It’s time for a road trip that combines history and fun. Old mills are one of Missouri’s best-preserved assets, especially in the Ozarks. They are located in picturesque locations only two to three hours from St. Louis, down narrow roads through the valleys and mountains.
Similar to St. Louis’ churches, these mills served as community centers. Amazingly, these pockets of waterpower were able to survive long after the advent of modern technologies. One century after St. Louis factories began to use coal for steam power and decades after reliable electricity, small Missouri communities found water flowing into turbines more efficient. These three mills are worth visiting in the south and west of St. Louis.
Bollinger Mill is the first mill and the one with the longest history going back to the 18th century. It is located in Burfordsville in Cape Girardeau County. It also holds the distinction of being the only mill that is situated next to a covered bridge, one of very few remaining in the state. George Frederick Bollinger, the mill’s namesake, was granted a piece of land by the Spanish in 1797. This was less than a decade before the Louisiana Purchase. In 1799, the first gristmill, which made flour from wheat, was opened. Built on the 1825-stone foundation, the brick mill that is currently in use today dates back to 1867 when Burfordsville’s founder reopened the business. Waterwheels were no longer in use at the end of the 19th century, contrary to common belief. The vast majority of rural and urban mills used turbines at that time. Bollinger Mill was no exception. The iconic circular millstones that were once so prominent were replaced by rollers which made it easier to grind the wheat into flour. Many of the original machinery from the mill’s interior is still in use. The site is now a State Historic Site, thanks to the Missouri family that purchased it.
You can find the seat of Shannon County, Alley Spring, and Mill, deep in the Ozarks west of Eminence. Although the area is still quite far from major roads, it was once remote. The Alley Mill was the hub of the community for most of the area surrounding the Jacks Fork and Current rivers. Alley is not derived from any natural feature. It was named after a local landowner who lived several hundred miles away from the mill’s actual location. Wood siding was used as a building material during the late 19th century when several structures were built around the mill. Alley Spring springs up from the bedrock and creates a circular pool that serves as the headrace. This is the water supply to the mill. The water flows through the 1893 mill and then it exits the mill’s turbines via the tailrace. It continues to the creek, which is still clear.
The 20th century saw the closing of the last mill. It was built in 1908 and closed in 1956. This year, Congress passed the Interstate Highway System legislation. It is covered in metal and has solid bedrock foundations. Emil Mischke originally built the mill, and then he sold it to Lester Klemme. Dillard Mill had a rail line, which allowed for better commercial connections than other mills. However, even though it was closed in the 1930s and the area was left in great economic isolation,
The most fascinating thing about the Dillard Mill is its second existence as a resort until 1962 under Klemme. People who were exploring the Ozarks at the time found cabins and fishing ponds, encouraged to stay and enjoy the beautiful surroundings of the Huzzah Creek and mill. However, even this business was not sustainable.
Even the most remote parts of the Ozarks were eventually connected to major Midwest industrial centers by the automobile, especially after World War II. Pillsbury and General Mills of Minneapolis could supply flour at a fraction of the cost of small local mills. Even transportation costs didn’t affect these large companies’ competitive advantage in small towns. The Ozarks’ watermills became a tourist attraction and a business.