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The Valley Water Mill area has long had an unseen impact on the people of Springfield as well as a profound effect on the community that grew up around it. In our ongoing series, A Sense of Place, KSMU’s Emma Wilson investigates its long and rich history.
From the dam at the north side of the park to the gurgling spring and caves at the south, Valley Water Mill Park is an undeniably beautiful place. Standing on a bridge looking across the lake it’s not difficult to imagine the way it would have looked in the 1870s when a mill and fresh spring water held a small farming community together. The McCracken Mill was established before the Civil War and was the resource that drew farmers to the Valley Water Mill area during the last half of the 19th century. I met with Beuford Farmer and his niece, Martha Allison. Farmer’s father settled in this area in the late 1800s and created a homestead where both Farmer and Allison grew up.
“He came, there, to Springfield in a covered wagon; they didn’t have no roads back then just compasses to go by. They made their own roads kind of like Wagon Train—used to be on TV. And he and his brother settled in the back there in a log cabin,” Farmer said.
Beuford Farmer was born in this area in 1929; 30 years earlier the Springfield Water Company had bought the entire property from McCracken Mill because of an interesting quirk in the supply of Springfield drinking water. Loring Bullard, director of the Watershed Committee of the Ozarks, explains the connection:
“They knew that this mill, this McCracken Mill that was out here, was affecting the water supply--that the operation of the mill was causing the fluctuations in the Fulbright Spring flow, because when they were milling, water was going down stream, going into this cave system and coming out at Fulbright Spring.”
Bullard says that, at the time, Fulbright Spring was the primary source of drinking water for Springfield. By owning the Valley Water Mill Property the Springfield Water Company could control both the source and the outlet of the water. As of 1957 the property has been owned by City Utilities of Springfield, when CU bought out the private water company. Martha Allison says the area started to go downhill during the eighties. As she looks out over the algae and weed-filled lake from the dam, she reminisces about her childhood.
“I loved it, I had an awesome childhood. This was like my backyard. I’d go fishing, and I’d get over there in the weeds--only there wasn’t weeds--me and my dog, and we’d fish. There were some pretty good fish in there, and back then you could eat them!” She laughed.
Four years ago, the Park Board established Valley Water Mill as a county park and has been working with the Watershed Committee of the Ozarks as well as City Utilities to improve the 100-acre property. The Watershed Committee will soon open a new Watershed Center in Valley Water Mill Park which will be used for educational purposes, laboratories, and meeting rooms. Bullard says that the park is ideal because it contains several natural features all in a relatively small area such as wetlands, springs and cave systems. The history of the area also is crucial to understanding where our water in Springfield comes from, he says.
BULLARD: It’s interesting history. Its interesting, you know, the culture of the times back then and how things were done, and this makes this Valley Water Mill site a unique and interesting place altogether.
Valley Water Mill Park is located a few miles north of Springfield and features a 2 ½ mile walking trail that leads visitors through a variety of the park’s natural features.
For KSMU’s Sense of Place, I’m Emma Wilson.