The Poop On One Fort Collins Landmark

PHOTO BY MARTY METZGER This door to nowhere once opened into a 2nd floor outhouse at the Miller Block.

Marty Metzger

Anyone perusing Old Town, and whose neck isn’t irreversibly locked into texting position, can look up at a very unique door at the back of the Miller Block.

The building was erected in 1888 by Frank Miller Sr., who immigrated from Denmark to the United States with older brother Robert in 1868. Miller paid $3,000 cash for the lot at the Linden/Walnut corner. He doled out a mere $12,000 to build the brick structure.

PHOTO BY MARTY METZGER Frank Miller, Sr. built the Miller Block in 1888 for just $12,000. The 130-year-old building once had a 2-story outhouse.

Originally known as the “New Miller Red Stone Block,” it housed Miller’s liquor business and his dry goods concern called “The Fair Store,” which survived for 52 years. Its slogan was “Remember the Fair for Dinnerware.”

Also among the block’s first occupants was W.S. Bernheim’s Ready-to-Wear: “Fancy goods, cloaks, wraps, ready made dresses” for the ladies, and “Silk hats and neck wear” for gentlemen.

The red sandstone with white sandstone trim landmark remains jauntily highlighted by decorative iron work that luckily survived diligent WWI scrap drives. The building’s backside is the former location of a two-story brick outhouse, eventually removed in 1948; only that neck-tilting, up-high door remains.

A 1948 newspaper article noting that demolition touted the towering toilet as “the only two-story outhouse in Fort Collins and perhaps in the world”.

Now, that’s quite a designation. Just think about it. Nowhere else on the entire planet could a person do… or, doo-doo… their duty! (But there actually were other multi-level loos in America”s earlier days.)

The Fort Collins privy, which was designed to service both first and second floors of the Miller Block at 150 and 162 Linden Street, apparently wasn’t as as used it was unique. At the time of its demise, it still stood at the back of the Poudre Valley Tin Shop at 158 Linden but hadn’t been utilized for 50 years. Which means that ‘things’ in the lofty lav had flowed merrily along for a mere 10 years.

Miller was as creative as was his penthouse potty. Known as a Jack-of-All-Trades, he’d been in the hotel business in Des Moines, Iowa since stepping off the boat from Denmark before heading to Black Hawk in 1872. There, he went from mining into the liquor trade before coming to Fort Collins in 1882. Also a noted photographer and artist, many of Miller’s works can still be seen around Fort Collins.

Miller’s son, Frank Jr., also left his mark in many ways. An avid sharp shooter who eventually travelled with Buffalo Bill, young Frank practiced his aim wherever and whenever possible. Bullet holes in the brick wall at the back of 154 Linden tell that pistol-packing tale.

All was not fun, games and success for Miller Sr. After losing his business, wife Christine, and son, Miller lived the remainder of his life in the Linden Hotel, which now houses local science shop “Nature’s Own”.

PHOTO BY MARTY METZGER Frank Miller, Sr. spent his last years living at the Linden Hotel, now home to Nature’s Own where people claim to have seen Miller’s ghost.

Its employees have for many years told tales of Miller’s ghost still residing there. Customers have likewise seen that spirited spirit near one of his paintings at the back of the store. If approached, the apparition vanishes.

Other enterprises that have called the Miller Block home over its 130-years include shoe repair shops, clothing stores, an art studio, three night clubs, a chicken hatchery, tin shop, restaurants, a propane dealer, variety store, tobacco shop, a market, radio repair, and a radiator shop.

Current tenants include Bondi Beach Bar and Little Bird Bakeshop. Bakery owner Amy Wyatt, who opened her mouth-watering business in December 2010, said she was unaware of the Miller Block’s history, including its previous double-decker outhouse. She assumes the interior behind the exterior door is covered over, as a succession of apartments and businesses have occupied the space.

PHOTO BY MARTY METZGER One of the current Miller Block tennants is Bondi Beach Bar, which sports a brass plaque about the history of the building.

Perhaps, like Wyatt, those folks are unaware of the luxury they missed out on. Had they been present in their leased spaces between 1888-1898 and nature called, it would have been just a few convenient steps to answer!

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