On March 16, 1902, Alice and William welcomed a long-awaited child. But sadly, William Henry Miner, Junior, died two weeks later. Alice was now nearly forty years old and unlikely to have another child. Neither she nor William left any record of their feelings about this tragic event, but their decision the following year to embark on the project of expanding and modernizing the Miner family farm was surely related.
John Miner had died in 1893 and left the 144-acre farm to his nephew, but there is no indication that William had any grand plans for the property until November 1902, when he purchased the adjacent farm. In 1903, renovation of the farmhouse–which would eventually become the 47-room Heart’s Delight Cottage–began. Over the next six years, Will would build a new house for Aunt Huldah, a water tower, sheep and dairy barns, piggeries, henhouses, a gristmill, icehouse, cottages for employees, a fish hatchery, a refrigeration plant, greenhouses, and dozens of other structures. At its peak, Heart’s Delight Farm encompassed 15,000 acres and employed 800 people.
Although Chicago remained their legal residence until 1915, over the years William and Alice spent more and more time in Chazy. It was the place where they focused most of their philanthropic efforts and where they received floods of visitors who delighted in the idealized version of country life they experienced at Heart’s Delight Farm.
Among the many friends from Chicago who frequently came to Chazy were Frank W. Gunsaulus and Emma B. Hodge. Both were collectors of Early American decorative arts, and with their guidance, Alice began collecting, too. She started with ceramics (Emma’s area of expertise), with a focus on English and American pieces of the 18th and early 19th century. In 1915, Alice, Emma, and Beatrice Bennett (curator of decorative arts at the Art Institute of Chicago) installed the ceramic collection in Harmony Hall, the guest house at Heart’s Delight Farm.
By this time, Alice’s collection had expanded beyond ceramics, and the idea of starting a museum was taking shape. In 1916, William purchased a building in the center of Chazy Village known as the Old Stone Store, which was remodeled and expanded into a “Colonial Home.” The Alice T. Miner Colonial Collection opened to the public in 1924, just at the moment when interest in early American furniture and decorative arts was reaching its peak.
William Miner died in 1930 from complications following a tonsillectomy. His sudden death was a blow to Alice and to the community for which he had done so much. However, Alice continued to make Chazy her home and remained active in the support of Chazy Central Rural School, Physician’s Hospital, and other institutions dedicated to the education and well-being of the North Country.
To learn more about Alice and William Miner’s life in Chazy, visit the Heart’s Delight Farm Heritage Exhibit at Miner Institute.
Photo at top: Heart’s Delight Cottage