During my recent stay in Kinnelon, I had the great opportunity to meet with a local historian, Roger Huss and Monsignor Carroll of the local parish, the Our Lady of the Magnificat. Both of them took time out of their days to meet with me and discuss the history of this area that Daisy and Henry called "Bott's." It was in this area that Daisy Bacon, editor of the best selling women's fiction magazine, and perhaps the best selling women's magazine of its time, LOVE STORY MAGAZINE, ventured out on the weekends with Henry Wise Miller. Daisy was living her own love story; albeit an illicit one, because Henry was married.
While I approached meeting Roger and Father Carroll with some trepidation - after all, the subject of my search was a woman who carried on an extra-marital affair with the man who built a chapel for the church with his own money and then donated all of the land to the church before he died. But I couldn't have been more wrong with my preconceived notions: both Roger and the Mosignor were very generous and enthusiastic about my research, and even gave me a tour of one of the houses that Daisy loved.
Before we met with the monsignor, Roger and I met at the chapel and traded notes on what we knew about Henry Miller and this magical area. This post will be about the houses that Henry built; in a later post I will tell you about the chapel that he built.
The area of Kinnelon, New Jersey lies in the northern area of New Jersey, about 20 minutes north of Morristown, the seat of Morris County. It is a heavily wooded area, so much so that from wherever you are, the sky is partially obstructed by the number of maples, birch and oak trees that have grown here, quietly, for hundreds of years. The area is flush with lakes and ponds of all sizes. Great blue herons, ducks, screaming blue jays and woodpeckers share the waters and the trees with each other.
Off of Kinnelon Road, Fayson Lakes Road winds through thick woods. During the 1920s, this period became a popular place for well-to-do people to escape the city. Henry was one of these people, buying 80 acres of thick and remote woods off of Fayson Lakes Road. Some time in the next few years, Henry built two stone cottages, using some of the best materials available. A descendant of several prominent men, including a senator, a president of Harvard, and an officer who served under the Duke of Wellington, Henry himself had served in the Navy during the Spanish American War. With such strong naval ties, Henry followed the tradition of using applewood from retired ships for the paneling in the interior. After their completion, Henry planted two English Copper Beech trees, which he purportedly brought himself from England and planted in honor of his wife, Alice Duer Miller. Those trees now dwarf the house as you can see in the photo below.
Alice, a writer, poet, suffragette, mathmetician, was probably aware of the relationship between Henry and Daisy. It's hard to imagine that she wouldn't be, because Daisy and Henry were practically inseperable from the late 1920s through until early 1940s. During that time, Alice lived in New York, and according to an article in the NEW YORKER, she "hated the country."
Daisy, on the other hand, was enchanted by the area. After all, this was a woman who felt that her life as an editor had been one befallen on her by necessity. Her real life, she felt, was in the country with a library of good books. She and Henry came up often, and sometimes she even came and stayed alone while Henry traveled. On those lonely nights, with only the noises of the nocturnal animals to disturb her, she would venture outside into the darkness just to look at the house illuminated by the interior lights.
The drive to Kinnelon from New York City could have been close to an hour and half, maybe two hours back in 1930, before there were interstate highways and cars that travel at the speeds they do today. Nevertheless, Daisy came up "to the country" almost every weekend according to her sister's journals from the period. Here she helped Henry clean up the property, plant, set up the cottages and just plain enjoyed life without the pressures of her job and the noise of New York City.
Monsignor Carroll met with Roger and I and took us on a tour of one of the cottages. It is the bigger of the two houses. While the history records note that Henry took up living in the smaller of the two cottages and used the bigger of the two for a "studio and a workspace," I question that. For one thing, the bigger cottage has the beautiful appointments, and ay pictures I have of Daisy, Henry, and Daisy's half-sister Esther, are in front of the bigger cottage.
This cottage has been expanded since the church was given the property. However, the church was very thoughtful as to how it was changed. All of the expansion has been in the back of the house, so when you are in the front of the property, it looks almost exactly the same as it did when Henry built it. A new dining room and kitchen were added later to the back of the house, but the exterior back wall of the house was not torn down to do so. Instead, the stone exterior was left intact and is now one wall in the hallway between the dining room and the bedrooms. The only difference to the front is this area that Esther stands next to in the photo below; a window was installed on this wall to add light by transferring a window that was originally on the back exterior. So even that change was done with original materials.
When I walked inside, the living room took my breath away, both due to the beauty of the design and the gleaming paneling and leaded windows with diamond-shaped pattern that immediately transported me back to England. It looks like it probably did when it was first constructed. It doesn't take much to imagine Henry and Daisy relaxing next to the fireplace in the wing-back chairs.
The Monsignor, Roger and I wanted to tour the other cottage, which is now occupied by the church's musical director, but he was not at home and we didn't want to intrude. That cottage fell into disrepair after Henry died and his second wife moved away. Apparently, after Henry died, his personal papers were stored in this cottage. Unfortunately, because of damage to that cottage in the years afterwards, these papers were damaged beyond repair, a huge loss not only to me, but to anyone interested in that era of 1920s-1940s. Henry was acquainted with many well-known people in his time and corresponded with many of them.
From what I can gather, the last time Daisy came to the cottage was in the early 1940s. The following years were very tumultuous for everyone. The Second World War started in 1941. Daisy was already dealing with huge changes at Street & Smith with the arrival of a new president, Allen Grammer, in 1937. Not only was she busy with LOVE STORY, but she had to take over the editorship of DETECTIVE STORY MAGAZINE in 1941
She and Henry stopped seeing each other, as best as I can recall, in the 1940-41 period. Daisy dated other people but Henry still came in and out of her life for many years.
Henry himself went through tremendous change in the first five years of the 1940s. Alice Duer Miller wrote the enormously popular poem, "The White Cliffs of Dover" at the beginning of the decade, a poem that turned her into a heroine overnight in England. Then she took ill in 1942 and died. Henry, whether with grief or guilt or both, wrote a book of his life with Alice called ALL OUR LIVES in 1945, a book that practically canonizes his late wife. But at almost the same time of the book's publication, he met a teacher from the mid-west, Audrey Frazier, who he married in 1945. But Daisy was still on his mind; he wrote her several letters in the years afterwards, including the day of his wedding to Audrey. Unfortunately, the letters are lost, but Esther's journals show Henry had contact with Daisy as late as 1947.
It was Audrey whose Catholic faith influenced Henry to build the chapel and eventually be baptized in the Catholic faith, and donate his 80 acres to the church. His funeral in 1954 was the first mass conducted in the chapel that he lovingly designed with no expense spared. At Audrey's suggestion, he dedicated the chapel to the memory of his first wife, Alice Duer Miller.
I want to thank Rogert Huss (left) and Monsignor Carroll (right) for so generously sharing their knowledge with me and for giving me a tour of the properties. It goes without saying that their recollections have helped me put the pieces together of this fascinating story.
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