Jim Miller, Conway Entrepreneur: “Looking Back”

Reprinted here by special permission of the author, Cindy Beckman, a retired Conway High School history teacher who writes local history.

Jim Miller grew up on a farm south of Conway, graduating Conway High School in 1952. He then married Patsy Lane, whose father was a well-known Conway barber. After eight years in the Air Force, the Millers returned to Conway in 1960.

Miller purchased the old Kuykendall Swimming Pool from Karl and Margaret Dreyer, who retired after having run the pool since the early 1940s. He updated the pool, added a new filtration system and renamed the pool Miller’s Swim Club. In 1964, he made it a private club with membership dues of 50 cents per individual or family.

The summer of 1964 ended with a memorable Labor Day party at the pool. Miller drained the pool for dancing and Conway Twitty’s Band, which included Conway native Tommy Markham as drummer, performed in the shallow end. Eight hundred young people attended.

Miller added a Health Club two years later. It was Conway’s first and included a gymnasium, sauna, a Jacuzzi whirlpool bath and massage tables. A nine-hole golf course and driving range were added in 1968 and the facility was renamed Miller’s Swim and Golf Club.

By this time, the club had 300 members and attendance had more than doubled at the health club. Membership dues were $10.30 per month. Guests were charged $2 for nine holes and $3 for 18 holes. The first Miller Four-Ball Tournament was held in May 1969.

In 1970, the club was renamed Briarwood Country Club. The name change gave the club more prestige and made it easier for members to utilize the facilities of country clubs elsewhere. Briarwood was a very popular place during this time, providing swimming and golf at an affordable price.

Miller purchased the 147-acre Irby dairy farm in 1972 and began developing the Nob Hill lots overlooking a new 18-hole golf course at Cadron Valley Country Club. Rather than bring in investors, Miller sold lots at Hot Springs Village to raise the cash he needed to build the 18-hole golf course. He sold $1 million worth of lots in 30 days and then returned home to build the golf course.

Bernard Nabholz provided equipment to help Miller clear the land. He then transplanted 310 pine trees on to the golf course using a tree mover. Those trees still stand on the nine-hole course at The Links at Cadron Valley. The Cadron Valley clubhouse and golf course opened in 1973 and membership grew quickly to 525 members.

Nob Hill was divided into 50 lots that sold for $100,000 a lot. Miller’s View Road, at the crest of the hill, is named for Nob Hill’s developer—Jim Miller. Miller also built a house there.
Miller now owned two country clubs in Conway—Briarwood and Cadron Valley. He bought a riding Toro greens mower to manicure the two golf courses. This was a significant development in Conway because the existing country club at that time only had a nine-hole golf course and still mowed it with a walk-behind mower.

Both courses had been built with his own labor and financial resources. He had brought golf to Conway residents who had never had the opportunity to experience the game because they could not afford it.

Miller “retired,” or as he termed it, “quit working for a living” at the age of 41. He sold Cadron Valley Country Club, with its Clubhouse and 18-hole golf course on 100 acres, to ten of its members for $300,000 in 1975. Briarwood Club was sold shortly thereafter.

By this time, Miller had accumulated over $4 million. He became a major stockholder in First National Bank of Conway, led by his friend, Cleddie Harper. He also had a close relationship with Tom Wilson of First State Bank who once told Miller that if he had another son, he would want him to be like Jim Miller.

Miller had also developed a philosophy about life that would guide his steps: “My philosophy of life is to first make my wife and son happy; second, make my banker happy; and third, make my customers and the public happy. When everyone’s happy, I’m happy!”

In 1977, Miller purchased the 33-acre Henson farm on Highway 64 and developed Miller’s Mall. The two streets that run through it are Jim’s Lane and Pat’s Lane. Two years later, he also bought the 36-acre Moix farm on Highway 65. He would sell 29 acres of it to Wal-Mart in 1984 for a new Wal-Mart and the Conway Towne Center.

Miller owned and operated Granny’s Dinner Playhouse in Dallas, which showcased top entertainers, before moving to Nashville. He and Pat published Country Music USA magazine for nine years before retiring back to Nob Hill.