Until recently, “Atha” Willie Miller and the history of Lakeside Stock Farm in Storm Lake, Iowa were somewhat of a mystery in the annals of the Miller family. Why did he go to manage this particular farm in the northwestern Iowa frontier in the 1880s? Thanks to key research contributed by Wendy Cooke of St. Louis, Missouri, we now have a better understanding of the fascinating story of this farm by the lake.

Document sources: Storm Lake Pilot Tribune newspaper; Miller, Robert Anker, Highlights of Miller History; Sanders, Alvin, Shorthorn Cattle: A Series of Historical Sketches, Memoirs and Records of the Breed and Its Development in the United States and Canada. Chicago: Sanders Publishing Co., 1916.
Photos: provided by, and used with the permission of Wendy Cooke, St. Louis, Missouri.

After the American Civil War, Illinois Central Railroad built a line from Chicago to Sioux City, which is located on the Missouri River on the western border of the state of Iowa. Since the “last spike” was driven just west of Storm Lake in 1870, it is possible that land speculators purchased land on both sides of the railway, including land that was to become Lakeside Farm.

We do know that in 1873, Lakeside farm was purchased by Luther Adams, a liquor merchant from Boston. The following glowing report in the September 11, 1878 Storm Lake Pilot Tribune newspaper suggests that speculation was not his main interest in buying the property:


Such is the Name with which Luther Adams’ Buena Vista Possessions Have been Christened
Full Description of the farm, Buildings, Stock Lands, Etc.

Six years ago Luther Adams, a wealthy Boston merchant, visited Storm Lake and was so favorably impressed with the young city, the Lake and the country adjoining that he purchased a body of land at the east end of the Lake and began permanent improvements. Additional purchases of land have been made until eight hundred broad and fertile acres now constitute the Lake Side Stock Farm. It is the intention of Mr. Adams to make this the model farm of Iowa. He is possessed of ample means and no labor or expense will be spared to bring about the full fruition of his wishes. The farm is located at the east end of the Lake and has a lakefront of one-half a mile. Five hundred acres are now in cultivation and next year will add to the area of titled land. Mr. Adams’ possessions comprise land of every valuable description. High rolling prairie gives ample room for the cultivation of all the farm products proper while the lowlands afford most excellent meadow privileges and stock ranges. All the land is very finely located and in richness and value is not excelled in the West. The building place is on a rise of ground from which the towns of Storm Lake, Nowell and Alta can be seen, while the silvery Lake and the prairie, dotted with farm houses and school houses, lays like a map before the occupants of the Lake Side Stock Farm. The distance from Storm Lake is three miles and the farm is reached by an excellent road running near the lakeshore. The improvements made during the past six years are numerous and valuable. The farmhouse is 32 x 60 in size, two stories high, and rests upon a granite foundation. The cellar is the same size as the house and is dry and perfect – warm in the winter and cool in the summer – thus furnishing ample protection to vegetables, fruits, milk, butter, etc., throughout the most rigorous winter or hottest summer. The building contains all modern conveniences and is well and elegantly furnished throughout. Surrounding and near the house are nine acres of healthy, luxuriant grove.

Between the house and barns is a Stover Wind Mill for pumping water with which to furnish the barns and stock yards. But to cover the possible contingency of a failure of the well to furnish the needed supply Mr. Adams caused to be constructed, near the north side of the main barn, an eleven hundred barrel cistern from which water may be drawn. Pipes lead from this reservoir to the cattle yards, hog yards, etc. The main barn is 42 x 60, with eighteen foot posts, and is constructed and finished throughout with the best material and best workmanship. It rests upon a granite foundation and is surmounted by a handsome cupola or observatory. A broad driveway extends through the centre. On the north side are stalls for ten head of horses and at the west end a grain bin of five hundred bushel capacity. The south side is devoted exclusively to cattle and there are stalls for twenty head. All the stalls are of modern style and are supplied with the conveniences which experience and time have demonstrated as the best and most useful. All the offal from the stables falls to the basement below and is then carted away. The mow capacity is fifty tons of hay. For the purpose of elevating this a Harpoon Hay Fork is used.

