James Vester Miller had been a boy when his mother, a Rutherfordton slave, had responded to Emancipation by taking her three children to Asheville and getting a job as a cook in a boardinghouse—some say Julia Wolfe’s boardinghouse, Old Kentucky Home. Growing up, Miller hung around construction sites, did odd jobs, and demonstrated his skill. “He apprenticed with the best brick masons in the city, earning a reputation for his eye for perfection,” Suzannah Smith Miles wrote in “WNC Magazine,” March 2012. “Miller worked for some of the top contractors before starting his company, Miller & Sons Construction, specializing in churches and commercial buildings.” His buildings include many that survive: St. Matthias Episcopal Church, St. James A.M.E. Church, Hopkins Chapel, Mt. Zion Missionary Baptist Church, and the Municipal Building (which houses Asheville’s police and fire departments. Miller also built the U.S. Post Office that had once occupied Pritchard Park; and constructed Richard Sharp Smith’s YMI Cultural Center. Miller died in 1940, and is buried in Violet Hill Cemetery for African Americans, which he’d helped established. The dedication of a new memorial plaque honoring Miller took place in front of the Municipal Building, July 27, 2017. Photo courtesy, Miller’s granddaughter, Andrea Clarke.
--Rob Neufeld, RNeufeld@charter.net