Vacation close to home by touring Ozark Mills
Willow Springs and the Missouri Ozarks are blessed with scenic beauty that you likely won’t be able to top, no matter how much you travel. Nestled in the beautiful Ozarks countryside are numerous old-time flour and gristmills, which at one time were the center of life, the heart of small communities peppered throughout the region. As people waited to have their corn or wheat ground after harvest time, they spent time visiting with their friends and neighbors – sometimes even overnight. As such, towns grew around the center of activity. But as the world changed, the mills became less and less of a necessity, and eventually became only relics of the past. Only a few of the mills that once were a familiar sight along Ozarks streams and rivers remain. A trip to each mill is a step back in time. Each mill has a tale of its own, and carries a different appeal for today’s visitors.
Hodgson Mill - From the parking lot on Highway 181 where it crosses Bryant Creek, you can feel the cool breeze from the natural air conditioning provided by the spring under Hodgson Mill. The spring pumps about 24 to 28 million gallons of cold, clear water each day and is known as Bryant Creek. A mill had been on site since the 1830’s, with the second mill burned down in the Civil War. Alva Hodgson built the current three-story mill in 1897, and the community eventually included a large store, and a post office. The mill later was operated by Alva’s brother, George, as Alva went on to build and operate Dawt Mill. Then, the Wood and Aid families purchased the mill and owned it until the late 1990’s. The mill’s current owners have been working to restore the facility, which was named to the National Register of Historic Places in 2002. Open through mid-October, the mill now houses a gift shop of Ozarks crafts, including authentic Ozarks rocking chairs made by Amish crafters in Seymour, and crafted gourds from a local artist. The famous Hodgson Mill flour and corn meal products are now made in nearby Gainesville, but still bear the Hodgson Mill name.
Dawt Mill - The mill and resort are located off Highway PP on the North Fork River and have long been a popular spot for canoeing and fishing. The water is clear and calls to visitors to the mill and general store, where you can find Dawt Mill souvenirs, river necessities and a cold drink. Canoeing is available between March and November; convention facilities and rooms also are available. The mill also is operated sometimes on the weekends to demonstrate the grinding process to those visiting what used to be the bustling village of Dawt. At the turn of the century, Dawt had a grocery store, post office, blacksmith shop, saw mill, cotton gin, roller mill, a church and a few houses. A mill was operated on the property as early as 1866. The property changed hands numerous times in the early years, and a patent for the land was given by President Grant in 1874. Between 1897 and 1900, Alva Hodgson, who had built Hodgson Mill a few miles away on Bryant Creek in Sycamore, purchased the land. Hodgson rebuilt the dam, and built a three-story roller mill, powered by a turbine on the west side of the mill. People from as far away as Arkansas traveled to have their grain ground and cotton ginned. After World War II, mills across the Ozarks began to close, but Dawt was the exception. By the early 1960’s, however, the mill was operated infrequently. The property changed hands numerous times before 1995, when the present corporate owners purchased the property, and added many of the current amenities. For more information on Dawt Mill, check out their web site at www.dawtmill.com
Rockbridge Mill -Traveling along Highway 76, go west to Highway 95, then south to Highway N, then just up the road to Rockbridge. The original mill and town of Rockbridge were destroyed by fire during a Civil War battle, and were rebuilt upstream a few miles on its present-day site in the 1880’s by B. V. Morris. The Rockbridge community, near the sparkling spring fed “Spring Creek,” soon included a general store, Masonic Lodge, bank, church, school and blacksmith shop. The milling community flourished during the latter years of the 19th century and continued until the 1920’s and 1930’s, then the world changed and Rockbridge was abandoned. The Amyx family purchased the property in 1954, however, and began developing the Rainbow Trout Ranch. Today, the old mill community is once again active, with the trout and game ranch available for guests, as well as lodging and a restaurant. Learn more about Rockbridge by visiting them online at www.rockbridgemo.com
Topaz Mill - Located in Douglas County, off Highway E south of the junction of Highway 76 and 181, Topaz Mill is privately owned. The owners, however, are friendly and welcome visitors. Research shows that the mill was established in 1895 and was the center of a thriving community, including a general store, blacksmith shop, cannery, barbershop and post office. The three-story building housed a fully automated mill, which could produce flour as well as meal, with a peak capacity of about 40 barrels of flour per day, each weighing in at 96 pounds. The mill was used in the 1930’s, but it stopped operating after that. The current owners have owned the property since 1956 and have worked to restore it. The mill was originally painted white, but it is now red. Today, visitors can still hear the spring as it gushes through the channel into the mill. The nearby spring produces between eight and 10 million gallons of water per day, and the mill is operated by the water directed into the works by a wooden flume. The air is fresh, and the hostas are lush. Climbing roses and green grass accent the rustic beauty of the old mill. Hand-painted signs point to the restrooms, as the gravel road winds past.
Falling Spring - Falling Springs mill is south of Highway 60 at Winona in Shannon County, off Highway 19. Just across the Oregon County Line on Highway 19, look for a small – very small – brown sign on your left that simply says “Falling Spring.” The Falling Spring area was a homestead community, settled first around 1851. Back in those days, the old Thomasville road connected Midco to Thomasville, and 10 to 12 wagons per day would camp near the cool spring. In 1851, Thomas and Jane Brown homesteaded the property, and built their cabin – now known as the Thomas Brown cabin, which is still standing. The area was an excellent homestead site, providing for all their basic needs of water for livestock and personal use, plus plenty of trees to provide shelter. The Brown cabin was the first of four homes built in the milling community. The mill itself was built between 1927 and 1929, and was used to grind corn for feed, to saw out shingles and firewood, and to generate electricity. The first mill had a wooden wheel; later, it was enclosed with saw board siding. The mill’s present overshot wheel came from the Johnson Spring mill, approximately 3 miles down Hurricane Creek from Falling Spring.
Alley Spring - One of the area’s favorite attractions is Alley Spring, off Highway 106 in Shannon County. The current mill at Alley was constructed between 1893 and 1894 as a merchant mill. It was larger than most on the Jacks Fork, and replaced an earlier mill that had been built in 1868. It was originally unpainted, then later painted white with green trim. It eventually was painted the red color it is today. The mill itself ground wheat or corn, with the community outside bustling with as much activity as inside. The mill’s flow of 81 million gallons per day powered the roller mill. Outside, farmers would gather by the cool water to wait for their turn in line. They would visit with friends and neighbors, or take advantage of the blacksmith shop, general store and baseball diamond. The community also included a post office and a school that saw as many as 42 pupils in 1903. Church services also were held in the schoolhouse. Alley became one of Missouri’s first resorts, known as Crystal Spring Town Site in 1912. In later years, the park was home to an operational Ozarks still, which demonstrated how old-timers made moonshine. Though the park no longer includes that feature, there is plenty to do, with the Alley Mill Museum open Memorial Day through Labor Day weekend from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Camping, fishing and canoeing are available nearby.