- Featured Stories
- Douglas County
- City of Ava
- General Interest
One of the most photographed spots in Missouri is also one of the most fun for a weekend camping or floating adventure.
For those who don’t enjoy camping in the great outdoors, I spotted a rustic lodge in Eminence as I passed through. A little research revealed it to be the Cedar Stone Lodge, and during the summer season rates are $95 per night.
I passed a turn-off for the Alley Spring campground, which includes canoe rentals, electric hookups and showers before turning into the General Store.
At the store, I was met by my guides – Faye Walmsley and Ranger Bill O’Donnell.
According to Walmsley and O’Donnell, the Alley Spring mill was built in 1894. It was the second mill in the area, the first being built around 1860.
O’Donnell cited the natural spring as the reason for the location of the mill.
“Jacks Fork was unreliable as far as water power,” he said. “The spring churns out a constant 81 million gallons of water every day.”
O’Donnell commented that most people think that the era of the mill was far back in history, but in actuality the people of that time had many modern amenities.
“At that time there was electricity and locomotives,” he said.
The town around Alley Mill was “the Wal-mart of its time,” O’Donnell said.
“People had to come here to get their grain ground, and sometimes there was a couple days’ wait,” he said. “So they would camp here while they got their resources.”
Those times were often the only time that the Ozarkers were able to see their neighbors.
“These little communities helped bring these people together from far-flung farms and homesteads,” O’Donnell said.
John Knotts purchased the 80 acre site of the mill in 1902 and soon offered a well-stocked store and blacksmith shop.
The milling operation was expanded to include corn meal production as well as flour.
The park includes a historic schoolhouse that is open to the public.
It’s not the schoolhouse that was originally on the site, but one that was donated by a local resident.
Teachers and students at the former school come back to visit and sign their name on the chalkboard.
Alley’s school in 1903 had an enrollment of 42 students. Church services were also held at the schoolhouse.
Conrad Hug became the new owner in 1912, and made Alley one of Missouri’s first resorts, known as Crystal Spring Town Site. Glider swings for tourists were scattered around the spring and July Fourth was one of many festive celebrations.
“It was popular during Prohibition, and may have been a place to avoid that law,” O’Donnell said.
The mill closed in the 1920s, but has been restored and is open for visitors. It is occasionally used for demonstrations.
“A bad thing that happened to Alley Mill was the railroads,” O’Donnell said. “People didn’t need to grow wheat here and have it ground when it was being shipped from Kansas.”
Originally unpainted, the mill was first painted white with green trim, then later the famous red color associated with Alley Mill today.
Alley Spring, Big Spring and Round Spring were the first three Missouri state parks, and were all developed in the 1920s.
Then, in 1964, the Ozark National Scenic Riverways was created, and the state donated the Alley area to the federal government as part of the national riverways.
“The state park springs were the anchor points of the riverways, and the government then worked to buy up the land between them,” Walmsley said.
This was the first time that a national park was based upon a river.
“The national parks were getting away from just being big, square pieces of land out west with mountains,” O’Donnell said.
It was part of a drive to help make national parks accessible to the people, no matter their economic status.
“People didn’t have to be rich to come to the riverways,” Walmsley said. “People from St. Louis, Kansas City and Memphis could take a small drive and come here.”
Alley Spring now has between 20,000 and 30,000 visitors every year.
Along with the ever-popular summertime activities available at Alley Spring, the park also offers a “Haunting of the Hills” in October.
This year’s event will be Oct. 9-10, and will include story-telling, Civil War re-enactments and demonstrations of blacksmithing, soap-making and other 1900-era tasks.
For more information, visit www.nps.gov/ozar.
Reflections is a weekly column exploring the history of Douglas County. This summer, we will be exploring local wedding destinations, fireworks celebrations and day trips. If you have an idea for an article, please call 417-683-4181 or e-mail email@example.com