Mills of Greene County
The following information about the mills in Greene County, for the most part, has been abstracted from three principle sources: The History of Greene County, 1883, by Holcombe and Adams (H&A); Personal Reminiscences,1914, by Martin Hubble (Hubble); and Past and Present of Greene County Missouri, 1915, by Jonathan Fairbanks and Clyde Edwin Tuck. (F&T)
Determining the exact number of mills that have been in operation in Greene County is difficult and confusing due to the fact that the same mill may have gone under different names depending on the successive owners. On some occasions a mill was relocated and assumed a different name.
Near the Pomme de Terre river and the pretty village of Fair Grove, in Greene County, Missouri, may yet (in 1915) be seen the ruins of what in its day was the most useful mill in the state of Missouri, and few, if any, mills in the world have had a more attractive history then the one which may there be seen in the last stages of decay. But there is yet enough of the crumbling pile to prompt the traveler to ask its history, and this is the story he learns:
Early in the year 1858 Sampson Bass, who then, as now, was one of the most enterprising citizens of the Southwest, concluded that the advancement of the times warranted the building of a steam flour mill at the place mentioned. The country was rich in resources and the soil yielded abundant harvests of the finest grain, but there was no modern mill in that territory to make flour for its inhabitants and the markets of the world. Sampson Bass thought a steam mill would pay, and so he set out to build one. What an undertaking that was can not be measured by the rules governing such an enterprise today. (F&T, p. 151)
After months of hard work and many mishaps the mill was completed and the people from all the countryside came to see, for the first time in their lives, the operation of a steam plant. That was in the year 1859. (F&T, p. 152)
As time went on people came to realize that they could depend upon the Bass mill to operate in good times and bad. This was particularly demonstrated during the 1859-1860 drought that shut down water powered mills all over Southwest Missouri.
Sampson Bass tried to maintain the neutrality of his mill during the Civil War and was, with few exceptions, able to do so, making flour for both sides until the Confederates were forced out of Southwest Missouri into Arkansas.
A post office was established in 1863 at the mill with the name Bassville. Then came two grocery stores, a blacksmith shop, a dry goods store and potter's shop. In 1867 Bass sold the mill to James Gray who moved the machinery to another location. In the meantime a steam mill had been established in Springfield.
Chesley and Benjamin Cannefax built a mill on Walnut Creek in 1832, but it never attained much importance or notoriety. (H&A, p. 877)
In those days we went to Cason's Mill, where the James River bridge is now located near Galloway. The Cason Mill is the oldest mill that I know of. (Hubble, p. 8)
Robberson Township. A grist mill was built by Joseph Evans, and he ventured to erect a frame dwelling house, and for years it was the admired of all admirers, everyone being curious to know how much such a building cost. (H&A, p. 916)
In 1832 or 1833, Augustine Friend built a corn-cracker mill at what is now (in 1883) known as Jones Spring on Section 27, R 21 or four miles east of Springfield. This mill was pretty well patronized. (H&A, p. 877)
Augustine Friend, one of those driven out in 1822 and returning in 1830, had a mill at the large spring on Section 27, T 29 R 21, about five miles east of Springfield. This was in 1832 or 1833. This spring was afterwards the site of Henderson Jones' distillery and still bears the name of Jones Spring. (F&T)
In 1832 a mill was erected by William Fulbright on a site near the head of the Little Sac. (H&A, p. 141)
Disputing the distinction claimed for old Jerry Pearson's mill, in the eastern part of the county, it is claimed that the first mill erected within the present borders of Greene County was built by William Fulbright, in section 3 T29 R22, on the Fulbright farm, now (1883) occupied by his grandson, W. D. Fulbright. It was a "tub mill," and ground for customers living fifty miles away. Fulbright afterward built another mill, or rather, a millwright named Randolph did for him, but it would not work, and was "no good." Afterwards, in 1844, his son, John L. Fulbright, put mill machinery in the same building, that turned two run of buhrs, until 1859, when he tore down the old mill, put up a new one, and added a carding machine, but had only one run of buhrs. The mill is still running, and is on the head waters of the Sac (1883). The building is 44 by 18 feet in size, and is a two story frame. Of Fulbright's old mill, old William Jenkins used to say that when the water was low the mill-wheel would mutter out, "Fulbright and Lasley, Fulbright and Lasley", over and over, signifying that it would grind only for Fulbright and his neighbor Lasley; but when the water was high, the wheel would rattle away merrily, "everybody, everybody, everybody!" (H&A, p. 876-877)
Another mill was built at a very early date (I have never been able to learn the exact time), by William Fulbright, just below the great spring flowing from under a bluff on Little Sac, some two miles and a half north of Springfield, on Section 3, T 29 R 22, and which is now the source from which the Springfield Water Company draws the supply for the city. This mill, with some later improvements, was standing and operating as late as 1870, and I think some years later. I have stood by its great overshot water-wheel and heard the whirling of its old fashioned mill stones myself. (F & T)
The early histories of Greene County do not mention the Gibson's Mill on Wilson's Creek, the site of which is now within the boundaries of Wilson's Creek National Battlefield.
