By Nikki McKim
When Paulo and Vanji Bruxellas imagined moving to the country, they never imagined their dream home would hold amazing stories from the past and a bright and protected new future. The beautiful and scenic land that lies between Dawson and Humboldt known to locals as Miles Ranch celebrated it’s 160th Anniversary on June 20 with a picnic thrown by the owners of the mansion home. In the home’s 160 years, it has seen Nebraska become a state and the country go through the American Civil War and two World Wars. It has survived harsh winters and brutal summers, but now it’s finally getting the special attention it deserves.
Miles Ranch was founded in 1855, by Colonel Stephen Boyd Miles, a frontiersman, stagecoach magnate, cattle rancher, banker and philanthropist who was born in Delta, Pennsylvania. Miles established his headquarters in Grant Precinct, which later became known as Miles Ranch. The ranch, located along the Overland Trail, was one of the first great ranches west of the Missouri River. The property became somewhat of a city after multiple buildings were erected, including barns, a bunkhouse, silos and numerous other houses. A post office was run out of the first house and a general store, blacksmith shop and sawmill were also located on the property. As a stagecoach stop, the Ranch offered lodging for weary travelers.
With the help of his two sons, Joseph and Samuel, Miles drove thousands of cattle from Texas to the Miles Ranch. It is estimated that the ranch may have had as much as 42,000 acres of land and employed hundreds of people at the time. In 1872, Mr. Miles was one of the organizers of the Commercial Bank of St. Louis and was a director for many years. He also served as co-vice president of the Democratic State Convention in Omaha. During this same time he purchased the Falls City Press.
In 1882, Mr. Miles founded the First National Bank of Falls City, which was the first bank in Richardson County, where he remained its president until his death. Two years after founding First National, he organized the Bank of Rulo and also served as its president until his death.
Miles’ generosity went above and beyond. He took a special interest in his employees and their families. He brought them to Nebraska, built them homes and helped them get established. Colonel Stephen Boyd Miles died on October 30, 1898, at the age of 76. He died one of the wealthiest men in the state of Nebraska.
In the years after Colonel Miles’ death, the ranch land was gradually sold. The remaining portion, containing the house, barn and other out buildings stayed in the Miles family until 1999. The property has been passed through numerous hands and was left vacant for many years.
Paulo Bruxellas, a native of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, moved to Nebraska 28 years ago as a foreign exchange student. While earning his degree in American History from Nebraska Wesleyan University, he met his future wife, Vanji. The couple wed and dreamed of living in the country.
While living in Elkhorn the Bruxellas decided now was the time to take on their dream home. Searching properties all around the area the couple bid on a foreclosed property in York. Luckily they were outbid and continued their search. Vanji’s mother came across Miles Ranch while helping search for property. The Bruxellas went to see it the very next day.
“We felt the property deserved a second chance. “ said Paulo. On the Historic Miles Ranch website, the family describes walking through the field of old walnut and cedar trees, the historic home and the rustic barn, and hearing them crying softly to please give them another chance. They said that is when they fell in love with the property.
The Bruxellas family purchased the six acres containing the dilapidated mansion home, barn and outbuildings in February 2011. Respecting the architecture and structure of the home, they made sure to make as few changes as possible. They had to make a few structural improvements but vast improvements were made to the home. They added a new roof, new electrical and all new plumbing as well as heating and air-conditioners. They made sure to refurnish the original wood floors and restore the foundations and porch.
“It’s been a struggle to accommodate a modern lifestyle and family of six without undermining the home’s original architectural integrity,” said Paulo. The Bruzellas moved into the home with their four children, Tavia, Brynna, Pressler and Elianna. To add space and functionality for the family, a two-story rear addition was built. The addition captures the key elements and stays comparable to the main structure. The addition consists of a three-car garage with loft, which is connected to the house by an enclosed breezeway. Entering from the garage, the breezeway leads to a newly created family room and main level master suite. A new bedroom was also added above the space.
As the family continued to restore the magnificent home, they researched the history of their project. In December 2012, they took a crucial step and had it listed in the National Register of Historic Places by the United States Department of the Interior to insure its preservation and get the recognition it deserves. The Nebraska Historical Society described the home as a “superlative example of a rare property.” The property and home is considered to be one of a kind in the state of Nebraska.
In 2014, grape vines were planted along the north plateau of the property. “We hope to continue developing the vineyard and hosting different types of events,” said Paulo. The first cabin for guests will be built in the near future and a winery is even a possibility.
The picnic held to celebrate the 160th anniversary of the Ranch was a fundraiser to aide in the preservation of the history of the Ranch. Up to 300 hundred people from as far as Oregon, Texas, Florida and New York attended the picnic. Descendants worked as volunteers and several local volunteers worked tirelessly. It took several months to prepare for the event and it came off without a hitch. Lunch was catered by the Six Mile Café and served beside an authentic Chuck Wagon. Guests were allowed to go inside the home and see an exhibit of historic photographs telling the story of Miles Ranch. Funds raised will ensure the Foundation will continue to bring the picnic to the community and become an annual event to educate and attract new visitors to the area. The event featured games, Live Old Time Fiddle music, Stagecoach rides and Chuck Wagon tours.
“We want to share the history of Miles Ranch with the community and that is why the Miles Ranch Foundation was created. The Miles Ranch is a Nebraska treasure right here in Richardson County, and we don’t want it to be forgotten” said Paulo. The Miles Ranch Foundation is a Nebraska non-profit corporation with tax-exempt status. In preserving the history of the Miles Ranch, the goal is to collect and exhibit artifacts; and to research, interpret, and protect the history and cultural heritage of the Miles Ranch, the Miles Family, and the many other families who have lived and/or worked at the Miles Ranch. The Bruxellas, vision is to become an educational resource in the areas of 19th and Early 20th Century Farming and Ranching, the Overland Trail, Freighting, Mail Transport, Stagecoach Transportation, Frontier Life, and Early Banking in the American West. To donate to the Miles Ranch Foundation, visit milesranchfoundation.org.