Volume 2 , Number 3 , Spring 1965
It would be interesting to know just how many streams of water in our United States bear the name Spring Creek and/or Spring River. No doubt there would be half a hundred or more. For, to the early settlers, the logical name for a stream which had as its "head" a spring of clear cold water and was nourished by additional springs along its course was Spring Creek or Spring River.
Thats how our Spring Creek, in northern Stone County, Missouri, got its name. Its "head" is Browns Spring, so named for a pioneer settler named Burton Brown. The watershed, which begins south of Billings in Christian County, spans out and covers much territory.
As the crow flies, Spring Creeks length before it empties into Crane Creek is perhaps five and a half miles. But adding the twists and turns where the stream meanders around a hill and turns abruptly to the right or to the left, the overall length would be nearer seven miles. It flows almost due south from Browns Spring.
More than twenty springs along the way have, in past years, contributed to the main stream. Not all of them are running now. And at times the Creek itself is little more than a ghost of its former self, and not much larger than many of the spring branches that once flowed into it.
Two mills, the Reynolds mill and the Spring Creek mill have played an important role in the industry and economy of the Valley-ites.
Around 1850, Spring Creek was a vigorous stream with mill wheels turning. Henry Reynolds, who had come from Greene County to buy railroad land prior to that date, found the Spring Creek Valley to his liking. He established his home one mile north of the present site of Hurley.
Mr. Reynolds had, previous to his coming to our Valley, married the Widow Kerr who had four sons; his own wife having died and left him with six nearly grown sons of his own. With ten boys in mind, he picked out good farming land and, at the same time, he had his eye on Spring Creek, expecting to reap an extra bonus from its water power.
The resourcefulness of our early-day settlers knew no bounds. Here was a man with a large family--ten boys, perhaps there were daughters, too--to feed, coming to a new area with little more than his bare hands. Yet in ten years time, Henry Reynolds had established a mill for making bread
stuff with patrons coming to it on grinding day from an outreach of several miles. Using the water power he had under control, he added a carding machine and a cotton gin, though the gin was a small affair which operated by hand rather than by water power.
The old wooden bridge across Spring Creek below the milldam in the background of a picture of Hurley's Camp Fire Girls. L to R: Mrs. O. H. Ray, guardian, Opal Ellis, Ina Peters, Phyllis Oliver (standing), Eva Conrad, Mary Scott, Cecil Dean and Minnie Wilson. About 1914.
But the crowning achievement was one of the most ingenious devices known at that time, something which caused folks to "come and see". It was a sash saw mill. The saw resembled a crosscut saw except that it worked straight up and down. Settlers coming into Spring Creek Valley found the Reynolds facilities most helpful. And his prosperity was noticeable. The rich valley land grew fine crops, corn especially, and on the sloping hill pastures sheep, horses and a few cattle grazed.
All of the iron in the Reynolds mill was wrought by a Negro blacksmith. And the mill stones, burr stones they were called, were made by a Mr. Cloud who was the father of an old-timer who lived here in Hurley for some years, Uncle John B. Cloud. One of the old burr stones was brought from the mill
ruins and placed at the side of the front steps of his home when he lived in Hurley, He always pointed to it with pride when folks came to visit him. Uncle John B. was a Civil War veteran who passed on in the 1920's. But his mill stone is still there, though the present owners of the property are Mr. and Mrs. Ben Fugitt of Marionville RFD.
Mr. John B. Cloud and the stone burr from the Reynolds Mill.
It was because of John B. Clouds interest in the Reynolds Mill that the burr stone, made by his father for Mr. Reynolds, was salvaged from the mills ruins on upper Spring Creek and brought to his home here in Hurley. It may be seen beside the front steps of rental property owned by Mr. and Mrs. Ben Fugitt. This stone burr is all that remains of the Reynolds Mill.
Then the Civil War came on. The four Reynolds boys who were old enough to go and the four Reynolds stepsons went away to fight.
It was in the fall of the year after the corn in Spring Creek Valley had been cut and shocked that bushwhackers made a raid. They set the mill on fire and the buildings and everything connected with it went up in flames. Then one by one they set fire to the shocks of corn so that the whole 25 acres just seemed to explode in a roar. And there went up in flames a lot of hard work and the supply of winter food. When Mr. Reynolds was 87, his age at death, he bitterly recalled the burning of his mill and the cornfield. His voice shaking with rage, he called down fire and brimstone on the heads of his tormentors. We do not know if they were so punished.
