Updated: Oct 27, 2020
If you are looking for a day trip into some Ozark history, consider taking this route to visit Greer Spring Mill, Turner Mill, and Falling Spring Mill.
From West Plains take Hwy 160 East to Alton then head north on Hwy 19. This is a beautiful drive through the Mark Twain National Forest!
Greer Spring Mill is on the left 8.6 miles from Alton. It sits very close to the highway. If you aren't watching for it, you might miss it. The mill is over a half mile away from the spring. There is a hiking trail to the spring that can be accessed from the trailhead south of the mill.
Greer Spring flows into the Eleven Point River and is the second largest spring in Missouri averaging over 222 million gallons of water a day. In 1859, Samuel Greer, for whom the spring is named, purchased the spring. In 1860, Greer built a gristmill at the spring.
After returning from the Civic War, he found his mill burned. He rebuilt and resumed milling operations. Around 1870, he enlarged the mill, constructed a dam at the spring, installed a turbine waterwheel, and built a three-story mill building. The mill was used to grind corn, saw lumber, gin cotton, and card wool. He trained oxen to haul loads up and down the steep slope above the spring without a driver.
As more people settled in the area, the need for flour, lumber, and other milled products increased. In 1883, he rebuilt the dam and began construction of a new roller mill on top of the ridge above the spring. Materials and equipment were used from the old mill to construct the new mill. A unique cable system was used to transfer power from the turbine wheel at the spring to the new mill on top of the ridge. This is the mill that stands today.
Turner Mill is the next stop on your route. The turnoff for the mill is marked, and is about 3 miles north on Hwy 19 on the right. After turning on County Road 3152, go 6 miles then turn right on County Road 3190 for another 2.6 miles. There is a small parking area, some picnic tables, a restroom, and access to the Eleven Point River. A trailhead begins on west side of the parking area that will take you along a creek and lead you to the mill wheel. Just up the creek from the wheel you can see two waterfalls that flow in to the creek. The spring flows from openings in a high rocky bluff. Turner Spring has a 1.5 million gallon average daily flow.
This now extinct town of Surprise, Missouri had its own post office from 1895 until 1925. In the early 1850s, G. W. Decker operated the original mill utilizing a wooden overshot wheel. In 1891, Jesse L. (Clay) Turner bought the mill. He refurbished the four story mill building, rebuilt the wheel, and added a system of belts, pulleys and drive shafts. The mill had various types of saws for lumber and also equipment for grinding wheat and corn. Over the years, Turner abandoned the wooden wheel for a turbine which furnished power until 1915. Then the turbine was replaced with the 25-foot steel overshot wheel that is visible today. The wheel was hauled to the site in sections by oxen. Logs were brought to the mill by floating them down the Eleven Point River. Teams of Oxen hauled the logs out of the river and to the mill. At that time, roads were almost non-existent or in very poor condition.
Surprise was named because of the astonishment by Turner when the petition for a post office was granted by the government. The little community boasted a population of 50 people. Turner owned and operated the mill, a general merchandise store, and he donated the land and lumber to build Surprise School, and hired its teacher. Clay Turner died in 1933.
His community faded away shortly thereafter.
Surprise School saw its last class graduate in 1945.
The last stop on this three mill tour is Falling Spring Mill. Continue north on Hwy 19 for 5.5 miles. The turn is marked and is on the right at County Road 3164. Then travel 2.6 miles on dirt road following the sign at the fork to stay to the left.
The area was homesteaded in 1851 by Thomas and Jane Brown of Tennessee. One of four houses built at this site, today, the Thomas Brown Cabin still stands. The current mill was constructed in 1927. Its overshot wheel was used for power to grind corn, saw shingles and firewood, as well as generate electricity. Looking inside the mill, you can still see some of the original machinery in place.
The spring provides 500,000 gallons of water a day. During the Civil War, it is believed that soldiers camped in the area. Back in the day, the road to Falling Spring was called the Old Thomasville Road that connected Midco to Thomasville. Falling Spring was so busy at times that 10 to 12 wagons would be camped alongside the road in front of the spring.
The area is managed by the U.S. Forest Service and is a day use area only with picnic tables and pedestal grills.
To return to West Plains, continue north on Hwy 19 to Hwy 60. Turn left on Hwy 60 and travel 33 miles. Then take the left exit onto Hwy 63 South back to West Plains! Roundtrip mileage is 134 miles.