Today we continue our introduction to the Mills Lane family with Mills Lane IV starting on his own path through Harvard, the Navy and the back roads of the South pursuing research for his books on architecture. Fortunately for Savannah, he didn’t inherit the Lane family men’s love of banking. Rexanna Keller Lester is working on a book about Mills Bee Lane IV and his preservation legacy.
Mills Lane IV grew up in Atlanta with frequent trips to Savannah to visit family. He studied music at Harvard, but decided his talent would not put him on stage as a concert pianist, and he gravitated to a major in American history.
Before and after a stint as a U.S. Naval officer, Mills IV tried the family banking business and hated it, but he did carry on his father’s devotion to rebuilding Savannah’s squares and houses. The son paid closer attention to historical detail, although good taste and his heart sometimes held sway over exact duplication.
His parents had renovated 14 Price St. where Mills IV lived when on leave from the Navy and when he first returned to Savannah. The brick infill house he built in 1999 at 312 Tattnall and called “the villa” may have been inspired by the Price Street pied–à–terre.
Mills Lane IV also inherited his father’s love of telling good stories. He formalized that love by writing a dozen books on Southern architecture, and writing or editing more than 50 others about Southern cultural and social history.
Those award-winning books are distributed through the Beehive Press that he established in 1970 when he was 28. The Beehive Press name joins Lane’s middle name Bee and his Roman numeral, the letters IV, pronounced separately.
He set up the business in the basement of his home, the Bernard Constantine House on Pulaski Square at 321 Barnard St. It had been built in 1845 for a butcher who also speculated in real estate. The side porch, in the same style as the original front porch, was added during Mills IV’s 1971-72 restoration. He said his father wasn’t happy that his son put so much money and effort into that restoration. But the son wasn’t one to do anything half-heartedly.
During the 1970s Mills IV was involved in the community, serving as president of the Telfair Art Museum board and lecturing to overflowing crowds on architecture and history.
While keeping the Beehive Press and its book business going in Savannah in the 1980s, Mills Lane IV lived primarily in a New York apartment with his partner Gary Arthur and there wrote the 10-volume “Architecture of the Old South” series, based on his own research and travel through the southern states.
Next: Mills Lane IV was more than a tree hugger: he started a tree fund. He was more than an admirer of Savannah’s streets: he paid for the renovation of a main artery. He was more than patron of fine house restorations and museums; he transformed a neglected 19th-century mansion into a stunning house and maritime museum.
Rexanna first wrote parts of this essay for the Vernacular Architecture Forum Annual Meeting in March 2007.
Rexanna: I enjoyed reading your lively commentary about Mills Lane IV. He was quite a character. I became friends with him after becoming a neighbor on Bryan Street in the 1970s and becoming active in Historic Savannah. I worked many months with him and a committee editing the Historic Savannah Survey book. We matched up all the existing historic Savannah house inventory ward by ward and street by street with their house number address. He was thrilled to have me on the committee because of my attention to detail and was always elated whenever I detected a numerical or spelling error. At that time I was a young mother and many of our meetings were held over lunch with my daughter banging her spoon on the high chair and demanding to be fed. Mills was quite enchanted with babies and young children and curious about motherhood and child rearing. He was a fabulous entertainer and gave the most creative and lively dinner parties. There were old movie nights and seated dinners. He always assembled a group of creative, and fun loving people. The food was always exceptional and unexpected and served by him from his kitchen. I remember retiring to the living room after a seated formal dinner where he announced dessert was going to be served. He burst through the door enthusiastically with a large silver tray full of chocolate covered Eskimo ice cream Popsicles and passed them round. The party that I remember the most was a Christmas party he gave for some of the historic district young couples and their toddler children. We arrived to a roaring fire in his living room and a floor to ceiling Christmas tree decked out with small American flags and home made Christmas cookie ornaments. The theme of the party was for the children to untie the tree and take home with them the flags and cookies as party favors. The children were enchanted with the idea. As the evening progressed it became colder and colder in the house and at one point we could see our breath. I discreetly asked Mills if he could bump up the thermostat and make it a little warmer as I was fearful the toddlers might get a bad chill. He cheerfully informed me the answer was NO! He said that he was in the midst of a contest with a close friend as to who could have the cheapest electric bill that month. He said that was what fire places were for and to don a coat if I needed warmth. Yes, that was Mills!❤️ A good time was always guaranteed ……many happy memories were made!