Archaeological studies were begun at the site of the mill as well as the Gibson house by National Park Service personnel August 23, 1966. The appearance of the mill was then reconstructed based upon the remains that were uncovered during the excavation that include remnants of the dam, headrace, wooden timbers in the water that survived a fire that destroyed the mill at some point, wooden turbine housing, mill stone fragments, and portions of the mill stone foundation and chimney footing. The archaeological report may be reviewed at the Park Visitor Center Library.
The mill was located on the east bank of Wilson's Creek. The dates of construction and abandonment are unknown. It was in existence on August 10, 1861, the date of the Civil War Battle of Wilson's Creek, as evidenced by reports of the battle. Mr. John M. Gibson is thought to be the original owner and builder, but there are those who say the mill was later owned by a Reuben Rose and when by the name of Rose Mill. A grandson of Reuben Rose has stated that his grandfather owned the Gibson's Mill at the time of his death in 1881 and that he assumed ownership as the result of default of a loan that had been made to Mr. Gibson. It was not until the 1870 census that Mr. Gibson identified himself as a miller. In the 1860 census he identified himself as a wood carder. So discrepancies remain as to the dates of construction of the mill and its owners.
The Goodnight Mill was located about 25 miles northeast of Springfield on the Ernest Mullings property north of Fruitland near the Greene-Polk County line. Not only was there a mill but a post office, drug store, general store and blacksmith shop. The original mill burned during the Civil War. The second mill washed out. A third mill was constructed on the site in 1914. A gasoline engine was installed o power the mill in 1935 and continued until 1942 when the mill was abandoned.
Hugh Hackney, Old Uncle Hugh Hackney, lived out on the Sac and had a mill and the meal and flour that came from Hackney's mill sold like dollars, for there wasn't any doubt about its purity. (Hubble, p. 79).
Hunt's mill is located on Section 22, T30. There is here a general store, recently established. Johnathan Hunt is the proprietor of the mill, which is turned by the water from the springs before mentioned. (H&A, p. 899)
Franklin Township. The township abounds in springs, and these and the branches of the Sac supply it with plenty of water. On Section 22, T30, there are two fine springs sending out a large volume of water, with a fall of forty feet in less than 200 yards, and affording plenty of water and power to turn a mill of two run of buhrs. (H&A, p. 895)
A man named Ingle settled near where the bridge now stands (1883), at the crossing of the James on the Ozark Road, and there erected what some claim was the first mill in Southwest Missouri. (H&A, p. 129)
Historical Marker # 4, NW 1/4, NE 1/2 NE 1/4 Section 21, T 28N, R 21W, Galloway Quad. First mill site in Southwest Missouri. The marker was placed near the northwest corner of the Old Ozark bridge (just west of present-day bridge over US 65) just south of Galloway. On a recent visit to the site, marker was not located. Text on marker reads: Site of First Dam and Mill erected by-------Ingle, 1882. Osage Indians forded here on their main trail to White River hunting grounds. Marker erected 1921 by Kiwanis Club of Springfield Mo. The mill was established about the time of Thomas Patterson's settlement in Greene County, by a man by the name of Ingle. Remnants of the old dam, visible for many years are now covered by the backwaters of Lake Springfield. The ford at this point on the river was the crossing place for the Osage Indians on their trail every fall and spring from their villages on the Osage and Missouri Rivers to their hunting grounds on the White, James and Arkansas Rivers. The grist mill was of vital importance in the establishment of a settlement. The mill probably was one of the first operations established along with a blacksmith shop, church and school. The grinding of grain into flour to make bread historically is one of the basic industries of a community. (From the historical markers list published in the 1950s by the Greene County Historical Society).
