Pillars of Strength: The Family Behind the Washington Monument


Last week marked the 130th anniversary of the opening of the Washington Monument – the world’s tallest obelisk which stands over 555 feet tall on the National Mall in Washington, D.C. In honor of the occasion, the MyHeritage Research team investigated the family history of the Washington Monument’s designer, Robert Mills.

Robert Mills, Architect of the Washington Monument
Robert Mills, Architect of the Washington Monument

Drake Dimitry, a 7th generation direct descendant of Robert Mills, has more than DNA in common with his ancestor – he also builds towers!

We were able to catch up with Drake and share what our Research team discovered. A slew of historical records from the MyHeritage SuperSearch™ helped us to piece together this remarkable discovery.

Tracing the Family Through History

The journey began with this 1850 census record, where Robert Mills is listed as an architect, along with the names of his wife and children.

1850 US Census Record of Robert Mills
1850 U.S. Census Record of Robert Mills (Click to zoom)

The next piece of the puzzle was the 1870 census record, which provided more information about Robert Mills’ daughter, Mary Powell Mills, her husband Alexander Dimitry, and their children. They were living in Baton Rouge, Louisiana in 1850 and in Pass Christian, Harrison, Mississippi in 1870. Mary’s husband was a college professor.

1870 US Census Record of Mary Dimitry
1870 U.S. Census Record of Mary Dimitry (Click to zoom)

Drake already knew of Professor Alexander Dimitry through his own family history research and even found his biography on this webpage.

He was apparently an exceptionally learned person held in high esteem and well versed — a master in 11 languages including classical studies and Biblical studies. First he was a U.S. Minister to Costa Rica and Nicaragua in 1858–61, and then became chief of a bureau in the Confederate post office. He even presided over an institute in Pass Christian, Mississippi for a few years, called the Hebrew Educational Society.

The 1880 census reported that Robert Mills’ granddaughter Elizabeth Virginia Dimitry Ruth was a widow and living in New Orleans with her four children. The eldest, Lizzie, was the great-granddaughter of Robert Mills and Drake’s great-grandmother Elizabeth.

1880 US Census Virginia Ruth, widow, and children
1880 U.S. Census Virginia Ruth, widow, and children (Click to zoom)

Drake’s grandparents’ wedding announcement appeared in the Weekly Iberian, a local publication in New Iberia, Louisiana, on December 25, 1920. The announcement reported the marriage of Robert Mills’ great-great-grandson, Dracos Anthony Dimitry, to Elizabeth Stanton Bisland.

During the war he served overseas in the U. S. Aviation Corps, and he is now occupying the important position of Traffic Manager of the New Orleans — South American Steamship Company.

Washington Monument: Dracos A Dimitry and Elizabeth Bisland New Iberian 1920 (Click to zoom)
Dracos A. Dimitry II and Elizabeth Bisland New Iberian 1920 (Click to zoom)

It’s All in the Family

Drake was excited to learn more about his unique family history and was quick to share some old family photos to complete the story.

This is all very interesting and the history directly comports with what we know of the Dimitry line of our ancestry, yet with more details, like of my great-grandfather’s exact occupation and military roles. I did not know he was in aviation, or even in the maritime shipping business — again, it’s all fascinating.

Washington Monument: Dracos Alexander Dimitry II, Drake's grandfather [Credit: Drake Dimitry]
Dracos Alexander Dimitry II, Drake’s grandfather [Credit: Drake Dimitry]
Shortly after their wedding in 1920, Drake’s grandparents relocated to Independence, Missouri, where Drake’s father, Dracos Alexander Dimitry III, was born in 1922.

Drake’s father served in the U.S. Army during WWII and reached the rank of 2nd lieutenant after leading a squadron in Italy. Later, Dracos Alexander Dimitry III founded a company that shipped pre-manufactured aluminum towers all over the world. The design is known for its self-supporting strength — quite similar to the Washington Monument.

Washington Monument: Dracos Alexander Dimitry III, Drake's Father [Credit: Drake Dimitry]
Dracos Alexander Dimitry III, Drake’s Father [Credit: Drake Dimitry]
Drake’s father passed away in 1973, but Drake has continued the family tradition of building towers.

Washington Monument: Drake, shown here with tower
Drake Dimitry, shown here at Height Towers [Credit: Drake Dimitry]
Did Drake know that his ancestor was Robert Mills, the designer of the Washington Monument?

I had a faint memory knowing that one of my ancestors married a lady named Mary Powell Mills, or maybe I just remembered Mary Powell, as she was married once before, and that she was from a well-to-do Washington, D.C. area family and might have heard a hint about her father’s profession, but I did not know he designed the Washington Monument!

Drake has his own opinion of the professional similarities he shares with his famous ancestor.

I do not think my father intentionally choose this field because of any ancestral interest or connection — he seemed to fall into it in the late 1950’s or 60s, as it suited his entrepreneurial and manufacturing inclinations.

Even if it wasn’t intentional, their chosen professions seem to be more than just coincidence. Perhaps this interest and aptitude for building and engineering is encoded in their DNA. Either way, the family legacy is quite remarkable.

Do you have a family legacy that you wish to share? Let us know in the comments below!

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