left. I have accepted the position of assistant manager of the Cincinnati office of the Carnegie Steel Company. It is without question the best job I ever had in my life and a stepping stone to much greater things in a short time. The place pays to start $100 a month an increase of $20 over what I am getting here. Then I have the promise of $1500 a year as soon as my work is such as to warrant it which will no doubt take about three months to reach. In addition to this the hours are much better. I will go to work at 8.30 in the morning have an hour and a half for lunch and quite (sic) at 5.30. In addition I have my evenings to devote to Lucia and also Saturday afternoons. All in all it is a great step in the right direction for me and an opportunity which you can bet I will take advantage of this time. They say that a second chance never comes to a man but I believe this is my second chance and I am not going to let it get away this time.”
(Last page of the letter is not present)
Due to Samuel’s death and the traveling schedule of Charles in Europe, the family hired C.B. Kissell & Son, Real Estate and Loans, to tend to the Ferncliff property back in Springfield. The Kissell firm sent several letters about the Ferncliff property to Charles Macmillen and to his grandfather, Edward Hill at Marietta. Unbeknownst to Kissell & Son, they needed help from the family just as Samuel M. MacMillen died in Marietta and as Charles had left America to take the news to Ella and his brother Francis. While both Charles and Edward represented the interests of Ella, who continued to remain abroad, given the death of Ella’s husband, her father, Edward took responsibility to correspond with Kissell and son. It is unlikely that Charles returned to America for some time as he continued to represent Francis, just as Samuel outlined in the letter above.
Four letters from C. B. Kissell and Son provide a unique glimpse into the structure of the house that is no longer standing, and for which we do not have any photographs of the interior. Since the house was a middle class home that was frequently inhabited by yearly or monthly tenants, it is difficult to get a sense of the house. Yet, Kissell’s concerns about securing a good tenant, the requests of the potential tenant for repairs, and the agreement from Charles, and his grandfather Edward, to proceed with said requests, allow us to look into the house and its structure.
Letter 1: March 16th, 1903. C. B. Kissell and Son write to Charles McMillen at Marietta to alert him to a new tenant named Mr. Cola. He has agreed to a month’s rent of $30, but would like to secure a year’s lease. Mr. Cola assessed the property and found at least four problems with 219 Ferncliff. Kissell stresses the attractiveness of Mr. Cola as a tenant for his has secure employment with the Superior Drill Company and the fact that he has two children. Kissell requests an urgent reply either by phone or return mail so that the lease could be set up for April 1st. Details of the problems:
- “The floor in the bathroom has never been replaced since the plumbing was attended to.”
- “The motor has never been returned to the house.”
- “The constant rains which we have had during the past few weeks, has caved in the walls of the vault, and this should be attended to at once.”
- ‘”[T]he walls of the kitchen and pantry be painted.”
Letter 2 (The most detailed letter on the 219 Ferncliff Property): March 23rd, 1903. C. B. Kissell and Son write to E. F. Hill (Ella’s father) at Marietta, Ohio responding to “your letter.” Apparently Edward Hill addressed the matter as Charles was not available to respond to the letter from Kissell and Son. To ensure that the request is clear, Kissell outlines the specific details of a proposition. If these items are addressed, Mr. Colie (Cola) offered to pay $40.00 a month for the rent. The property is in desperate need of repairs and for a reliable tenant. Kissel writes: “We think it is an exceptional opportunity to get a tenant who will take splendid care of the property and at the same time get a large rent. The former tenants left a great deal of rubbish etc., in the back yard, which we will have to have cleaned away.” The fact that Mr. Colie identified key problems with the house and wished for these repairs is reasonable to Kissell and therefore he makes the case to Hill to go ahead with these repairs. The letter ends with Kissell asking for an immediate response either by wire, phone or return mail. The details of repairs are listed below:
- paint the kitchen and the pantry
- put “a new platform” “on the cistern”
- repair the cesspool “where it has caved in”
- relay the “floor of the bathroom” “where it was torn up for repairing plumbing”
- place a motor in the house
- install new “hot water tank” because “the plumbers” say the current one is “rusted through and cannot be repaired”
- install a “cheap board partition through” a bedroom that gives access to the bathroom
- remove the “inside blinds” and place them “in the attic”
- paint the “outside of the house” as it “is very badly in need of paint”
- repair “the porch steps, as the supports of several of these has rotted away”
Letter 3: March 25th, 1903. Edward Hill sent a telegram to Kissell and Son to confirm his agreement to the proposition as outlined in the March 23rd letter for the the work needed to secure the new tenant. C. B. Kissell and Son write again to E. F. Hill at Marietta, Ohio with the expressed concern of “how the lease should be made.” Given that all the MacMillens were elsewhere and unable to tend to the property, Kissell asks: “Has there been any administrator of the estate appointed, who can sign the lease, or is it in the name of Mrs. McMillen?” Kissell apparently needed a formal confirmation of Hill’s role as the administrator for the property and finally asks him: “When do you expect to be in Springfield? We would like to have you make it as soon as possible, so that you can see in just what condition the house is.”
Letter 4: April 18th, 1903. C. B. Kissell and Son write to E. F. Hill at Marietta, Ohio to seek funds to cover the expenses for the repairs. See the full letter below.
After Samuel’s death in 1903, Ella and her sons had fewer ties to Springfield, Ohio. This prompted her to sell the property Ollie B. Abbott on December 29th, 1905. Just a few months earlier Ella had been living in London and her father wrote to her there (see below).
Ella travled frequently with Francis on his concert tours as Samuel was busy either as publisher of the Marietta Times or working for the IRS after 1890 until his death in 1903. In 1912, Ella and Francis had been living in Brussels from March to September. By the end of the month, Ella requested special permission to travel to Russia as she wished to take Francis to play there during the next two years. She eventually traveled to Russia, but then in March of 1913 she needed an emergency passport (left) to allow her to have “protection” while traveling in Russia for the next year.
In February 1932, the Springfield Daily News announced the death of Samuel E. MacMillen, “brother of famous violinist.” Ella I. MacMillen was still alive and living in New York City, where Samuel and Lucia lived. She died in 1943.
Profile by D. Brooks Hedstrom, History, Wittenberg University. More details on Francis Rae Macmillen will appear in the future.
National Archives and Records Administration (NARA); Washington D.C.; General Emergency Passport Applications, 1907-1923; Collection Number: ARC Identifier 1244182 / MLR Number A1 543; Box #: 4348; Volume #: 132. (Ancestry.com)
National Archives and Records Administration (NARA); Washington D.C.; Passport Applications, January 2, 1906 – March 31, 1925; Collection Number: ARC Identifier 583830 / MLR Number A1 534; NARA Series: M1490; Roll #: 178. (Ancestory.com)
Obituary for Ella I. Macmillen. Marietta Times. 3/24/1943 7.2