The J. Lawson Miller Collection

In 1981, the Detroit Historical Society received a large donation of the architectural drawings and papers of Detroit architect, J. Lawson MillerThe collection remained in storage and was mostly unknown until it was catalogued a few years ago, which revealed the full extent and value of the donationAs it happens, the group of over 300 drawings is one of the largest examples of everyday architectural projects in Detroit in the 1900s-30s that the Society holds in its archival collections. 

A Detroit Architect  

John Lawson Miller was born in Lake Orion, Michigan, in 1878, and was the son of Seymon B. and Hannah L. (Woodley) Miller—his father was a miller by trade. 

His grandfather, Nicholas B. Miller, was a blacksmith and was one of the early pioneers in the Lake Orion area. After high school, J. Lawson Miller moved to Detroit and spent several years working for various architects and firms including Baxter & Hill, S. (Samuel) C. Falkinburg, Joseph E. Mills, and Rogers & McFarlane.   

Eventually, he became the head draftsman at the office of S. C. Falkinburg and became a partner in the firm in 1904. After Falkinburg’s death in 1905, J. Lawson Miller carried on the architecture business mostly on his own.  

Detroit City directory listings indicated that his office was located in the Goebel Building on Cadillac Square. His long-time home in Detroit was located at 55 Rosedale Court between Woodward Avenue and John R. Street just north of downtownHe married Detroit resident, Miss Nellie Gooney, in New York City in 1904It is not known if they had any childrenMiller was a member of several fraternal organizations and was also a charter member of the Michigan Society of Architects. He died in Detroit in 1969 and was buried beside his parents in a family plot at Evergreen Cemetery in Lake Orion. 

Architectural Impact  

Although he did not design any of the large buildings that became the well-known landmarks of the Detroit skyline, Miller developed a solid architectural practice which included multi-family flats, small and mid-sized apartment buildings, commercial office/retail buildings and small factories.  

He also designed a large number of single-family homes for middle and upper middle-class residents in the growing city and adjacent communities. 

A biographical sketch of J. Lawson Miller from The City of Detroit, Michigan, 1701-1922, Volume IV, p. 503, by Clarence M. Burton, notes “He enjoys a high reputation for fairness and honorable dealings with his patrons and is widely known as a remarkably original and artistic architect, his work being unique in many respects, and at all times pleasing to the eye.”  Some of his architectural works still exist today.

Browse the Collection

See all of our items from the J. Lawson Miller Collection here