HISTORIC MILLS OF THE OZARKS
In the days before Amazon and Walmart, mills and covered bridges played an important role for rural communities in the southern Missouri and Northern Arkansas Ozark's.
The mills were a special place for commerce and social gatherings and provided essential services such and grinding their corn harvest into meal.
A trip to the mill was a big deal because many of the people at this time might have gone months without seeing a neighbor.
There were hundreds of mills spread across the Ozark's, where they were situated in the most scenic valleys in order to harness the power of moving water.
Now, only remnants of the mills remain, so I am photographing them with my historic dry plate camera from the 1880's and making handmade archival platinum and palladium prints so generations in the future can see these amazing pieces of American history before they are gone forever.
|NOTE: This page is being actively updated as I visit each mill location and make the handmade platinum prints. You can follow along with me by subscribing to my Free Darkroom Diary where I provide weekly updates on the current state of the project and my latest prints that I am working on.|
ABOUT MY PROCESS
I use a historic 1889 Eastman Dry Plate Camera made by the founder of Kodak while he was in London before coming to New York to create the Kodak film and camera company that we know today.
This all original camera and lens uses hand poured glass plate negatives to make the exposures.
I later develop each plate in my darkroom so I can use them to make my archival platinum and palladium prints of the mills.
My historic camera renders light in a way that is impossible to duplicate by modern digital cameras. When you hold one of my historic Ozark Mill platinum prints in your hands it is like you are transported back to the 19the century.
I start the process by hand cutting glass plates to the proper size for my camera and preparing them for accepting a light sensitive silver gelatin emulsion.
The preparation process includes sanding the edges of the glass plates, filing a notch on one side so I know which side of the plate holds the emulsion, and then I use a subbing process where I chemically clean each plate and apply a gelatin and hardening solution to help the forthcoming silver gelatin emulsion stick to the plate.
Then, in my darkroom laboratory, I create an 1880's light sensitive silver gelatin emulsion from raw materials and chemicals using the exact same formulas as the 19th century photographers. The glass prep and emulsion making spans over 2 to 3 days.
Once the emulsion is tested and ready to go, I then coat each plate by hand with the light sensitive silver gelation emulsion that I made in the lab. This emulsion is the same type that was used during the 1870's and 1880's. It is only sensitive to blue and UV light as compared to full sensitivity of modern black and white film.
Once the plates are fully cured and dried, I load them into my camera's plate holders before heading out to the field and photographing each mill the same way they would have in the 19th century.
As you can see, it is a lot of work and effort in order to have the opportunity to spend time in the field and photograph the mills. I enjoy the entire process and benefit from the slower and contemplative workflow.
After exposing each plate, I return to my darkroom and develop each plate individually under red safelight in darkroom chemicals used for developing film and plates.
After the plate dries over night, I can then use the glass plate negative to make an archival platinum and palladium fine art print that can last for thousands of years.
Life in Ozark County in the 1800’s was tough. Farmers would have to drive their wagons for many miles to mill their grain. If you love history and the power of water, you will enjoy a visit to the five existing mills in Ozark County. Dawt Mill and Rockbridge Mill have been restored and are full time resorts, Hodgson Mill, the most photographed mill in Missouri can be visited, but not entered, Zanoni Mill is now privately owned and the new owners have blocked access to the mill, and Hammond Mill has been converted into a luxury home. Effectively we are only left with Hodgson Mill is the only mill that is not privately owned or converted into some type of commercial venue. Even though Topaz Mill is privately owned, the owners are wonderful people and they are committed to preserving the history of this magnificent piece of American history. Topaz mill is the crown jewel of the central Ozarks in my opinion.
View my photographs and prints of Hodgson Mill and learn more about the history of the mill.
Besides being absolutely stunningly beautiful, it is an incredible remnant from history that I deeply appreciate and cherish.
Rivaling Alley Springs Mill in the National Scenic Riverways area for most photo-worthy destination is Hodgson Mill is one of five located in Ozark County. The 30 million gallons of water pouring out of Hodgson Spring creates a beautiful spring branch that flows in front of the mill, ensuring every photo taken here is a keeper.
Hodgson Mill dates back to the 1860s, but continued to operate until 1977. Its peak production was 1 million pounds of flour and meal per year. Though it no longer operates, the brand and the Hodgson Mill image live on in products made by an Illinois company. While in the area you can visit nearby Dawt, Rockbridge, Hammond and Zanoni mills.
View my photographs and prints of Hodgson Mill and learn more about the history of the mill.
Topaz Mill is three stories tall and is in amazing condition for its age.
