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Texas | Architecture | Grain Elevators

Texas Silos

The Millard Sorghum Silo
of Nacogdoches

by Robert Rand Russell

The millard sorghum silo of Nacogdoches
The Millard Sorghum Silo of Nacogdoches
Photo courtesy Robert Rand Russell, July 2004

For those who have ever wondered about the "mysterious" and seemingly forgotten structures along the highway - here is a most complete and detailed account of one particular silo. Capacity, cost, date, and the bricklayer's name are all included. The practical (albeit unusual) compacting method is here as well as the lengthy secondary career of the structure - all complements of Robert Rand Russell and friends. - Editor

Woodrow Wilson was president. Babe Ruth hit his first major league home run. The year was 1915 and Nacogdoches, Texas farmer Jesse Millard, Sr., started building a silo. That red brick silo is the one standing on the property now owned by J. M. Clipper Corporation's sealing products factory north of Nacogdoches on Hwy 259.

The silo, a cylindrical structure 48 feet tall and 18 feet in diameter is built of special glazed brick that look more like tiles. With a 5-foot deep cellar, the entire inside surface is plastered with acid resistant cement. Those unusual 12 inch X 10 inch, 8 inch-thick bricks were laid by a master bricklayer from war-torn Europe named John "Dutch" Heaberlin.

TX - Millard  Silo Nacogdoches 1915
The Millard Sorghum Silo being filled, circa 1915
Photo courtesy Robert Rand Russell

"Dutch" Heaberlin came to America from the Austro-Hungarian Empire shortly after the assassination of Archduke Ferdinand. Heaberlin later laid brick for the Nacogdoches Post Office erected on the city square in 1918. He worked the rest of his career for Kingham Construction Co. of Nacogdoches. The original purpose of the silo was to store chopped sorghum grain stalks to be used for high grade cattle fodder. After the stalks cure and naturally biodegrade they become highly palatable and nutritious for fattening cattle. This type of feed is called ensilage. Thus the container for ensilage is called a "silo".

At the time, the Millard Cotton Gin shared the site of the newly built silo. The engine that powered the cotton gin also ran the chopper and blower used to process and transport the ensilage up into the silo through a large metal duct. The cotton gin was later sold and dismantled.

Since the ensilage was a loose air driven mass, it had to be packed as it was being stored. Mr. Millard used 30 of his goats to trample the ensilage into the confines of the silo. These goats were living compactors. As the goats grazed the silage they constantly milled about packing the contents under hoof. It took about a month of chopping, blowing, and packing to fill the silo to its open top. When goats began to peer over the top edge, people passing by thought that pranksters had been at work! The well-fed and somewhat acrophobic goats were lowered with a rope and sling by Mr. Millard's nephew. The cattle feeding was ready to begin.

Two hundred steers were fattened with fresh ensilage and then herded to Mahl, a community in northern Nacogdoches County. From here they were transported by rail to the Ft. Worth stockyards, hopefully to be sold at a good profit. But, after only one complete season of use, it was determined that this type of operation was not as cost effective as originally planned. Sorghum grown here did not cure well in a vertical silo and the entire operation was too labor intensive even for 1916. A manpower shortage became apparent as America prepared for entry into that European/World War. Unlike other defunct silos which were quickly torn down, the Millard one soon found a useful and lucrative life.

Because the silo was located next to a well traveled road (now business 59), downtown Stripling-Haselwood Drugstore owners rented advertising space on the silo for $50 per year in store credit to the Millard family. This arrangement continued until the late 1970s. Being a long time remedy for perceived failure, outdoor advertising recovered much more than the $1200 construction cost.

As the years passed, fewer members of a more innocent era remained to tell the history of the silo. It became an enigma of sorts whenever inquires were made as to it origin. "It's been here as long as I can remember..." became the usual reply without date nor detail.

Since that old red brick silo is as sound and plumb as it was in 1915 due to the Old World craftsmanship of John "Dutch" Heaberlin and the enterprising Jesse Millard, Sr., it should prevail as a witness of East Texas history and prosperity for the years to come. Another landmark casting a shadow. Now this one also shines with a story.

With every silo story there remains the barbershop joke/question of: "whatever happened to the poor soul who tried to find a corner in a round silo to use as a toilet"?

Special thanks to Mr. Rudy Millard, J.E. Kingham, and others who helped with the telling of the story of the Millard Silo.


Robert Rand Russell
August 3, 2003. Updated September 20, 2014
Texas Escapes, in its purpose to preserve historic, endangered and vanishing Texas, asks that anyone wishing to share their local history, stories, landmarks and recent or vintage photos, please contact us.



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