Why is McMillan Elementary named McMillan Elementary?
Feb 03, 2020 12:41PM
By Julie Slama
Taken in the 1950s, Hillcrest Elementary, which was renamed McMillan Elementary, stands on the former land which three McMillan brothers and their families farmed for 90 years. (Photo courtesy of Murray City Museum)
By Julie Slama | [email protected]
In Granite School District, there are 15 elementary and three junior high schools named after notable men — and soon, it will have an elementary named after Olene Walker, Utah’s first and only female governor.
However, other districts have shied away from naming schools after people, instead naming them about features in the area such as Jordan School District’s Golden Fields Elementary and Mountain Creek Middle in South Jordan.
Murray School District has McMillan Elementary, which was built in 1954 as Hillcrest Elementary and then changed its name in 1960 when district administrators wanted to name the secondary school Hillcrest.
“Nobody quite knows what the reason was to name the school McMillan,” said Mitch McMillan, who has worked as a custodian for 19 years at the school named after his family. “Everyone has an idea, but I haven’t seen the reason written anywhere.”
Some say the school was named McMillan since it sits on the land at 5770 South where Mitch McMillan’s great-great-grandpa Michael McMillan, Sr. and wife, Mary Brown McMillan, joined Michael Sr.’s brothers, William and Neil, who came two years earlier, to farm.
Michael and Mary McMillan immigrated from Scotland to the United States during a nine-week voyage in 1863. They took a train from New York to St. Joseph, Missouri and then a boat to Omaha, before coming across the prairies in an oxen wagon train to Murray, then called South Cottonwood, according to a report written by Mitch’s cousin, Lavar C. McMillan, who served as mayor of Murray from 1986 to 1990 and received Murray High’s outstanding alumni award in 1996.
The three brothers and their families lived on the farm, which in the 1870s was commonly known as McMillan Lane, that prospered for 90 years, depending on the water from Little Cottonwood Creek, according to Michael Sr.’s son, Verl, who shared the story with the Daughters of the Utah Pioneers on Oct. 13, 1966.
At first, Michael Sr. and Mary lived with William in a two-room adobe home until they could build a dugout in a creek bank. Later, they built a one-room adobe home and years later, added a second room, where they lived for 11 years before building a two-story home, according to “The History of Murray City, Utah.”
Eventually, the farmland was sold parcel by parcel, with the last remaining 15 acres of farmland owned by descendent Newel McMillan. There, an 18-classroom school with a multi-purpose room, kitchen and library was built, according to the “Centennial History of the Murray School District.”
“The school sits on cement pillars since the north end of it slants. I’m able to walk under it standing up. Maybe it saved money not to take out the hill with the construction,” Mitch McMillan said. “Whether it was eminent domain (the right of a government to seize private property for public use, with payment of compensation) or the farm was lost to growth in the area, it depends who you talk to.”
From that point, education and service has intertwined with the McMillan family.
According to family history, written by the sons of Michael “Elmo,” Michael Sr.’s son’s “early life was spent on the farm and from the time he was big enough, he led the horse so they could put the hay by a derrick in the barn. They raised sugar beets, potatoes, hay to feed the animals in the winter.”
Mitch McMillan said his grandfather, Michael Elmo, taught English, German and math at the high school in 1917.
“In 1918, he asked to be released from his contact for the war and served in the Air Force. He came back in 1919 and continued to be an educator for 43 years,” he said.
Elmo McMillan was the principal of Liberty Elementary from 1923-27, and at the now defunct Arlington School, 1927-59, before opening Longview Elementary in 1960.
That has other people wondering if the school name is a nod to him. Others say it’s for Michael McMillan, Jr., who served as the first school board president from 1906-08.
While McMillan Elementary has served thousands of students, Mitch McMillan said that his direct family line hasn’t attended the school nor been principal at the school.
“My dad didn’t go there, I went to Viewmont, my kids went to Longview,” he said. “It didn’t occur to me to even go here.”
While he knew the property once belonged to his family, and he often visited his grandmother’s house nearby, he said they didn’t come often to the school grounds to play.
“It wasn’t something that I was sentimental about as a kid. It was where our family worked and made a living. I heard stories, but I was more fascinated with my grandfather’s military uniform in the basement,” he said.
Through the years, McMillan has celebrated changes, with additions of the library and media center and two classrooms and a storage room. It celebrated its 60th birthday six years ago.
“I don’t think anyone will ever know why it’s really named McMillan, but since my great-, great-uncles moved here, our family has grown up and has gotten their education here and has worked and served Murray,” Mitch McMillan said, adding that there isn’t a line in the selling contract that says a McMillan is given priority to work at the school. “It’s an honor to carry on the family name and work here.”