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Courtesy National Park Service.



by Bill O'Donnell, Courtesy National Park Service

Alley Spring is a well known spot for family reunions, picnics, camp outs and fishing trips. Folks in the Ozarks know Alley well, and folks from across the country have been coming since it became part of Ozark National Scenic Riverways in 1969. What most of the folks who come to enjoy Alley don't know is that people have been coming to this picturesque spring for ten thousand years!

Ten thousand years ago, the Ozarks looked quite a bit different. In this region these early Indians hunted the abundant game and fished the rich waters of the nearby rivers. Alley was an almost perfect place to camp for these original Ozarkers.

In the 1830s and 1840s, European settlers from Tennessee and other areas began to homestead in the region. The rivers and springs of the Ozark National Scenic Riverways area attracted them just as they had the Indians centuries earlier.

A settlement grew up along the Jacks Fork River and up hollows emptying into it. In time, the spring, then called Barksdale's Spring or Mammoth Spring, became the focus of a community. The first mill was built in 1868. A post office was established, named after a prominent local farming family, Alley. From that day to this, the area has been known as Alley Spring, Alley Mill, or just plain Alley.

It wasn't until 1894 that the current Alley Mill was built by a local speculator, George Washington McCaskill. With a turbine rather than a water wheel, and with rollers rather than stone grist stones, it was considered to be very "high tech" for its day. It served the needs of the local community by processing the farmers' grain. As flour or meal it could be sold or bartered for goods and services. In time, other services became available at Alley, including a blacksmith, a general store, and a school.

Alley Mill had a much more important role than just turning wheat and corn into meal. It served to cement the widely scattered farmers and settlers in the nearby hills and hollows into a single community. People who might live fifteen miles from their nearest neighbor would all come to the same place, Alley, at the same times of year to process and sell their grain. At harvest time, farmers from all over these hills would gather around the mill. Some would bring the whole family in wagons or by horse and mule, prepared to camp for a few days while the business got done. The mill's immediate vicinity was a bustling place where news was swapped, children played, families picnicked, friendships were forged and reinforced, and maybe a romance or two was sparked.

The community at Alley thrived for awhile, then declined as times changed. While fewer folks came to Alley for the mill's services, the tradition of gathering at the spring remained. People from all over the area kept coming to picnic by the spring's blue waters, to hold family reunions and gatherings. From 1913 into the Prohibition era, Alley was even a commercial resort, attracting people who came by train from as far away as Saint Louis!

Today, as part of Ozark National Scenic Riverways, Alley Spring offers its cool waters and tranquil atmosphere to all Americans. It is still very popular with local people who still camp, picnic and hold reunions at Alley. A hundred Springs and Falls have come and gone since Alley Mill first opened its doors. As a commercial mill, it went out of business over sixty years ago, but as the anchor for a community it remains firmly anchored in the rock of time and tradition.

VISITING ALLEY MILL: Alley Mill is located in Shannon County in south central Missouri, six miles west of Eminence on State Route 106. The Mill grounds, the spring and campground area are open all year, however you can only go inside the mill and adjacent one room schoolhouse during the summer months. In summer, rangers are on hand to show you around the mill and spring. The large campground nearby offers evening slide shows during the weekends on the cultural or natural history of the Ozarks. For more information, call Ozark National Scenic Riverways at 573-323-4236 or visit their webpage at

O'Donnell Photography is not endorsed or affiliated with Ozark National Scenic Riverways or the National Park Service and no assumption of their endorsement of any content on these pages should be implied.
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