Through the years, the Reynolds family and the John Short family, who had settled in what is now the town of Hurley, neighbored together in the deepest meaning of the expression. True, by distance measured, each had closer neighbors for there were springs of clear cold water closer than the one which supplied the Reynolds household, and the one where the Shorts got their water supply. Closer neighbors, yes, but not closer friends.
The visits between the women folks were few and far between, but they were greatly enjoyed. Occasionally along the narrow path just under the
hill by the Creek, our Granny Short would trudge, always with a baby on her hip, leading a small one by the hand, for the path was rocky, and another child or two following. She was on her way to pay Mrs. Reynolds an all day visit. While there she would use her neighbors warping bars and perhaps help with some sewing, for Granny Short was an expert seamstress.
The bond of friendship grew stronger with the years.
When four of the boys from the Reynolds household who went away to War failed to return and were never heard of, it was Granny Short who comforted her sorrowing neighbor. And a few years later when, on a Fourth of July, Granny Short went to her reward while still a young woman, it was Mrs. Reynolds who came to her neighbors familys rescue.
A simple headstone in Short Cemetery one mile south of town marks the grave of miller Henry Reynolds. It reads
Born May 26 1805
Died Sept. 25 1892
It is presumed that Mrs. Reynolds was buried beside him and that, at one time, her grave was marked.
There are a few persons living in Spring Creek Valley who know the exact location of the Reynolds mill. But the only actual remains is the burr stone salvaged from the Creek by friends of Uncle John B. Cloud.
The years, like Spring Creek itself, moved along, sometimes with drowsy peacefulness, sometimes with stepped up tempo. Families came and went. And in the early 1890s, the hill folks had something new and different to talk about, a new mill was going to be built on Spring Creek!
It didnt happen by leaps and bounds mind you, but just the same it was being built -- by two old bachelors who figured they could harness water power near a crossing in the Creek and make a good living. They lived in a shanty not far distant. There was a road of sorts which meandered through the hollows avoiding the steep hills. And it was just above where the road waded through Spring Creek that they began their building.
The John Scott family lived in Barry County some miles from Jenkins. Ed Scott, son of John and Elizabeth Scott, had worked out most of a year and had bought himself some carpenter tools and he was very proud of them. So, when a passerby in casual conversation mentioned that James Reynolds and Pryor Sanders were building a mill on Spring Creek over in the next county, Ed Scott who was my Father, decided that might be a good place for him to use his new carpenter tools.
He walked most of the way, riding occasionally with a farmer in his wagon for a short distance. Sure enough, soon as he arrived the bachelors put him to work.
The building itself went well. But it was the meals cooked by the bachelors that nearly got the best of the young carpenter. Neither man would eat the others cooking, therefore each cooked what he liked or could afford, sat at his end of the table which was fastened shelf-like to the wall, and between them sat their helper, trying his best to be impartial and eat from the cooking of both men. Later he told how hard it was to eat enough to get along on, for none of it was fit for human consumption, and at the same time keep the peace.
Once the mill was finished and put into operation, the bachelors did not last long as millers. They quarreled. The feud became so bitter, and neither would sell to the other, that they decided they would sell to a third person, John Short. And eventually the young carpenter from Barry County, who by that time had married Mr. Shorts next-to-youngest daughter, himself became the mills owner and operator.
The mill was quite a structure for that early day, and was considered "handy as a pocket on a shirt". But the milldam was not very substantial for in its building the first owners had used whatever materials were available, logs and timber mostly. The overflow of water was sufficient to furnish power for grinding. And as long as conditions such as rainfall and weather were normal, things went well. The millpond not only was a thing of beauty, but it was a joy to the older men of the settlement who, from a place near the mill on the south side of the dam, could fish all day and, at night, take home a nice catch.
But many anxious moments passed when floodwaters poured over the dam. Uncle Ben Kerr, an old gentleman who helped around the mill on busy days, would predict, "One of these days, Ed, the dam will go out of here!"
And it did. It went out with a roar, sending water over the whole Valley. It happened while the miller had gone to the Worlds Fair in St. Louis. With Uncle Ben to look after things at home, he was having a big time seeing the sights. Instead of a greeting of welcome when he got home, Uncle Bens first words were a rebuke, "Ed, I told you that dam would go out of here!"
The miller set to work at once to put in a new dam that would stay. It was bedded in solid rock. This new structure took time, effort and money. But when it was finished and the water poured over it, the sight was beautiful to behold!
All that time, the Spring Creek crossing continued to be through the water at a place below the dam where a wagon and team could cross. Then, a wooden bridge was erected. It was a
beautiful old bridge in design and as the timbers aged it was all the more beautiful, something for an artist to paint. The only picture that exists, so far as we can determine, of the old bridge is in the background of a picture of our Camp Fire Girls group taken in 1914 or thereabouts.
