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Arkansas Water Mills Still Attract Visitors

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War Eagle Mill
War Eagle Mill
    War Eagle Mill
War Eagle Mill
War Eagle Mill
War Eagle Mill
August 1, 2000

Arkansas Water Mills
Still Attract Visitors

By Craig Ogilvie, travel writer
Arkansas Department of Parks and Tourism

Water-powered mills have always attracted people. They once served as social centers for pioneer communities and were the nation's first widespread manufacturing plants. Towns often sprang up around the mills and many rural families remained loyal to the old-fashioned gristmill long after flour and cornmeal came packaged at the general store.

With thousands of miles of flowing streams, territorial Arkansas had hundreds of mills scattered throughout the state. Although considered simple in design, many mills could be adapted to not only grind corn and wheat, but also gin cotton and cut lumber.

Among the oldest recorded mills in the state was John Barkman's circa-1814 cotton gin (which probably also served as a gristmill) on the Caddo River, north of Arkadelphia. White River explorer Henry Rowe Schoolcraft also mentioned a gristmill near the Strawberry River (Lawrence County) along his route in early 1819.

Another very early factory was the Johnson Mill, north of Fayetteville. The site, which was also known as the Truesdale Mill, Sutton Mill and Spring Mill during its early history, has been continuously occupied since 1835, perhaps even earlier. Following the Civil War battle at Pea Ridge in early 1862, the mill was partially burned by retreating Confederates to prevent its use by occupying Federal troops. It was reconstructed in 1867, and stood virtually unchanged for more than a century. In 1991, modern renovation and the addition of a new adjoining hotel were completed under the guidance of renowned architect James Lambeth.

The Inn at the Mill embraces the historic structure as its reception area/parlor and guests may view the graceful waterwheel from the hotel's deck area or from the lawn. The facility is located at the Johnson Exit, off I-540, north of Fayetteville.

The remains of another antebellum water mill may be visited along Hwy. 45, north of Cane Hill (Washington County). The Truesdale-Pyeatee and Moore Mill was originally built by John Truesdale in 1840, and features a majestic 36-foot overshot wheel. The mill was moved one mile north, to its present location, in 1866 and operated by Pyeatte and Moore. Only part of the original mill remains standing today.

Spring Mill, six miles northwest of Batesville, may be the oldest original gristmill remaining in the state. Built in 1867, it retains all of its original wooden gearwheels, cast iron underwater turbine, and imported French millstones. The works are housed in a hand-hewed log structure, meticulously dovetailed and secured by wooden pegs. The building was covered with clapboards about a century ago. Although in operating condition, the mill has not been used since 1976, when it furnished stone-ground cornmeal for the American Bicentennial Wagon Train during its nationwide trek to Valley Forge, PA.

Spring Mill has been privately owned by the Lytle family since 1917 and once housed a pioneer museum, operated by the late Mrs. J.A. Lytle, Jr. Presently, the mill is not open to the public, but may be viewed by travelers along Hwy. 69.

Flooding caused the demise of most Arkansas mills. Sylvanus Blackburn's first War Eagle Mill was built in 1832, only to be swept away by high waters in 1838. Both a gristmill and sawmill, the facility was rebuilt then burned by Confederates during the Civil War. War Eagle Mill, number three, was constructed in 1873 and operated until 1924. The present War Eagle Mill, built in 1973, with its unique "undershot" waterwheel, is a replica of the 1873 structure. It is open to the public, offering stone-ground products, gift shop and restaurant. Website: War Eagle, off Hwy. 12, east of Rogers, is also the site of nationally famous craft shows.

Boxley Mill, just off Hwy. 43, north of Boxley (Newton County) was built about 1870 to replace a small 1840 gristmill. Also known as the Villines Mill, the three-story structure, turbine, shafts, gears and millpond remain generally intact. Clyde Villines, grandson of the original owner, operated the mill until about 1960. The property, part of the National Buffalo River, is not currently open to visitors. However, a non-profit foundation is currently working on the restoration of the mill and, when completed, public tours will be offered.

Pugh's Mill, also known as the Old Mill in North Little Rock, is one of the most photographed sites in the state. Built in 1933, it is a replica of an 1820s-era gristmill with an "abandoned-look" created in the original design. The mill was featured in the opening scenes of "Gone With The Wind," and is the focal point of a neighborhood park along Lakeshore Drive. Website:

Other mill sites around the state include:

The Mill, along U.S. 63, seven miles east of Hardy, is a working 1970s replica of a pioneer gristmill. It features a picturesque "overshot" waterwheel and authentic millstones. It is open to the public.

Evening Shade Mill, along U.S. 167 in Sharp County, is the third structure to occupy the site. Capt. J. William Thompson, a veteran of the War of 1812, built the original mill about 1817 and established the Evening Shade post office at the site in 1847. Some four years later, the post office was moved one-half mile northwest where the town was established. The second mill, built in 1860, featured the latest equipment, including a steel turbine. Now abandoned, the third mill was built in the 1890s and operated until the 1970s. It is not open to the public.

Marks' Mill, at the junction of Hwys. 8 and 97, east of Fordyce, was built in 1834 by John H. Marks. It did not attract public attention until March 25, 1864, when Confederate troops attacked and captured a Union supply train at the mill. Today, the building is gone, but the site has been preserved as part of "Red River Campaign" state parks that also include Poison Spring and Jenkins' Ferry. Outdoor exhibits at each site describe the Civil War battles and how the parks are related by history. For more information, call (501) 682-1191; or visit:

Visitors to Blanchard Springs Caverns and Recreational Use Area, in the Sylamore District of the Ozark National Forest north of Mountain View, may visit the site of John Blanchard's Mill. The original structure and mill pond were constructed shortly after the Civil War a short distance below the huge natural spring, which flows through the deepest regions of the caverns before emerging in a peaceful valley.

Blanchard's Mill was replaced by Steve Mitchell's Mill, which operated until 1928. When a Civilian Conservation Corps camp was established near the site in the 1930s, the mill dam was reconstructed by the young men to create Mirror Lake. The lake and short trail to the spring are among the popular above-ground attractions at Blanchard Springs.

The Old Mill at Mountain View, while not a water-powered unit, has a history that dates back to 1914. Located on Main Street, two blocks from the Courthouse Square, the mill retains all of its original milling equipment and continues to operate as a demonstration for visitors. Milling times are posted at the doorway. The barn-like structure also houses a small museum and gift shop. No admissions are charged, but donations are accepted to help keep the mill open for tours. The mill's office number is (870) 269-5337.

For more information about historic places in Arkansas, call 1-800-NATURAL or visit:


Submitted by the Arkansas Department of Parks & Tourism
One Capitol Mall, Little Rock, AR 72201, (501) 682-7606

May be used without permission. Credit line is appreciated:
"Arkansas Department of Parks & Tourism"

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