Gristmills in Pioneer Missouri


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State Parks and State Historic Sites , historic , Historic Sites , National Historic Site , State Historic Site , outdoors , Branson , Gainesville , Eminence , Ozark National Scenic Riverways , Ozark Streams , Ozarks , Springfield , Point Lookout
Some Live on to Tell Their Tale
Author: Scott McCullough

In the 1800s, going to the mill was much like going to a county fair is today.

(Grist: grain intended to be or that has been ground.) In pioneer Missouri, villages and towns were often built around a gristmill, where grains were ground into flour and meal, and a sawmill, where timber could be worked into useable lumber. These water-driven mills were plentiful in Missouri, especially in the southern regions where spring-fed streams provided an almost inexhaustible supply of water power.

In fast-running rivers, such as Shoal Creek near Joplin, the millstone was driven by a water-wheel which extended into the flow of a stream. Slower moving, shallow streams were damned, often as far as a mile upstream, the water then redirected to the wheel by a series of sluices often called a mill-race. In a few locations a water-turbine was located in a pit and water was diverted vertically through it to drive the mechanism.

Britain Mill may be the only mill yet standing in Lawrence County. It is located about 20 miles west of Springfield. From I-44, exit 57;  west on Route 96; just before the Turnback Creek Bridge, go south on Farm Road 1207. The mill is about a quarter-mile on the right.

Edwards Mill is on the campus of College of the Ozarks in Point Lookout, five miles south of Branson. Although built in 1973, using timber harvested from older Missouri mills, it is an outstanding example of the early 1900s milling process. This is a working gristmill powered by a 12-foot water wheel. Students from the college operated the mill, including grinding whole-grain meal and flour which you can purchase on-site. The basement holds an exhibit of antique milling equipment. A weaving studio occupies the top floor, where students use traditional looms to design and produce rugs, shawls and place mats; all are available for purchase. Missouri has many surviving mills, most of which are on private property. Several of the best preserved are on public land, easily available to the public.

Because of high demand, the mills often ran 24 hours (except on Sundays), operating on a first-come first-served basis, whether the farmer brought a wagon full of grain or one two-bushel sack. When a man arrived with raw grist, the miller marked his load by a stamp placed on his sacks or wagon, thus designating the man’s place in line. It was not uncommon for a man to wait several days for his grist to be processed. This time was spent fishing, trading or bartering for goods and livestock, discussing the news of the day, pitching horseshoes, playing sports and cards, and hashing over religious and political opinions. Many an elected official gained his position by stumping at the mill.

The Spring Creek Mill
is a ramshackle three-story building on Main Street in Hurley, southwest of Springfield. Its flapping, rusty tin roof is a reminder of glory days gone by. In the early 1890s, a small lake caused by water backed-up from the Spring Creek provided water to power the mill. Sadly, today the old mill just stands weathering the elements on Main Street.

Zanoni Mill was built about 1906 at a site where milling had been an industry since before the Civil War. Its fine, overshot wheel (a popular subject for photographers and artists) is driven by water from a falling spring which produces a flow of 194,000 to 226,000 gallons daily. Zanoni is just off of Route 181, nine miles northeast of Gainesville; three miles west of Sycamore.

Five miles north of Zanoni, where Route 181 crosses Bryant Creek, you find the restored Hodgson Grist Mill, built in 1862 over Hodgson Spring, one of the largest springs in Missouri (averaging 23 million gallons per day, at a constant 58 degrees). This is the most photographed mill in Missouri. Inside the building, an opening to a cave in the bluff provides natural air conditioning. Though the mill no longer grinds grain, it still houses the old milling machinery. It is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. (The nationally distributed line of stone-ground bakery products bearing the Hodgson name is now produced at a modern mill in nearby Gainesville.)

Continuing north four miles on Route 181, turn south onto Route H; in about six miles, go west on Route PP and watch for County Road 318. Dawt Mill, established in 1897 on a high bank of the North Fork of the White River, offers a glimpse into the Ozarks of the late 1800s. The area now holds a rustic resort, with camping, canoeing, fishing and other activities. Visitors enjoy the General Store, the post office (now serving as a deli), period dwellings transformed into modern-day lodging, and activities on the beautiful White River.

Built in 1894, Alley Spring Mill is five miles west of Eminence on Route 106. The mill, spring and one-room schoolhouse are a national park, part of the Ozark National Scenic Riverways. Much of the original equipment has been retained. Alley Spring produces a daily flow of 81 million gallons which flow into the Jacks Fork River. Park rangers in period costume show visitors how the mill worked, and how school was taught in the one-room schoolhouse. Historic programs and events are offered. Camping is available. The park is open June thru August.

Klepzig Grist Mill was operating around 1928. A concrete sluiceway was built to bring water from the nearby stream into the mill, whereby the water would drop vertically through the turbine. The mill, located not far from Rocky Falls, is owned and maintained by the National Park Service. It has been nominated for placement on the National Register of Historic Places. From Eminence, travel seven miles east on Route 160; turn south on Route H; in about four miles, veer east onto Route NN; pass the sign for Rocky Falls and turn left onto County Road 522 (this dirt road is steep and narrow; it is not recommended for RVs or trailers).

Montauk Mill, built in 1896, is open seasonally for tours. It is located in Montauk State Park at the headwaters of the famed Current River, part of the Ozark National Scenic Riverways. Although few of the machines still operate, visitors get a good idea what the mill looked like at the start of the 20th century. Several springs in the park combine with tiny Pigeon Creek to supply 43 million gallons of water to the river each day. The park offers some of the finest trout fishing in the Midwest. Facilities include camping, cabins and a restaurant. Located 21 miles southwest of Salem on Route 119.

Dillard Mill was completed in 1908. Now a State Historic Site, it is one of Missouri’s best-preserved examples of a water-powered gristmill. Most of the original machinery is intact and operational. A turn of a wheel brings the machinery back to life during tours of the mill, which are given year-round. The red mill overlooking the spring-fed Huzzah Creek makes a picturesque place to picnic and hike; the area includes picnic sites and a 1.5 mile hiking trail. Dillard Mill is 22 miles south of Steeleville on Route 49.

Bollinger Mill State Historic Site
is a four-story, stone and brick mill dating to around 1867. Cornmeal is ground as part of the mill tour. The 140-foot Burfordville Covered Bridge crosses the river that powers the mill. Picnic sites are adjacent to the scenic historic structures. Located off of Route 34 on Route HH.

Although a few mills across the state have been preserved, there are many more, perhaps hundreds, that have fallen victim to rot and decay. Many are ‘lost’ in the wilderness areas of the Ozarks, where hikers and canoeists might ‘discover’ them purely by chance.

NOTE: It is always a good idea to check the mill's website for current information, as some locations close periodically for maintenance.

  Alley Mill-National Park Service
The story of Alley is one of nature, people and a century-old mill, sitting at the heart of a beautiful ...

  Bollinger Mill State Historic Site
The four-story, stone and brick water-powered mill dates to around 1867. The 140-foot Burfordville Covered ...

  Dillard Mill State Historic Site
Tucked between colorful Ozark hills, Dillard Mill, built in 1900, is one of Missouri’s best-preserved ...

  Edwards Mill at College of the Ozarks
Edwards Mill is a working grist mill powered by a 12-foot water wheel. Although the mill was built in ...

  Montauk State Park
The seven springs within Montauk State Park form the headwaters of the Current River. Regular stocking ...