The first mill at this location was built in 1840 and the current mill was built in 1895.
Topaz Mill is now privately owned by the O'Neal family.
The owners are friendly people that love to share the history of Topaz Mill with interested parties.
The general store is right next to the mill and these two historic buildings are all that is left of the once-thriving village of Topaz located in Douglas County just south of Cabool.
The mill is powered by a spring that creates 10 million gallons of spring water every day that was directed to the undershot water wheel by a stone millrace.
The mill is in excellent condition and is very unique because most all of the original machines and equipment are still inside the mill. The owners have a Facebook Page that you can visit and learn more information about this amazing and wonderful piece of American history.
View my photographs and prints of Topaz Mill and learn more about the history of the mill.
Dawn Mill is privately owned now and part of a resort. As you can see from the photo to the left (July 2021), the mill is under restoration right now and based on conversations that I had with employees, the Mill has never been reopened since the 2017 floods.
Since the mill is now part of a private resort and has been commercialized, I choose not to photograph it as part of my Ozark's Historic Mills Project.
Dawt Mill like Rockbridge, once was a town with a blacksmith shop, store, church and hotel. Dawt Mill has become a fulltime resort with Cabin and Hotel style lodging, three restaurants and a concert venue not to mention legendary float trips.
Dawt Mill is located two miles northeast of Tecumseh, about a mile off Route PP.
View my photographs and prints of Dawt Mill and learn more about the history of the mill.
Nestled in the Ozark Mountains lies the small village of Rockbridge. Alongside the village runs a beautiful, sparkling stream called Spring Creek where rainbow trout swim lazily along the rocky bottom.
Long ago, the village was the bustling hub of Ozark County, where people from miles around brought their grain to be milled, did their banking, shopped the general store and went to church.
It all started back in 1868 when B.V. Morris, an Ozarks pioneer, built a dam and a mill on Spring Creek. The milling business was good enough in those days that Morris soon found it necessary to enlarge the mill, which he did in 1894. Morris built one of the finest buildings in the area.
It closed in 1933 when the patterns of traffic changed in the region, but was rescued from inglorious deterioration by the Amyx family. Lile and Edith purchased the town site in 1954 and launched Rainbow Trout Ranch, one of the Ozarks’ most successful resorts and the mill started a new life.
View my photographs and prints of Rockbridge Mill and learn more about the history of the mill.
Zanoni Mill is located nine miles northeast of Gainesville on Hwy. 181. It boasts the only overshot water wheel operation in the Ozark County mills, but unfortunately, the mill is now privately owned and the new owners have blocked off access to the mill.
Milling began at Zanoni during Civil War days in a little mud-built cabin built by John Cody. After the first mill burned, George Shoemaker built a new mill and added a sawmill. The mill burned again in 1905. That same year, A.P. Morrison built the third mill at Zanoni, sending to France for a new set of of 18-inch, flint burhstones at a cost of $125.
The mill was powered by a spring that flowed from the hillside at 226,000 gallons a day. The spring furnished Zanoni with modern utilities, running water and electricity. Zanoni also was the site of an overall factory in the 1920’s. Ownership of the mill and village passed back into the hands of the Morrison family when it was purchased in 1974 by David Morrison (grandson of A.P. Morrison) and his wife Mary. The Morrisons built a beautiful home on the site, leaving the old mill, general store and family home standing.
A lake in front of the home receives the spring water from the mill. The water then runs over the lake’s spillway into Pine Creek.
View my photographs and prints of Zanoni Mill and learn more about the history of the mill.
Hammond Mill, located three miles southeast of Thornfield off Route D south, is currently being restored as a private residence.
The three-story frame structure, built over a basement, was constructed in 1907 by John W. Grudier, one of the founders of the town of Hammond.
Hammond was a thriving community with a post office, drug store, general store, and blacksmith shop. The mill ran 24 hours a day, grinding flour. Unlike the other water powered mills on the county, Hammond Mill was powered by turbines. There was, however, a mill pond in back where people fished while waiting for their grain to be ground into flour.
Hammond Mill has been restored into a beautiful and rustic 3,600 sq. ft. home that can accommodate 10. Fishing, hunting and exploring guide service is available. No telephone, No computer. No A/C, just a gentle breeze through the trees and the sweet smell of the river. This is the place to vacation in peace and quiet. For more information: [email protected] or (417) 683-3322.
|OZARKS SCENIC RIVERWAYS|
Alley Spring Mill
Alley Spring Mill is one of the most photographed spots in Missouri, the bright red mill located 6 miles west of Eminence rivals the Jacks Fork and Current rivers as the crown jewel of the Ozark National Scenic Riverways. The present mill dates to 1893 or 1894 and was originally white with green trim. It was powered by a beautiful spring that despite pumping out 81 million gallons of water per day only ranks seventh in size among Missouri springs.
Summersville Mill is only 13 miles to the west of Alley Spring Mill on highway 106 and definitely worth your time to visit.
Greer Spring Mill
Greer Spring mill was built on one of the largest springs in the Ozarks in the 1860's. Greer Spring produces an amazing 222 million gallons of water every day. The original location of the mill was a mill off highway 19 down in a deep gorge next to an underwater cave. The cave and original spring are still int the same place and the mill has been relocated next to the road on highway 19 for easy access and viewing. During the civil war, the mill was burned down by confederate soldiers. In 1870 the war was over and the mill was rebuilt again.
Turner Mill Ruins
All that is left of Turner Mill is the 25-foot metal wheel that once transferred power from the spring pouring out of a small cave to the mill’s machinery. Located on the edge of the Irish Wilderness in the Mark Twain National Forest, the giant wheel should be on the bucket list of any modern-day Ozark's explorer. A Forest Service picnic area is located nearby, with a trail that leads to the wheel. From Highway 19, take Forest Road 3152 for 6 miles, then take Forest Road 3190 for another 3 miles. It can also be reached at mile 22.3 on the Eleven Point River.
Falling Spring Mill
If you are looking for peace and tranquility, you will find it at this tiny mill hidden deep in the Mark Twain National Forest north of Alton and Greer Mill off highway 19. Once a wooden flume carried water from a spring that shoots out of a hole in a limestone bluff to the overshot water wheel that powered the mill. It ground corn, ran a sawmill and even generated electricity for a time. A small pond, the builder’s log cabin and the mill are all that is left of a once-thriving community.
Mills go back to 1834 at the Montauk Mill site. The current mill was built in 1896 and a total of 4 mills have operated on this site. It was more common in the old days for fire to burn down the building.
Klepzig mill was built in 1928 and is the most remote of the Missouri mills. In fact, it may be easier to visit by hiking the nearby Ozark Trail than by car given the rough road that leads to it. The tiny mill isn’t much to look at, but the surrounding rhyolite rock shut-ins of Rocky Creek more than make up for the difficult trek. It’s located not far from Rocky Falls, one of the most spectacular waterfalls in the state, east of Winona.
Often overshadowed by its location just a few miles west of Alley Spring Mill, this mill still has much of its original equipment. It was restored to its former glory as the centerpiece of a city park and has been used for a variety of events. This mill was powered by a steam engine that used water from the nearby pond. During its busiest period it ran 24 hours a day, seven days a week. The mill dates to 1886 and was one of several built by the McCaskill family.
Summersville Mill is located in Summersville, Missouri in Texas County near the headwater of the National Scenic Riverways at the corner of highway 106 and Elm street on the east side of town. If you continue on highway 106 east for 13 miles, Alley Spring Mill is on the left before you get into the town of Eminence.
In 1880 a small Ozarks town near buffao lick was nearly wiped out from a tornado. The rich ground and natural resources made this area an ideal location for a grist mill. During the rebuilding period after the tornado, a new gristmill was built by local business people. In 1882 Licking Mill was open for business. Records indicate the mill experienced some type of fire during the early 1900's, but survived another disaster. The mill was closed for business in 1973 because the current owners retired.
You can view Licking Mill in Texas County, Missouri by taking highway 63 to Highway 32 and turning into the town of Licking. Go to the junction of highway 137 (main street), no north one block and turn on Old Mill Street and the mill will be in plain view standing three stories high and still in great shape for its age.
Paydown Mill sites near the Gasconade river on Mill Creek in Missouri's norther Ozark region. According to records, food and supplies were supplied through the general store to troops during the Civil War. The original property owner was Peter Walter in 1829.
Paydown Mill is on highway 42, about 10 miles northeast of Vienna, Missouri in Maries County. The mill is on the east side of Gasconade River and the north side of highway 42. There is an old home, stone slave quarters, and other historic remnants across the highway, but on private property. The mill can easily be viewed from the road.
