Upon arrival in a new area, settlers would look for a mill site. Going to the mill in the early days of the county was difficult, because there were no roads, no bridges, and hardly any conveniences for traveling. It was difficult to cross the rivers and streams. The trip to the mill was also a time to visit the trade center and replenish supplies. In the mid to late 1800's, mills were a place where farmers could meet and discuss various topics of common interest much like they do in local restaurants today. Mills were also a place where locally produced items could be purchased or traded.
There were different types of mills. Mills could be powered by water wheels, steam power or oil- (kerosene or gasoline) powered engines. At one time, there were 22 mills in Cooper county.
Most of the old mills in the county are listed and described in the next paragraphs.
Rankin’s Mill (Boonville Township) on the Petite Saline operated until 1912. It is the oldest mill established and operated in Cooper County. Matthew Rankin bought the Old Boyd water-powered mill in 1838 and his son William Rankin built a new and larger mill on the site in 1840. It was water-powered until 1854 when it was changed to steam power. It had capacity for 800 bushels of grain per day. Silas L. and Robert S. Rankin, sons of William A., tore down the old mill in 1893 and built a more modern structure, which is now in ruins and inaccessible.
Gooch’s Mill/Big Lick (Saline Township) on the Petite Saline ceased operation in the 1930's. Little of this mill is still standing. William Dixon Gooch purchased land in 1839 and built a mill, which he ran until he died in 1856. Lewis Edgar, his son-in-law, ran it until 1868. Diedrich Molan ran it from 1868-1871. Many people owned and operated it from then until 1950 (seldom did any one person longer than three years at a time). C.M. Lacy operated it from 1905 until 1910. Walter Niederweimer operated it from 1912-1921. Henry Warmbrodt was the last person to operate it until it ceased operation in the 1930's.
The area of Gooch Mill was also known for its salt lick nearby and was sometimes referred to as Big Lick. It was also the site of the famous Indian fight in 1812 in which two Indians were killed by local residents.
Interesting quotes from Dave Braun, a former resident of the town, about the Gooch Mill are: “Gooch and his wife, Matilda, built the grain mill down on the creek. Folks started coming from nearby to get their corn and wheat ground into flour so they could sell it. They came to Gooch Mill ‘cause it was a lot easier than lugging a wagon-load or two up to Boonville on those old dirt wagon paths they called roads’. Almost all of Gooch Mill is gone now. The third mill is in ruins down on the creek, as the first two burned. They’d been everything from water to steam. But the ‘guts’ of the last mill are just about gone. The big Howe scale, just inside the door, still works and the weights are still there, though.”
Story Courtesy of Sharon Dyer
Connor’s Mill (Force’s Mill, in Saline Township) on the Petite Saline was still there in 1897, but not by 1915. This mill was built by Charles Force and was originally water-powered. When James F. Connor purchased it, he changed it to a steam-powered mill. Kiln-dried flour was made there and this fact was widely advertised in 1849. Connor employed 23 assistants at one time at this mill. Oscar F. Case was a blacksmith there from 1867-1879 until he moved to Gooch Mill.
Cranmer’s (Glasgow’s/Corum’s) Mill, in Otterville Township) was located on the Lamine River. George Cranmer came to Cooper County from Kentucky in 1832 and settled near what is now Clifton City. He and James H. Glasgow built what was known as Cranmer’s Mill, afterwards known as Corum’s Mill, exactly where MKT crossed the Lamine River; Cranmer named the place Clifton.
Jewett’s Mill (Davis and Barker Mill, in Clark’s Fork Township) was located on Clark’s Fork on the Petite Saline. Samuel L. Jewett, born in 1834, came to Missouri in 1840 with William Cropper (after both parents died). In 1851, he began working in Connor’s Mill. He was there two years, then he went to college in Illinois. He spent several years there learning the milling trade. During 1854-1860 he was mining and milling in California. Jewett bought the Davis and Barker Mill property and farm in 1860, and operated the mill from 1860-1865. He left for a year, returned and bought back the mill land and stayed there until his death in 1917. The mill ceased operation in 1916. The mill had a capacity for nearly 1,500 bushels of grain per day.
Jolly’s Mill (Palestine Township) was operated by Joseph Jolly who settled in Saline Township in 1812. He moved to Palestine Township in 1826 (to the “Stephen’s Neighborhood”) and built a horse-powered mill.
Hughes’ Mill (Pilot Grove Township) was located on a branch of the Petite Saline. It was the first mill built in Pilot Grove Township. It was gone by 1883.
Weeden Spenny’s Mill - (Kelly Township) was located near Bunceton.
Friese’s Mill (Pilot Grove Township) was located on the Lamine. Ernest Louis Moehle traded for the mill in 1885 and operated it as a flour and saw mill until 1890.
Ennor’s Mill - Blazius Efinger worked at Ennor’s Mill in Cooper County between 1885 and 1893.
Zimmerman and Neeson Mill was on the map at the corner of Otterville, Lebanon, and Clear Creek Townships on the Lamine in 1874.
Bale’s Mill is shown at the corner of Clear Creek and Blackwater Township on the Lamine in 1874.
There was a mill shown on William Roberts’ and John Taveness’ land in Palestine Township. The date was 1874.
There was a mill shown on J.S. Talbot land in 1874 on the Lamine, in Lamine Township.
New Lebanon Mill was operated by a succession of men, most of whose names cannot be obtained. In 1900, it was managed by Thomas R. Kemp, and in 1915, it was owned and operated by J.E. Potter. In addition to all kinds of ground feed, it produced two grades of flour: “Liberty Bell” (first grade) and “Honey Creek” (second grade). It was powered by a steam engine which required “mountains” of wood for fuel. It operated off and on after 1910 and was town down in the 1930's.