The plentiful water power, running to waste on every Ozark creek, river and spring branch, at one suggested to the first comers the utilizing of some of this waste energy to grind their corn, and later to saw their timber into lumber. We have seen that among those who came in from the direction of Arkansas, in 1822, and who so soon had to vacate because of the prior rights of the Delawares, there was one, a Mr. Ingle, who is recorded to have built a mill on the James River, at about the old bridge over that stream on the Ozark Road. This mill was probably operated by power obtained from a wing-dam, for evidently anything approaching a regular dam sufficient to restrain the James at that point was far beyond the ability of a few pioneers at that time. Long after the writer came to Greene County in 1868, there was the remains of an old dam of this sort, at the ford just below the old bridge. This I have been told was the remains of Ingle's work. (F&T)
S. N. Ingram's mill, on the James, was blown down (Cyclone of 1880). (H&A)
Sidney N. Ingram. This gentleman is the son of Martin and Annie A. (Howard) Ingram, and was born July 15, 1832 at Wilson, Tennessee. His parents came to Greene County, Missouri in December, 1834, where Sidney received his education, attending school until nearly of age. He taught school for several years and in 1857 taught in Collin County, Texas. In 1859 he and A. G. McCracken built a mill on the James River and ran it in partnership until Mr. McCracken's death in 1878. Mr. Ingram and his sons now run the mill and have fitted it with the latest and best improvements and make the best grades of flour (1883). (H&A, p. 761-762)
In company with Mr. Rountree on his journey from Tennessee was Sidney S. Ingram, who settled in Springfield, on East Walnut Street, just north of which he erected a cabinet and wagon shop. Mr. Ingram remained in the city a number of years, and afterward removed to a farm about one and one half miles southwest of town, after which he removed to the place on the James, where, in company with F. C. Howard, he erected a saw and grist mill. there he remained until his death, which occurred about the year 1847, August 9. (H&A, p. 146)
Sidney Ingram at first settled in Springfield, or where Springfield was to be. He here built a cabinet and wagon building shop. In a few years he moved to a farm a short distance south of town, and afterward to the location on the James where in company with F. C. Howard, he built a grist mill, which, with its successors, have continued to the present day, and always as "Ingram's Mill". At this mill Mr. Ingram died in 1847. (F&T, p. 138)
Campbell Township. Martin Ingram was one of the old settlers of east Campbell Township. Coming to Springfield in 1834, he lived one year in the town, and in moved to a farm in Section 2. He did a large amount of mechanical work in the days of the early history of the county, and built several mills (H&A, p. 875).
William and Martha Robinson Johns came to Greene County from Robberson County, Tenn. as pioneers in 1840. A watermill, known as Johns Mill, was built on the Sac River in 1855 by William Johns. William Johns died during the Civil War, but his son, Robert T. Johns continued operating the mill. Robert T. Johns was born March 4, 1838 in Robberson County, Tennessee, and was only two years old when his family came to Greene County. He helped haul the pine lumber from Arkansas to build the mill and then received his training as a millwright from his father. In 1872 he built his own mill near the site of the one built by his father. The mill was a two story building setting on a high foundation on the south side of the Sac river and west of the bridge. A dam across the river about one half mile east of the mill formed a mill pond. The water going over the dam continued down the river while the water at the south end of the dam was directed into a millrace and under the mill to a deep hole and the waterwheel. The mill machinery was on the first floor and the grain bins on the second. the mill was operated by several different individuals until sometime after 1920 when it was torn down by Moses Copeland and the lumber used for his own house. In 1899 weather flags began to be flown above the mill to provide those who could see the flags weather information. (Greene County Historical Society Bulletin, Vol. 50, 1986)
The Yoakum Mill was then in existence, but there was no mill at the Jones Spring at that time. Old Uncle Bennie Bass here at Beaver Gap had a corn cracker, which consisted of two little stones of about a foot or 18 inches across, and those old stones were lying about there in that neighborhood a few years ago. But neither the Fulbright nor the mill at Jones Spring had been built at that time. The Carson Mill is the oldest mill that I know of. The next mill to be built was at the Jones Spring. (Hubble, p. 8)
Lawson Fulbright Mill
But neither the Fulbright nor the mill at Jones Spring had been built at that time. The Cason Mill is the oldest mill that I know of. The next mill to be built was at the Jones Spring and also the Lawson Fulbright Mill. (Hubble, p. 9)
Wilson Township. The settlers had their grinding done at Marshall's old mill, on the James. No sawmills were in existence here and all wooden articles or implements used were hewn out with an ax. (H&A, p. 685)
Old John Marshall, who owned the famous mill at the mouth of the Finley, had an old fat squaw for a wife. Marshall did not leave with the Delawares, (October 1831), but went the following spring in 1832. (H&A, p. 722)
