Couple chronicles Milliken's past in book

Story By Julio Ochoa, Thursday, January 10, 2002 - Greeley, Colorado Tribune



Life in Milliken has changed a lot since Elmer and Helen Stroh were growing up.

Back when they were young, ranchers would drive their cattle right through the town's business district on their way to the train station.

"That was a big event for the kids to watch," Elmer said. "The ranchers got them good and fat and ran them through the streets of Milliken. Everyone would be out in their yards watching." The cattle don't run loose on the streets anymore, and while progress has been slow, the town has grown up since those early days.

The Strohs chronicle the town's beginnings and many of its changes in their recently released book, "A History of Milliken, Colorado. As Told to and Researched by Helen and Elmer Stroh." Helen started the book almost 40 years ago, while working on her family's genealogy. By researching her and Elmer's rich family history in the area, the two authors, both 77, came up with the basis for the non-fiction book.

"The first part of the book is a walk through a growing community like you were walking through town," Elmer said.

With help from longtime Milliken residents, area families and the local paper, the Strohs chronicle the people and events that shaped the small farm town.

"There is something about everybody that can be put in the book," Elmer said.

Elmer Stroh's family settled in the area in 1907, two years before Milliken became a town.

Back then, the Wild West was still untamed, but that didn't bother the Strohs, who were Germans from Russia, Elmer said. His parents worked on the railroads before buying a farm north of Milliken.

When the town was founded in 1909, it was the only wet town in the area.

"It was kind of a wild town back then," Elmer said. "People from Greeley would get inebriated here and take the train back to Greeley where the residents would complain." After a while, Milliken began to get a reputation, leading to an article in the town's newspaper, The Milliken Mail, on May 19, 1911, that read, "Over in Greeley, the mayor has issued orders to policemen that persons returning from Milliken, who can walk 'straight' are not to be molested, holding that the mere fact that they came from Milliken is not sufficient evidence of intoxication. Over here, we maintain that so long as a man can lay on the ground without falling off, he is not unduly inebriated." By 1916, Milliken town officials and residents grew tired of the reputation and the bars were closed down.

Helen and the Marshall family arrived in Milliken in 1927. Her father got a job at the sugar factory and built a house for the family, which arrived a month later.

Helen was only 4 years old when she stepped off the train with her mother.

She can remember her mother trying to get a taxi at the railroad station, but none existed at the time, so they had to walk home. Helen and Elmer met in class at the Milliken school house, where they attended all 12 grades of school.

The two were married after high school and Elmer bought the family farm and expanded it into the surrounding area. "I liked farming," Elmer said. "I think I grew up to be a farmer." During the 1950s, the couple recalls visiting Milliken's popular dance hall, from which programs were broadcast over radio station KFKA in Greeley.

"People came from everywhere to go to that dance club," Elmer said.

On Friday nights, the dance hall hosted a Hispanic dance, illustrating the history of Hispanic integration into Milliken. Elmer can remember traveling outside of Milliken and running into unfamiliar segregation, he said.

"In other towns, things were separated, and that was a jolt to us," he said. "We didn't adhere to it." The couple raised two children in Milliken and wrote the book, in part, to give their grown children a record of their family history, Helen said.

She had no idea the book would be so successful, with sales well over 200 since its publication in December, she said. "It has mushroomed," Helen said. "It has been doing better than I thought it would." Most of the sales have come from the town's residents, who can find parts of their own history in the pages, she said.

The Strohs got a glimpse of Milliken residents' enthusiasm for the book soon after it was published.

"People from the town came in and sat around, looking at the book," Helen said. "They had more fun reminiscing and talking about old times."

Milliken history Some important dates:
* 1909 - Milliken founded.
* 1910 - Town incorporated. Town officials elected.
* 1911 - Town's first water well drilled.
* 1916 - Saloons closed. Milliken became a dry town.
* 1919 - An irrigation system installed to ease the need for domestic water to irrigate lawns and gardens.
* 1927 - A direct telephone line to Greeley from Milliken is completed.
* 1928 - The Colorado Central Power Co. installed new street lights.
* 1937 - Town hall constructed out of natural red stone taken from the mountains near Lyons.
* 1946 - The Milliken Mail stopped operating.
* 1960 - The State Highway department rerouted Colo. 60 through Milliken.
* 1969 - The new post office opened.
* 1971 - The first annual Beef and Bean Day held.
* 1987 - Town's residential streets paved.
* 1988 - New sewer system constructed.
* 1992 - Town officials approved the purchase of water from the Colorado-Big Thompson Project.
* 1996 - New town complex completed.
* 1999 - Greeley officials agreed to a plan to treat Milliken's untreated water and allow the town to buy at least 20 million gallons of treated water per year