At right angles with the main barn and running south is a cattle shed 16 x 260 feet in size. This is substantially built, is open to the east and affords protection from the storms of winter and heat of summer. The cattle yards consist of eight acres enclosed by a tight board fence eight feet high. Conveniently located is a pair of Fairbanks’ Stock scales. Southwest of the main barn is a building 28 x 60 and two stories high – three stories, counting the basement. It was designed and is used as a corn crib, granary, and hog house. The foundation, like all the other buildings, is granite – regular masonry. In the basement are twenty pens for brood sows. These pens are arranged for the proper care and safety of the young pigs and are complete and perfect. Connected with the inside or covered pens are outside or open pens. The arrangement for changing animals from one pen to another is also very convenient. Water is brought into the basement from the well and cistern before mentioned. At the south end is a cooking apparatus wherewith the feed for the swine is prepared. In the first and second stories above the basement are cribs and bins which will hold six thousand bushels of corn and a like quantity of other grain. All the arrangements for storing and handling these large quantities of Iowa products are arranged with a view of convenience and rapidity. In the hog house are thirty-two brood sows of the purest and best blood – Berkshire and Poland China. The little pigs and half-grown pigs are decidedly numerous – in fact they run about so lively that we could not count them. Two large, finely-formed and pure-blooded boars occupy substantial pens. One of these fine animals is a Poland China and the other a Berkshire. In the cattle department are many specimens of the bovine species. “Demon,” a pure-blooded Shorthorn bull, fourteen months old, stands at the head of the list. When one year old he weighed nine hundred pounds. He is one of the Mary family of Short-Horns and is from the stock farm of Col. Blandon, of Fort Dodge. “Byron,” a ten months Shorthorn bull, from Gilletts’ herd in Illinois, is a very promising animal. Altogether there is a herd of fifty head of Short-Horns on the Adams farm – all pureblooded. One hundred steers are now being fed for market. One hundred and fifty head of hogs are also destined for the market. Twelve head of work horses, three yoke of oxen, five farm wagons and carts furnish motive power and transportation for the various operations of the farm – one of the vehicles being an old fashioned Vermont oxcart.

During the past present season, the following crops were raised, viz.:
Wheat……….. 40 acres
Corn……….. 120 acres
Rye…………..50 acres
Barley………. 40 acres
Oats………… 40 acres
Timothy……… 80 acres

And large quantities of potatoes and vegetables of every kind. One hundred and fifty fruit trees are growing rapidly and in a few years will furnish an abundant supply of apples, etc. Considerable attention has been given to the cultivation of grapes, strawberries, raspberries and other small fruits. The vines and bushes are all doing well and will soon furnish their luscious fruit.

The machinery used on the farm consists of one McCormack reaper and self-binder, one Eureka and one improved buckeye mower, seeders, corn planters, corn plows, gang plows, stalk cutter, pulverizing harrow, roller, etc., etc. All the machinery is first-class and when not in use is securely housed in the ample barns. Three hundred tons of hay will be put up this season.
More than four miles of board fence with cedar posts have been built and still the good work goes on. Next year a large additional area of land will be put under cultivation and a vast amount of farm work done. At two places on the estate are springs of living water. These do not cease to flow during the driest summers, and are invaluable in furnishing water for stock. Taking the farm altogether and in every way it is a most valuable one. It is by far the best farm in Buena Vista County and it is the design of Mr. Adams to make it the model farm of the State. Up to the present date $50,000 have been expended for land, improvements, stock, machinery, etc. During all these years Mr. Luther Adams had resided in Boston and made annual or semiannual visits to the West. His brother, Frank, lives in the farm house and has charge of the farm work, erection of buildings, planting and harvesting of crops, building fences, purchase and sale of stock, etc., and under his wise and judicious direction and management everything moves with clock-work regularity. Mr. J.M. Russell, Esq., of this city, was the architect and builder of most of the buildings upon the Adams farm and they are models of good workmanship.

– Success, say we, to the Lake Side Stock Farm!

Lakeside farm was obviously well located for marketing livestock, being beside a railway which ended at the Chicago stockyards.

Main barns at Lakeside Stock Farm.

Clydesdale stallion barn at Lakeside Stock Farm.

An additional news item appeared in the November 20, 1878 Storm Lake Pilot Tribune newspaper:


The Lakeside Farm, owned by Luther Adams and managed by his brother Frank, has recently made some valuable improvements and additions. Among others a double-headed eight horse power Wind Mill for grinding grain has been erected. The wheel is 20′ in diameter and with a slight breeze will furnish sufficient power to grind grain with great rapidity. Another improvement consists of 416 feet of shedding for stock. A car load of Shorthorn, Guernsey and Jersey cattle, from Worcester, Mass, make an important addition to the cattle equipment of this fine farm. Twenty head of Cotswold and Southdown sheep recently arrived and found a home on the farm by the lakeside.

In his book, Sanders notes that hundreds of pure-bred Shorthorn herds were established after the American Civil War. In face of increasing competition, the dream of the Adams brothers of achieving fame for their livestock farm was more difficult to realize.