A man by the name of Marshall also came with them, (James Wilson), being married to a squaw, with whom he lived until his death, which occurred about the time the Indians were leaving here, and his widow and orphans went to the Territory with their dusky companions. Mr. Marshall had taken the old mill which had formerly been abandoned by Mr. Ingle, and removed it down the river to a point near the mouth of Finley Creek, where he had commenced a plantation. (H&A, p. 131-132)
Mr. Miller too tells us that the first grist was ground at a little wing-dam mill, operated by John Marshall, on James River near the mouth of Finley. This man, Marshall by the way, was a "squaw man" living with the Indians until his death, just before they finally removed from he region. His mill was the same that Ingle had put up on the James, and had been bought by Wilson and moved to the lower location when Ingle was forced to vacate his claim. (F&T)
In those days (early days) neighbors were few and far between, but everybody was friendly and willing to divide the last mouthful. The first grist of corn was ground on a little wing-dam mill that Old John Marshall had on James, near the mouth of the Finley, although Jerry Pearson had a little rattle-trap of a mill some nearer, but it was hardly competent to grind for his own use. (H&A, p. 153)
Prior to mill building, corn had to be beaten in wooden mortars with a pestle, and these were used to some extent for a long time in preference to the little "one-horse" mills of the new county. (H&A, p. 153)
Franklin Township. The first mill visited was at the mouth of the James, or near where Ozark now is, in Christian County. Marshall's old mill, on Finley, was also visited, while very often the old mortar and pestle were resorted to for corn meal. The first grist mill built in the township was a steam mill, put up in 1858 on Section 16, T30. On the same section, on Sac River, Dysart and Headlee built and operated a saw mill, in 1848. The mill stood near the southwest corner of the section. (H&A, p. 897)
And striking James fort twenty miles east, thence down to Jerry Pearson's where he had built a little water mill at a spring just below the Danforth place. (H&A, p. 137)
Taylor Township. The township is well watered by springs. Pearson creek, which rises at the Powell Spring, in the southern part of Section 5, was water enough as a rule to turn a mill, and was so used by old Jerry Pearson, when he first came to this country in 1828 when the Indians were still here. (H&A)
One of the very first mills in all Southwest Missouri was that built by old Jerry Pearson, somewhere between the years 1828 and 1831. The Delaware Indians were in possession of the county then, and from them Mr. Pearson obtained permission to build his mill. Pearson was from Tennessee. He located near the large spring which is near the residence of Mrs. Letitia Powell, on Section 5. The water from this spring forms Pearson Creek, and it was this creek that turned the mill. Some idea may be gained of the volume of water that flows from the old Pearson Spring (now called the Powell Spring (1883) by this circumstance. Pearson also set up a distillery afterwards, along in the '30's somewhere and this establishment was near the mill; but the first still-house in the township was set up by John Burden, at the Burden Spring. The hollow where it was situated is still called "still-house hollow." Pearson's mill was an important institution in it day. It ground the corn of the setters for a radius of several miles. The Campbells, the Fulbrights, the Rountrees, and others from Springfield came here for their grinding, until the little horse-mill was started--which was afterwards owned by Judge Hedrick. The capacity of Pearson's mill was not large--perhaps fifty bushels a day, and quite often its patrons remained over night waiting their turns. (H&A, p. 704)
Jeremiah Pearson came to what is now the southern part of Jackson Township, Greene County, a year or two later, and settled on the stream that afterwards bore his name, and not long afterward built a mill, which disputes for the distinction of being the first to this section of the State. (H&A, p. 126)
Jerry Pearson also built, at a very early date, a mill below the spring that is at the head of the creek that still bears his name. We have seen that Mr. Miller speaks rather contemptuously of this "mill", stating that it would hardly do Mr. Pearson's own grinding. (F&T)
The next mill accessible (Walnut Grove) was Carey & Perkins' or McElhanon & Perkins, on Clear Creek, down where now is Boone Township. (H&A, p. 611)
Dr. Constantine Perkins settled on Clear Creek in Section 4, and had a mill there, probably the first in the Township, long known as Mcelhanon's & Perkins' mill. The second mill put up in the Township was on the Sac, about the year 1848. (H&A, p. 624)
The Whinnery Mill site is located near Ash Grove, Missouri.
The Wommack Mill, the only operational mill in Greene County, was built in 1883 in Fair Grove, Missouri, by Joe Hines and John Boegle. In 1923 ownership of the mill eventually passed to Clifford Wommack who operated the mill, along with his wife, Ethyl, till 1969. The Fair Grove Historical and Preservation Society purchased the mill and began the restoration process using some of the original machinery and the buhrstones. The mill is a steam-operated mill.
The Yokum Mill was then in existence (Hubble, p. 8).