Warren P. Miller was a prominent architect, inventor, and minor politician in the mid-19th century. He arrived in Marysville from New York in 1850, to make his fortune designing buildings for the arriving gold miners who were then pouring into the area because of the Gold Rush. He immediately began buying auctioned land that the county had repossessed due to unpaid debts or taxes. By the following year, he also began building and operating public hay scales. By 1854, he had earned about $10,000—which, adjusted for inflation, is equivalent to about $400,000 in modern money. By 1855, he designed the first Yuba County Courthouse, was selected as a founding director of the Marysville Library Association, and was elected as an alderman to the Marysville City Council.
Around this time, he married Mehitable “Hettie” Livermore (a recent arrival from Spencer, Massachusetts) and had his first child. He immediately began the design and construction of the house that is now known as the Mary Aaron Memorial Museum, which he designed to be his own family home. The house was completed in 1856, and he and his family immediately moved in.
Miller designed most of his buildings, including the Mary Aaron Memorial Museum, in the Gothic Revival style. He designed so many of them in Marysville that he single-handedly made this style more prominent in Marysville than anywhere else in northern California, giving Marysville a signature architectural style that survives, to some extent, to this day.
In 1858, the California State Fair was held in Marysville. Miller designed the first Marysville Elementary School that year and also designed the State Agricultural Pavilion where the state fair was held (in the area bounded by B Street, C Street, 5th Street and 6th Street in Marysville). The fair brought Miller’s many Marysville architectural designs to the attention of a huge statewide audience for the first time. Miller won medals and $450 for the three inventions he exhibited at the fair: a self-regulating windmill, the first practical working model of a tractor/crawler to be built and demonstrated in the United States, and an excavator/grader to be pulled by the tractor.
See the patent application for one of his tractor inventions here.
In 1862, with the Civil War raging, he designed the spire that was added to St. Joseph’s Catholic Church and also patented an improved gun turret for Civil War warships. In 1863, he sold the family home (now the Mary Aaron Memorial Museum) and moved to San Francisco with his family, hoping to sell his gun turret invention for defending the California coast. He even traveled to Washington, D.C. to make his sales pitch to the War Department, but he was not successful.
However, in 1866, he patented another new invention: replaceable teeth for industrial saw blades. This brought him considerable money when he sold the manufacturing rights to a New York company in 1869. He moved back to New York with his family that year, and remained there until he died of cancer in 1888.