Meanwhile, in Ontario, the Millers had observed for several years that the offspring of animals they sold to Americans were out-showing theirs at the International Livestock Exposition in Chicago and at the Canadian National Exhibition in Toronto. “Atha” Willie concluded that the difference was due to the fodder. The best cattle feed in Canada at that time was the traditional turnip. But mid-western American states were able to grow corn, so their livestock farms began feeding corn to their beef cattle.

To achieve his ambition of having a prominent livestock farm in America, Adams decided that “Atha” Willie Miller was the man for the job. From “Atha” Willie’s perspective, to go to where the corn grew, and to work at a dream farm operation was an opportunity he couldn’t pass up. Sanders gives the following introduction to the Adams-Miller collaboration at Lakeside Stock Farm:

In the autumn of 1886 Mr Luther Adams of Boston, Mass., who owned a large farm at Storm Lake, Ia., commissioned Mr William Miller to proceed to Scotland and select for his account the best young cattle obtainable. Miller was admirably qualified for the work. As we have already seen, he belonged to a family that had been identified from an early period with the importing and breeding trade in Canada. As a young man he had bought cattle and sheep in Great Britain; and his long and intimate connection with the livestock interests of North America had given him an experience, a seasoned judgment and an acquaintance on both sides of the water not excelled by any other individual of his time. A shrewd, keen-witted, “all-around” judge, “Willie” Miller ranks as one of the makers of American Short-horn history.

Luck was on “Atha” Willie’s side. Sanders writes that a quarantine prevented importation of British stock into Canada at that time, and the only sales outlet for Scottish breeders was to America. With major competitors on the sidelines, “Atha” Willie visited his old haunts, and was able to buy the cream of the Scottish Shorthorn crop for Adams over the next three years.

The shipment of 1886. – Canadian quarantine restrictions had rendered impossible the further forwarding of the Sittyton surplus to Mr Davidson, so it came to pass that Mr Cruickshank’s final American outlet was through the medium of Mr Adams. Arriving at Aberdeenshire Mr Miller repaired at once to Sittyton. Mr Cruickshank was well sold out of bulls at the time, having but one bull for sale that was deemed worthy of importation. [Amos “The Silent Sage of Sittyton” Cruickshank of Aberdeenshire had the best herd of Scotch Shorthorns in the world at that time at his Sittyton farm. Cruickshank sold a few cattle to the Millers, but he developed a special business relationship with James I. Davidson of Sittyton Grove farm at Balsam, Ontario. So many Sittyton cattle were sold to Davidson that he became famous for being Cruickshank’s North American outlet.]

After buying this bull calf and Sittyton’s seven best heifers, “Atha” Willie visited several other famous Aberdeenshire herds, including Collynie and Uppermill. From William Duthie at Collynie, he bought the two best bulls and four heifers. Sanders writes how “Atha” Willie acquired the bull Cupbearer:

The yearling bull Cupbearer…sold by Mr Duthie to an Ontario breeder and sent to Liverpool for shipment, but on account of the Canadian quarantine proclamation he had been returned to Collynie, whereupon Mr Miller secured him for Mr Adams…became the champion show bull of America.

He also picked the best that W. S. Marr at Uppermill had to offer, a bull calf and three heifers.

“Atha” Willie Miller, with family and household members, on the porch of the manager’s residence at Lakeside Stock Farm in 1886.

About 1887, Sanders writes:

The memorable purchase of 1887.- In the fall of 1887 Mr Miller once again visited Scotland, purchasing no less than thirty-one head of heifers and thirty-nine young bulls, all from the herds of Cruickshank, Duthie, Marr, and Campbell – the largest importation ever made direct from Aberdeenshire to the United States. The value of this lot of cattle to American herds can scarcely yet be fairly estimated. [Sanders’ opinion nearly 30 years later.]

Sanders footnotes that “Atha” Willie also bought a Thistle Ha’ bull to lead the Adams herd:

Mr Miller fitted and exhibited for Mr Adams at the fall fairs of 1887 a herd headed by Strathern…a compactly-built, thick-fleshed red, bred by John Miller & Son, Brougham, Ont.

About the wonder year of 1888, Sanders writes:

Lakeside’s show herd of 1888.-At the shows of 1888 Lakeside came forward in force. Cupbearer was now a three-year-old and had improved wonderfully with twelve months feeding. He was never a typical Scotch bull, lacking the essential element of early maturity, but as a three-year-old, he displayed that marvelous back, loin and hip-covering for which he was afterward so famous. Still he wanted filling at the flanks. A smoother bull probably never stood in the American show-ring…it was a great herd and when it gained the championship over all beef breeds at “The American Royal” – the Illinois State fair at Olney – it was indeed a proud day for “Willie” Miller and the Scots.

