Mary Miller, Teacher and Archaeologist

Aug. 7, 1932 - Jan. 22, 2019
Mary Miller,  Aug. 7, 1932 - Jan. 22, 2019

Mary Holland Miller, a retired Springs School teacher who became a key figure in understanding the archaeology of East Hampton Town, died on Jan. 22 in Marlborough, Mass. She was 86.

Ms. Miller was born in Squantum, part of Quincy, Mass., on Aug. 7, 1932, the daughter of Walter Holland and the former Margaret Haines.

Also known as Lois and Dutchie or Dutch, Mrs. Miller was both a teacher and a student throughout her life, her family said. She attended North Quincy High School and went on to earn a bachelor’s degree from Tufts University in Massachusetts. She moved to Amagansett in 1965 and from there to East Hampton in 1967.

After teaching fifth grade for many years at the Springs School, she moved to Virginia Beach, Va., where she earned a master’s degree at Atlantic University and went on to travel in Mexico, Egypt, Spain, Germany, Switzerland, and eventually to her beloved Ireland.

She was “fortunate to be able to pursue many of her varied interests, engaging in each with passion and vigor. She lived a full life, surrounded by things she loved,” her family said.

For many years, Ms. Miller conducted archaeological work in East Hampton. Among the projects she worked on were a Native American living site at Georgica Pond and Colonial structures in Northwest Woods, sometimes getting volunteer assistance from her students and former students.

Ms. Miller helped form the Sebonac Chapter of the New York State Archaeological Association, which functioned for 10 years as an arm of the East Hampton Town Planning Department.

In the mid-1970s and early-1980s, builders were not required to alert a municipality when artifacts were found. However, the chapter was able to gain the cooperation of developers at various places around town, including at Three Mile Harbor in East Hampton and Culloden Point in Montauk, as well as produce survey maps of potential archaeological sites of the entire Town of East Hampton.

“It’s the knowledge that the artifacts bring, not the artifacts themselves, that makes archaeology so interesting,” Ms. Miller said in a 1978 interview in The East Hampton Star.

At one site where Ms. Miller worked, the Terry farm in Northwest, overlooking Alewife Brook Road, the team found a 1,000-year-old Native American site under two layers of 18th-century habitation.

In 1983, a housing development was planned for Fort Hill in Montauk overlooking Fort Pond Bay. The bulldozers had begun to roll when Indian burial remains were unearthed. Native Americans in full ceremonial dress visited Town Hall in protest.

The project was stopped when town officials found a town law that prohibited the disturbance of any abandoned cemetery. The town fathers who approved the ordinance might not have had Indian graves in mind, but the law slowed the subdivision application. Eventually the town condemned the land, and the sacred place became present-day town-managed Fort Hill Cemetery.

Not long after, with the help of Ms. Miller, Larry Penny of the Town Natural Resources Department, and State Assemblyman Fred W. Thiele Jr., who was an East Hampton planning board attorney at the time, the town pressed for including protection of archaeological sites when the local version of the new State Environmental Quality Review Act, or SEQRA, was created.

From that point on, whenever a project required a review for a special permit on environmental grounds, a search for historically significant items was required. If the state’s map of archaeologically sensitive areas indicated such finds were likely, the developer was then required to hire a contract archaeologist to do cursory “shovel tests.” If these indicated the presence of artifacts or features, a more extensive search was generally required.

Her first husband, Lt. Junior Grade Henry LeRoy Miller of East Hampton, died on Nov. 16, 1956, when the Navy aircraft he was aboard crashed near Atmore, Ala. They had married on June 15, 1954, in Squantum.

Ms. Miller, who had lived on Conklin Terrace in East Hampton Village, is survived by her daughter, Lanelle Miller Jalowiec of Quechee, Vt., and her two sons, Will Van Hazel of Los Angeles and Henry LeRoy Miller, Jr. of Lafayette, Colo.