My Thoughts About One of My Favorite Places--Northeastern Indiana's Amish Country

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Shipshewana Walldogs, Part Sixteen: M. Y. Miller General Merchandise

For the last of my series on the sixteen murals painted by the Shipshe Walldogs in summer 2014, I took a closer look at the M.Y. Miller General Merchandise mural.  This one can be found on the north side of the Forks Grocery building on State Road 5, and it is the northernmost of the murals.

Who was M.Y. Miller?  I thought I might have trouble with this one, since “Miller” is such a common name in the area.  But since the mural showed the year “1925” on the calendar, I went to and started with the 1930 census.  And there he was, Mahlon Y. Miller.  (And with a first name like “Mahlon,” it’s no wonder he used initials!)

In 1930 Mahlon Y. Miller, age 42, and wife Bessie lived with 7-year-old son Robert on Morton Street in a home they owned valued at $1000.  His occupation was “proprietor, general store.”  He is listed as a World War One veteran, which led me to look for his draft card.

Mahlon’s 1917 draft card says he is 30 years old and medium in height and build, with brown eyes and dark brown hair.  He was born in Lagrange County, Indiana in 1887.  His occupation was clerk in the general store of J.E. Sunthimer, who was the subject of another post in this series.  He claimed exemption from the draft due to a dependent, his wife.  But he was drafted anyway, as the May 18, 1918 issue of the Fort Wayne News & Sentinel reported that he and seventeen other local boys were headed for Camp Zachary Taylor, Kentucky for training.  So, when was he married?

I next found an Indiana marriage record.  Mahlon was married to Miss Bessie Alberta Nelson in November 1910.  So, Mahlon should be on his own in the 1910 census and married in the 1920 census.

Sure enough, the 1910 census shows Mahlon living with his parents, Yost and Elizabeth, and his younger siblings.  He is 23 and works as a clerk in an unnamed grocery store.  It appears Mahlon was destined for the retail trade from his youth.

The 1920 census shows Mahlon working as a clerk in the Sunthimer store, now being run by J.E.’s son Charles after his father’s death.  Mahlon and Bessie own a house on Middlebury Street, right next door to Mahlon’s boss, Charles Sunthimer.  So, Mahlon opened his own store some time between the 1920 census and the date of 1925 shown on the mural. 

The 1940 census tells us that he is still the operator of his own general store, where his wife Bessie is the clerk.  It’s not an easy life; the week before the census, Bessie put in 30 hours, but Mahlon put in 78.  And in 1939 he worked 52 weeks, so there were no vacations. But he and Bessie and son Robert, now 17 and still in school, had a good life; they owned a home worth $1,600 on Morton Street and lived in the same neighborhood as such entrepreneurs as W.L. Reifsnider and Edward Wolfe.  Not bad for a man with (according to the census) only an 8th grade education.

Mahlon appears in one more record—his World War Two draft card in 1942.  At age 55 he still has a store in Shipshewana.  He is 5’10”, weighs 185 pounds, and has brown eyes and gray hair.  His nearest relative is his wife Bessie. tells us that Mahlon lived to a ripe old age, passing away at age 88 in 1975.  He is buried at Scott Cemetery with his wife Bessie, who predeceased him.

Thank you, Walldogs, for your beautiful work in Shipshewana.  I’m glad I was able to be there to watch you at work.  Your sixteen murals are a wonderful addition to one of my favorite places in the entire world.