Photos courtesy of Jeannette Heaton
McCulloch’s Mill was in Kelly Township on a branch of Moniteau Creek.
Howard’s Mill known as Old Round Mill was in Kelly Township.
The Bunceton Roller Mill was built in 1871-1872 by Miller Rogers, and Company at a cost of $15,000. At its time of highest production, 200 barrels of flour were produced every twenty-four hours. One of the most destructive fires of Bunceton was on the night of February 25, 1899, when the Roller Mill was destroyed. The cause of the fire was unknown but it was believed to have started from the office stove. There were 15,000 pounds of flour and between 1,500 and 2,000 bushels of wheat in the mill that night.
The A.E. Doll Mill was built in 1900 near the Speed road. The mill was sold to Dr. J. Lawson of Sedalia. Later, Leo Felton bought the mill and tore it down.
Wilkins’ Mill was on the Petite Saline near the old George Geiger farm. It was a water-powered grist and saw mill. There was also a covered bridge near the mill on the Petite Saline. The Tipton/Boonville Stage coach crossed the creek at the bridge. The bridge fell down in 1909 after almost 75 years of service. Wilkins also had an orchard planted in 1835.
Dick’s Mill is located in the Cotton community, which is in South Moniteau Township. in 1826, a water-powered mill was built by Edward Embry on a piece of property a quarter of a mile above the present site of Dick’s Mill. The mill was closed during the Civil War when Mr. Embry went to join the Confederacy. When he came home after the war, the mill had been destroyed, “probably by soldiers.” The area residents missed the mill and hoped that it could be rebuilt.
In 1869, the present site of the mill, was bought by John M. Burris from John Quarles for $100. His brother, Valentine Burris, installed a sawmill propelled by a steam engine in an open shed. It is thought that the brothers sawed the lumber to build Dick’s Mill in 1868-69. The new mill was a 25 x 35-foot grist mill with a limestone foundation and a wooden water wheel. The mill is just 25 feet from the banks of the Moniteau Creek.
The Dick's Mill was run by the Burris brothers for a year, then In August of 1869 it was sold to Adolph and Peter Dick, who immigrated to America with their parents in 1852. It was while under the ownership of the Dicks, that the mill and the Cotton community flourished and became a center of trade. The mill is an example of a steam-powered grist mill that was commonly used during the last half of the nineteenth and the early part of the twentieth century. It is the only intact grist mill with the machinery of its type, left in the county.
A steam engine for the mill was purchased from a ferry boat that had operated on the Missouri River. The engine was shipped by rail to Tipton, Missouri, where it was brought by wagon to the site in Cotton. The steam engine was later replaced by a 25-horsepower Bouser engine, which was powered by gasoline.
There were two runs of millstones used to grind corn and flour until 1892. Then, a new roller mill system was installed at Dick's Mill. After a short time, Peter discontinued working at the mill with Adolph. Adolph worked at the mill until he sold the business to John Hall in 1903. John Hall continued to use the gasoline engine and operated Dick's Mill and actively ground corn and wheat until 1945.
The mill was closed permanently during World War II because of the shortage of equipment and a lack of business.
Burl and Maye Long of the Cotton community inherited the mill from John Hall. James Martin and Paul Bloch were interested in saving the historic mill building. In 1976 they approached the Longs asking to purchase the mill. An agreement was made and papers were signed October 16, 1976.
James and Nancy Martin purchased the mill and hoped to restore it to a condition that would closely resemble its state during the peak operating years of 1880 to 1900.
Much of the original equipment is still in the mill. Dick's Mill is the last existing intact grist mill in Cooper County.
Dick's Mill before restoration
Restored Dick's Mill
W.P. Harriman Flour and Grist Mill was built in the late 1860s by Anthony Johnston. Mr. Johnston was a millwright and a stone mason from Kentucky. After building the Harriman Mill, he built several other mills in Cooper County. Doc Harriman was a successful doctor and spent most of his time with the sick, which left the management of his mill, and the raising of his horses to his very capable wife, Eliza. One of Mrs. Williams’ female workers led the horses to turn the sweeps in a never-ending circle. The mill was a very important business in the 1800s to the Pilot Grove Community. It was in operation from May to November with a work day of 10 or more hours. The wage at the time for a skilled mechanic was $1.00 per day. The average wage for a laborer was $.75 per day. The estimated output in a day was 100 bushels of ground flour. The flour produced was known as the White Rose flour. The grain was brought by wagon to the Harriman elevator in Pilot Grove where it was sold.
In 1918, Doc Harriman sold his interest in the mill to his son, who later sold it to an Albert Adair and his two nephews. It was then converted into a steam-powered mill and called the Pilot Grove Mill. Logs for firewood to power the mill were brought in from the Pilot Grove area.
The mill was sold to Herman Rethemeyer and operated for an indefinite time. Jim Huckaby was employed at the mill for 25 years. The mill was torn down in the spring of 1935. The grindstone is on display at Pilot Grove’s town park. All other traces of the mill are gone.
The Sombart Mill was located on the south bank of the Missouri River in Boonville. It was started in 1852 by two brothers, and named the CW&J Sombart Milling Company. It became a very extensive business and was renamed in 1879 as the Sombart Milling and Mercantile Company. At one time it was the most valuable milling property in central Missouri. Located in the area of the Route 40 Boonville Bridge, the property became the local M.F. A. Elevator in 1989.
Sombart Mill, Flood of 1903
MFA Elevator, 2019
(Former Sombart Mill)