Bollinger Mill is unique among Missouri mills in that the site also includes the oldest of Missouri’s four remaining covered bridges. It’s an impressive four-story structure made of brick and limestone. Milling has gone on at the site since 1800 when the first log mill was constructed. A stone mill was built in 1825 but was burned by Union troops during the Civil War. After the war the present structure was built. The mill and covered bridge form Bollinger Mill State Historic Site located west of Jackson in southeast Missouri. Note: 161/3HR
Dillard Mill is located in the largest lead mining district in the United States. As with many of the remaining mills, Dillard Mill is hanging on with what is left of a ghost town, now turned state park and historic site. The original mill on this site was built in the 1850's. In the mid 188o's a post office and other services came to the area. The mill burned in the 1890's and it was rebuilt again using timbers from the original building.
Reed Spring Mill
Visitors to Centerville, the county seat of Reynolds County, often pass through without knowing of the existence of this mill, which looks like a log cabin with a waterwheel attached. I did this several times before researching this project. The present mill is a reproduction of the old mill that was disassembled and shipped to San Francisco for the 1939 World’s Fair, then became part of the Smithsonian Institution’s collection. The mill once provided electricity in the days before Black River Electric Cooperative formed.
Borgman Mill dates back to the 1840's and is located in Defiance in the Daniel Boone historic site. Borgmann Mill is thought to be the oldest grist mill in the western United States. It is unique because power for the mill was generated by mules and oxen versus water. The animals were placed in a harness and then walked around in a circle transferring the power to the mill.
Spring Mill was originally built in 1867 in the eastern Arkansas Ozarks near Batesville. An interesting fact about this mill is that it was the very last water-powered grist mill working in the entire state. The mill operated until 1976. You will get to see wooden gearwheels and hand-hewn log beams which is an amazing piece of craftsmanship to see in person. It is rumored that Jesse James and his gang would stop at this mill for water and supplies.
The old Boxley Mill, in the historic Boxley Valley of the Buffalo National River, in northern Arkansas. The Boxley Mill opened in 1870, and operated until 1950. p69
War Eagle Mill
On the banks of Capps Creek sits this large mill that is part of a privately supported park. The mill once ground corn that was used for whiskey, giving rise to one theory on the name of the community called Jollification that sprang up around it. The mill was restored in 1998 and water-powered corn grinding returned. Since then, floodwaters have damaged the mill and the surrounding park, but friends of the mill held fundraisers to repair the damage. The park is open from dawn to dusk seven days a week with a $5 per car donation.
This mill, the last of the 10 that once existed in Dade County, was nearly lost to the rising waters of Stockton Lake. Instead, it was moved a mile to a peaceful location near Greenfield where it is the centerpiece of a 50-acre campground where many community events are held. The mill played an important role in the Civil War by supplying flour to hungry Union troops before the Battle of Wilson’s Creek. p84
Unlike many Ozark mills, Wommack Mill is easy to access with its location near downtown Fair Grove. The stone-burr grist mill was built in 1883 and was powered by steam. Thanks to the efforts of the Fair Grove Historical and Preservation Society, the mill was restored and now serves as the focal point for the town’s annual Fall Festival set for Sept. 25-26, along with many weddings, reunions and other local events. p87
WHY PLATINUM & PALLADIUM PRINTS?
Although difficult and costly to create, platinum prints are the sine qua non of photographic art. Discerning art buyers and collectors value platinum prints because of their ethereal beauty, permanence, and rarity.
Once a platinum print is experienced in person, it is usually a visual revelation because of its tremendous tonal range and delicate characteristics.
The platinum print dates back to the mid 19th century when chemists and photographers were exploring ways to make more permanent photographs. It all started in 1842 when Sir John Hershel discovered an iron-based printing process. Fast forward about thirty years and William Willis Jr. patented the platinum printing process that builds upon the light-sensitive research of Hershel.
Platinum is a noble metal and is one of the most stable known to science. It is more precious than gold and because of its stability, a handmade platinum print that is made to archival standards can last for thousands of years as compared to 100 or 200 years for regular photographs. Palladium is less stable than platinum, but it certainly is considered to be an archival print by collectors and curators. Art buyers and collectors are well served by the archival properties of these noble metals.
In the 21st century, the vast majority of life and photography have been digitized. There are only a small number of dedicated platinum printmakers actively creating artist original work with platinum and I am one of them. Since platinum prints are made entirely by hand, each one is unique and this is important when considering original artwork.
In the right hands, platinum prints are unparalleled in their beauty and many people describe them as having a three-dimensional appearance. When a platinum print is made, the light-sensitive iron particles chemically react with the platinum to form fine elemental platinum particles into and on the top fibers of the paper. Because the resulting platinum is both woven into the fibers and sits on top of the paper, platinum prints have a depth about them unlike any other type of fine art photograph.