So, after just two years of the “Atha” Willie treatment, the Lakeside Stock Farm had achieved glory. By the end of 1888, Adams’ herd was judged to be the best in America.

Sanders writes that Lakeside Stock Farm’s fortunes suddenly changed in 1889:

Third and last lot. – In January, 1889, the third and last of the Luther Adams lots came over. It consisted of twelve young bulls and eighteen heifers, all from Sittyton…Soon after these had been put through quarantine Mr Adams decided upon a dispersion sale of the entire Lakeside stock, including the bulls of the last importation and the show herd of 1888. Even the best cattle were not commanding long prices in those days. Breeders found it necessary to economize in every possible way, and Mr Adams felt that the situation was such that it was impossible to continue importations from Scotland with any prospect of reselling at a profit. He accordingly disposed of his farm to Mr T. H. Sherley of Louisville, Ky., and catalogued sixty-six head of Shorthorns to be sold at Dexter Park, Chicago, April 25, 1889. Few better lots ever went under the auctioneer’s hammer in the Western States, and if by some witchery this herd could be restored to life and put on the market in the prosperous closing days of the nineteenth century quite another story could be told as a result.

It is not clear what happened. We know that livestock price boom and bust cycles occurred frequently in that era. Prices were softening at the time that Adams commissioned “Atha” Willie to buy the best Shorthorns available. But after having poured money into Lakeside Stock Farm for nearly twenty years, and finally attaining the goal of owning the best beef cattle herd in America, Luther Adams suddenly decided that he couldn’t sustain the farm’s losses any longer. Wendy Cooke’s information is that Sherley, also in the liquor business, bought Lakeside for $65,000 in spirits; Robert Miller’s account is that payment was a carload of whiskey. Clearly, Adams sold Lakeside at a loss.

After the sale to Sherley, “Atha” Willie held a minority holding in the property, eventually purchasing it outright from Sherley in 1898. Innovative to the end, “Atha” Willie assembled a good herd of Aberdeen Angus, and was among the first to market corn-fed Angus beef to the Chicago meat packers. Upon “Atha” Willie’s death at Lakeside farm in 1904, the farm was inherited by his youngest daughter Hannah and her husband Len Lamar.

The Lamars sold the property in 1912 to brothers John and Willis Edson, who farmed Lakeside for 33 years. John Edson is Wendy Cooke’s grandfather.

Residence at Lakeside Stock Farm in 1946.

Article about Lakeside Stock Farm, circa 1946. Claim that Lakeside was the first purebred Scotch Shorthorn farm in the United States is not true.

Wendy writes:

My grandfather, John Edson, was proud of his Scottish ancestry. I never met him, but I imagine that the rich history of the farm prompted him to raise Shorthorns and other animals for show on that property. Although Willis, his brother, (who was at one time Speaker of the House in the Iowa legislature) and John both had law degrees, John seems to have been the brother most interested in farming, as evidenced by the poetry he wrote about his surroundings. My dad didn’t speak much about the farm except of the strong ties to nature it provided.

Although Luther Adams referred to the property as Lakeside, it was never recorded as such until 1921. I recently was in touch with an editor of the Storm Lake Pilot Tribune, which previously published articles on the farm. My take on our correspondence was that no one in Storm Lake knows anything about the farm any longer.

It may be that the little town of Lakeside replaced the memory of its namesake farm. The town of Lakeside sits on the east end of the lake on the original farm property. It was platted by my grandfather with lots for what I expect he felt would accommodate cottages. He planned public access between several lots. Many original smaller homes have been replaced by much larger residences over time.

In Lakeside there was a once-famous ballroom called the Cobblestone, at which the likes of Louis Armstrong played. The building still stands, its exterior completely made of granite boulders from the lake shore. An old grove of cottonwoods near there is marked with a plaque dedicating the site as Mandeville Park. The Mandevilles went into partnership with Willis Edson on his portion of the farm. Mrs. Mandeville was his sister. Also near there is a beach and playground dedicated to John and Ada Edson. A Victorian gazebo there was torn down to make way for the little area that many children enjoy today.

Since the railroad tracks were torn up decades ago, people have forgotten about the railroad siding that had been there. Sand and ice from the lake were shipped out from that location. Willis Edson helped bring an end to the practice, as the sand and rock extraction probably contributed to the silt bottom that has plagued the lake for a long time.

Perhaps somewhere in someone’s back yard is the remains of that artesian well that served the farm so well. My dad’s brother started a little water business, but the family was skeptical that many people would ever want to pay extra for bottled water.

The original farmhouse still stands. Its modern rehab has been an improvement, but it belies the history of the place. Its original walnut staircase still speaks of the footsteps of all of those who enjoyed the idea of the Lakeside Farm.

Residence in 2005.