Bob Miles - Photographer, Historian

A Picture is Worth a Thousand Words
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Robert Miles

Charlevoix Courier, May 14, 1986

Bob Miles had love affair with Charlevoix

by Peg Ohle

The man who had a "long-standing love affair with the City of Charlevoix" died last week.

Robert C. "Bob" Miles expressed that love in many ways but he will best be remembered for his legacy of local history in pictures.

"Bob Miles' CHARLEVOIX - A Century in Pictures," a beautifully bound volume containing pictures of Charlevoix and Charlevoix people was published in 1976 as a bicentennial project of the Charlevoix Historical Society. 

The above quotation about Bob's love affair is from the preface to that book written by a friend. The book contains 385 photographs, complete with captions and other explanatory material, all prepared by Bob and given to the Historical Society as his contribution to the Society's Museum building fund.

Sales of the book netted almost $40,000, which was spent to renovate the Harsha House on State Street into a museum facility. The museum which Bob Miles made possible now houses his extensive personal collection of old photographs. Some of them he "shot" himself, and those taken by others he carefully collected, researched, and reproduced.

Bob Miles started seriously collecting old photographs in 1957, the centennial year of the City of Charlevoix, when he put his own small collection on display in his photography studio and let it be known that he would be glad to copy old prints for the same purpose during the centennial year. He was soon swamped with photographic nostalgia and began putting the pictures in albums so they would not return to oblivion.

The museum collection has been prepared for the specially built filing cabinets, which, with a cross-indexing system, makes it possible to research almost any aspect of the history of Charlevoix and surrounding areas.

Another Bob Miles collection of old photographs is contained in seven bound volumes in a specially built cabinet in the Charlevoix Public Library.

While Bob Miles' photographs are tangible evidence of his interest in and love of his city, his many friends will also remember him for the gracious way in which he shared his knowledge of places and people of years gone by. He always had time to answer the questions of newpaper people, students, and others seeking historical information.

Bob Miles also enjoyed working with Petoskey stones. In 1976, he completed a "bicentennial tower" of polished Petoskey stones which is now in the Historical Society Museum. It is eight-and-a-half feet tall, weighs about 235 pounds, and took three years to build.

The bicentennial tower consists of 200 "stories," each of which represents one year in the history of the United States. The outer square of the base represents the country before the coming of the white man. The inner square of the base is made of 13 sections, each representing one of the original colonies. On each corner of this square are elevated letters. "S," "W," "P," and "A" indicate the four basic freedoms of speech, worship, press, and assembly.

The tower builds upward with special markings for the wars in which this country has engaged, depression days noted by black Petoskey stones, and the single story at the top (the 200th) commemorating the nation's bicentennial. Topping the final story is a replica of the Washington monument.

Bob Miles collected, cut and hand-polished all of the Petoskey stones used in his tower, another contribution of time and talent to his city and its people.

Bob Miles lived most of his life in Charlevoix. He was born in Lupton, a small town near Rose City, where his father owned a theater. After the theater had burned down twice, the older Miles gave up and moved to East Jordan, where he worked in a mill and later built the Temple Theater.

Eventually the family, including nine-year-old Bob and three sisters and five brothers, moved to Charlevoix. He attended high school in Charlevoix until his sophomore year, when he went to Muskegon and worked in a rubber plant. After a while he returned to Charlevoix to operate the theater for his father and finish high school. He graduated with the class of 1923.

Bob Miles was a professional photographer in Charlevoix for 42 years. Several years ago, when this reporter asked hime now he happened to become a photographer, he explained it this way:

"Even as a child I was a photography buff. I used to sit on the bank of the river that ran between Round Lake and Pine Lake (now Lake Charlevoix) and watch the swans. I took many pictures of the flock, including the two which were brought here originally and which are the forebearers of all the swans in the area. I also took many other pictures just for the fun of it.

"Then, in 1930, I went to the New York Institute of Photography. The first commercial pictures I ever took were of the fire that burned down the old Fessenden Drug Store that used to be where the Chamber of Commerce Building now is. I used an old box camera and stood out in 22-below-zero weather to get them."

Bob Miles was twice honored for his contributions to the Charlevoix Historical society. The Society established an annual award in his name which is given annually to those who have served it in some special way.

In 1981, the Historical Society of Michigan presented him with the Award of Merit for "giving the rights and proceeds from his book on Charlevoix to the Charlevoix Historical Society."

Both recognitions are small but meaningful tributes to a great man who had a "long-standing love affair with the City of Charlevoix."

Bob's wife, Esther, sons, Robert and David, his brothers and sister, and his many friends and acquaintances are all richer for having been part of his life.

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