Young Willie Miner first arrived at his aunt Huldah and uncle John's homestead farm in Chazy from Juneau, Wis. in 1873, after his father died leaving him orphaned. He set out to find his way in the world in 1880, taking a job as a machine shop apprentice with the Wabash Railway Company.
He invented the tandem spring draft rigging, the first truly reliable shock protection mechanism for refrigerated railway cars, and was granted a patent for his invention in 1891.That same year in Chicago, he started the W.H. Miner Company.
The Miner Company filled its first order, for draft rigging on 10 cars for the Chicago, New York and Boston Refrigerator Company in 1894. Four years later, his Miner Tandem Draft Rigging was in use by 16 railroads on 15,000 railcars and William H. Miner was well on his way to becoming one of the wealthiest men in the nation.
After his Uncle John died and willed the 144-acre homestead to him, in 1903, he returned to Chazy, a multi-millionaire, with his wife, Alice Trainer, also an orphan, who he'd married, in 1895. In time, he and Alice would come to own more than 15,000 acres.
William Miner's vision for the farm combined rural life, agricultural science and occasional eccentricity. He quickly began to develop the homestead, which he called Heart's Delight Farm, into a state-of-the-art dairy farm, bringing electricity to the site in 1908 and installing one of the first vacuum milking systems in North America. In a very short time, more than 300 buildings were erected or renovated, including barns, stables, homes for his farm managers, and bunkhouses for the laborers. He also built a 46 room summer home, called Hearts Delight Cottage, for Alice and himself, and Harmony Hall, a four-story building with 20 guest rooms and an auditorium, where businessmen, politicians and royalty from around the world stayed when visiting the farm. Eventually, Heart's Delight Farm and all of its many operations would grow to employ 800 people, selling meat, eggs, dairy, fruit and vegetables to a who's who list of customers that included New York City's Waldorf Astoria Hotel and the Palmer House in Chicago.
Miner also built a number of dams and power houses in and around Chazy, bringing electricity to Heart's Delight Farm and to the village of Chazy. Among them is the Chazy Lake Dam. Also among them, however, was a failed hydroelectric project constructed between 1910 and 1913. The Miner Dam, a project of nearly incomprehensible magnitude at the time, spans an area nearly 2300 feet long and is more than 32 feet tall at its maximum height. It was expected to hold one billion gallons of water and was intended to harness the energy of the Little Chazy River. After its completion in 1913, it took nearly another two years to fill the reservoir to capacity.
Unfortunately, seepage through Cobblestone Hill, on the northern boundary of the reservoir, jeopardized and eventually doomed the project, even after a thick layer of concrete and poured grout was used to try to alleviate the problem. The dam worked, but never to expectations, and the project was abandoned in 1922, after just seven years in operation.
Among William Miner's lasting contributions to the local community was the oversight of a merger of 11 small area schools into Chazy Central (Rural) School, which he had built in 1916. It was the first central school established in the United States. In 1926, he built the 212 room Physicians Hospital, known today as Champlain Valley Physicians Hospital (CVPH), in Plattsburgh. He also purchased the Kent-Delord House in Plattsburgh to be founded as a museum. Kent-Delord House received its provisional charter from the New York State Board of Regents in 1928 and its final charter 10 years later.
Miner purchased another building in Chazy to house Alice's ever-increasing colonial arts collection and, in 1924 the Alice T. Miner Colonial Collection was made available to the public in a renovated 1824 stone building. Often called the Alice T. Miner Colonial Revival Museum, it houses and, according to the museum's mission statement, (preserve(s) in perpetuity the collection, buildings, and grounds and interpret(s) their meaning and significance to a diverse audience.) The Museum houses several period rooms including an authentic colonial kitchen. A special endowment created by the Miners still funds the Alice T. Miner Colonial Collection today.
In 1923, Miner established the William H. Miner Foundation, which funds the William H. Miner Agricultural Research Institute, more commonly known as Miner Institute, which was chartered by the Board of Regents of the State of New York in 1951 'for the operation and maintenance of an experimental farm, for training young men and women in practical and theoretical farming.' Miner Institute remains an acknowledged leader in agricultural education, research and demonstration. The Foundation also continues to provide support for Chazy Central School and CVPH Medical Center.
William H. Miner died in 1930, bizarrely enough, as a result of complications from a tonsillectomy performed at Physicians Hospital. His philanthropic legacy lives on.