When the sun hits Alley Mill just right, the reflection in the nearby spring stops hikers in their tracks. The image of the towering red structure on the teal blue water is striking.
Located a short distance from the crystal clear waters of the Jacks Fork and Current rivers in the south-central Ozarks, the mill and spring are surrounded by a lush oak and pine forest. Said to be the most photographed spot in Missouri, the site was selected for the U.S. Mint's 2017 America the Beautiful Quarter honoring the Ozark National Scenic Riverways.
A short trail circles the spring and is the best way to fully experience the view. The spring – the 7th largest in the state – pumps out more than 80 million gallons of water every day. Inside the two-story structure you'll find National Park staff and displays that provide information about the vital role mills served in Missouri communities more than a century ago. An old one-room school house, general store, picnic area and campground are close by.
Natural beauty and history intersect at dozens of mills across Missouri. Many are privately owned and have been renovated to serve as homes or rustic lodging for visitors. Others are part of the state and national park systems and are open to the public.
Here are a few of the historic mills you can explore in the Show-Me State:
Bollinger Mill: The massive four-story Bollinger Mill stands adjacent to the Burfordville Covered Bridge, one of just four covered bridges remaining in Missouri. Located on the Whitewater River, the stone-and-brick mill dates back to the Civil War era. Tours are offered year-round and explain how area farmers relied on the mill to grind their wheat and corn into flour and meal. The Bollinger Mill State Historic Site has picnic areas and hosts special events, including folk music concerts and Halloween storytelling around a bonfire.
Dillard Mill: Another of Missouri's picturesque red mills, Dillard Mill is one of the state's best preserved grist mills. Most of the machinery used to grind wheat into flour is still intact inside the mill, built in 1908. Located on Huzzah Creek, the Dillard Mill State Historic Site offers fishing, hiking and picnic areas. Tours of the mill are available throughout the year.
Falling Spring Mill: In the middle of the Mark Twain National Forest, Falling Spring forms a small waterfall as it pours out from a rock bluff wall. Falling Spring Mill sits at the edge of the spring-fed pond. The water power harnessed by mill, built in the 1920s, was used to produce electricity, grind corn and saw shingles. A wooden walkway leads to the mill, which still has some of its original machinery in place. A small picnic area and old log cabin are located nearby.
Hodgson Water Mill: In addition to grinding grain, the water power produced by Hodgson Mill was used to operate a cotton gin, lumber mill and clothing factory. The three-and-a-half-story red structure, built against a tree-covered bluff, dates back to 1897. A spring emerging from under the mill spews more than 20 million gallons of water a day into Bryant Creek where ferns, moss and watercress thrive along the edge of the stream. The spring-cooled air once made the site a popular location for neighborhood dances. The mill is privately owned but can be viewed from roadside.
Watkins Woolen Mill: Many of the buildings constructed by Waltus Watkins during the 1800s – including a three-story brick mill and eight-bedroom Classic Revival home, have been preserved at the Watkins Woolen Mill State Historic Site to give visitors a sense of what life was like in the 1870s. The mill – where sheep's wool was spun into yarn and woven into cloth – is the only 19th century textile mill in the United States that still contains its original machinery. A wood-fired boiler powered a steam engine used to operate the mill's looms. Tours are given year-round, and a visitor center tells the story of the Watkins family and their many business ventures. Watkins Mill State Park has a 100-acre lake, paved bicycle path, fishing, campground and picnic area.
When planning your visit, be sure to check each mill's website for information, including location, hours of operation and nearby services.
Written by Liz Coleman