The Spring Creek Valley was not the best place in the world for growing wheat, still every farmer produced enough for his own bread stuff. The hilly slopes produced corn, and the corn and the wheat were taken to the Spring Creek mill. From as far south as Cape Fair in Stone County, farmers came with their grain, bringing along a child or two who found it a great adventure, this business of going to the mill.
I have heard my Father explain the processes of custom grinding of corn and the bolting of flour. And that know-how, to the average boy or girl of today, would be a liberal education. When a farmer brought corn to be ground, the miller was allowed one eighth of each bushel for his toll. He had a measure, usually a wooden container which would hold one gallon. And as the corn was poured into the hopper, he took out his measure of corn.
Around 1925 this is the way the mill on Spring Creek looked.Now it is in a state of decay with windows broken, timbers rotted, floor boards rotting and broken.Its day of glory is long past...
There was, in that early day, my Father said, an old law on the statute books which stated that a patron bringing wheat to the mill to be made into flour must turn the bolting crank him-
self. At first this crank was turned by hand, later a spindle harnessed to the water wheel turned the crank and bolted the flour. The hand process required much time and energy, entirely too much for the miller to do all of it himself. All of which leads me to believe there must have been lobbyists in the State Legislature even at that early date.
Out of one bushel of extra good wheat, my Father said the patron could expect 34 pounds of flour and 10 pounds of bran. The miller got the remainder as his toll. And that wasnt much. As a little girl playing around the Spring Creek Mill, I remember what a problem the bran, which nobody wanted, became. First a storage room was added to the mill. That didnt solve the problem. Then an extra building was erected east of the mill and soon it was full of sacks of bran. Now you can hardly buy good bran. Then you couldnt give it away.
The mill was the actual beginning of Hurley. Work on it was started in 1893 and the first grinding was done in April 1895. The first store was opened for business that same year, owned and operated by James Green. Next came the post office, with the miller, E. R. Scott, commissioned the first postmaster.
Much correspondence went on between the Spring Creek settlement and Washington, D. C., when it came time to name the new post office. My Father suggested Spring Creek Post Office. A long wait. Finally came the word, "Your name is too long. Hurley is the name."
Why? Mr. W. C. "Uncle Carrel" Woods remembered the why. He used to tell how, when the official trip was made to the settlement to see about a post office, the official had his lovely young daughter with him. She was betrothed to a lad whose surname was Hurley. Our Hurley was named for him. Another story says simply that the post office was named for a postal official. Hurleys have been numerous in the US Post Office Department through the years. That choice was far from original, for there must be half-a-dozen Hurleys in the United States.
In 1904 surveyors began their work on the Missouri Pacific Railroad which nobody thought would materialize--talk is cheap, they said. Actual work was begun on the short cut which was to link Crane with Springfield in 1905, and the first train was run in 1907. The track runs parallel to Spring Creek.
It was a day of great importance when the first engine puffed its way over the steel rails, with folks lined up all along the way to watch it!
My Father shipped out his first carload of flour not long after the railroad went into operation. Prior to 1907, wagons hauled flour to Marionville where it was loaded and shipped
via the Frisco railroad. The wagon that hauled out the flour brought back supplies for the store and the mill at Hurley.
In 1908, my Father sold the mill to S. H. Whinrey who, with his family, came to our Valley from Caplinger Mills. He knew the business from previous family experience. And, until he turned operation of the mill to his son-in-law Lloyd Howard, Mr. Whinrey owned the mill and retained an active interest in it.
It has been some years since the mill did any grinding. Waterpower was replaced by electricity. The great flour mills in Kansas turned out products cheap enough so that mills the size of Spring Creek Mill could not compete with them. Except for rare occasions in the 1930s, the mill did little business in making bread stuff. Mostly it ground feed of various kinds for livestock.
Then the machinery was moved to Crane where a new structure on the railroad still bears the name: Spring Creek Mills. It is owned and operated by Lloyd Howard and his son, Sidney Howard. Modern, up-to-date, the new mill scarcely resembles the one remaining on Spring Creek.
The crowning blow, however, was not to the mill, but the milldam. Folks living along the Creek complained of flood hazard and petitioned the State Highway Department to blast out the dam as a safety measure. The owner, Mr. Howard, gave his consent.
It was a sad day for us when dynamite blasts were heard. My Father turned away with tears in his eyes. I wept openly. It was no easy job, blasting out the dam, for it was put there to stay. That was more than 13 years ago. