Keeping Kentucky vintage
By Leandro Lozada y Leon

Miles Miller (left) and Walter Aubrey restore a 204-year-old chimney on a Federal style house at the Hinkle Farm outside Paris. Miller is considered one of the best restoration masons in Kentucky, and he has worked in other states, as well. He has recently had offers of work in Washington, D.C., and Savannah, Georgia.

As a boy, Miles Miller thought he would be an engineer and contractor. His grandpa was one, as was his dad. So in 1975, he packed his bags and went to the University of Kentucky to become an engineer. But life had other plans for him.

At UK, Miles grew disappointed in engineering. He was not learning how to build anything. Instead, he was learning “loads, bearings and physics” – knowledge he found inconsequential.
In 1981, he started apprenticing for his brother-in-law, who was running a building restoration business. By 1984, he was the lead mason, and after a while, once his brother-in-law changed careers and moved to Boston, Miles took over the business.

Since then, Miles has restored more than 125 Antebellum buildings, won many historic preservation awards and taught dozens of workshops and classes. He is regarded as one of the best restoration masons in Kentucky, said Craig Potts, director of the Kentucky Heritage Council and the state's historical preservation officer.

"Miles is the best mason for historic brick buildings," says Patrick Kennedy, former Restoration Project Manager for the Heritage Council. "He’s my ‘go to’ mason for old brick buildings. I recommend him all the time. You won’t find a single customer of his with a complaint. He would do ‘hands on’ teaching workshops for me when I worked for the Kentucky Heritage Council. Teaching young masons just getting in the trade showing his methods learned over the years."

Despite the many years he has spent as a mason, Miles’ love and enthusiasm for his work is palpable as he explains the different types of mortar, limestone, brick and the chemical processes needed in restoring old brick structures. Bricks in the early 19th century were often made from local clay and fired on site, and the mortars then were much different than those used in modern construction. Miles has developed many techniques to adequately deal with the complexities of restoring historic buildings.

The exceptional quality of his work has been a key to his success. “I don’t recommend anyone but Miles," says Ron Carter, his friend and local competitor for 40 years. "I give his work an A+.”

Beyond the quality of his work, Miles is a man of integrity who has remained humble and kind despite his success.

“We did a huge project together and in some aspects I was in over my head," says Josh Mauney of Phoenix Home Remodeling in Georgetown. "But what made Miles special to me was that he would always take time to talk to me, explain to me what he was doing and give me great advice on the stuff I was doing.”

At 66, Miles is contemplating retirement. He says he’s ready to make the most of his time by restoring his personal cabin and spending time with his wife, Nancy, his children and grandchildren.

Miles keeps his inventory of salvaged period materials in a barn beside his house in Bourbon County between Paris and Georgetown.

Miles climbs scaffolding at the Hinkle Farm house to repair a chimney.

Miles puts mortar on a brick as he rebuilds a fireplace behind him. Old brick, which often was fired at the construction site from local clay, requires special mortars.

Miles (right) and Josh Mauney discuss the intricacies of an old brick wall at Johnston's Inn, the oldest brick houses in Kentucky, which Mauney is working on.

Miles carries a heavy clay flue liner needed to restore a chimney. He put up his own scaffolding on this job site.

Dale Marshall (left) and Miles prepare materials for the chimney repair. He developed a special tool to put mortar around flue tiles inside a chimney.

Miles finishes lunch in his truck. He is a hands-on doer who makes the most of his time on jobs.

Miles and his wife, Nancy, in an old house on a small farm, where he has planted 10,000 black walnut trees. They have a daughter who attends Georgetown College and three grown sons.

Miles kisses his dog Luna as she welcomes him home from a long day at work.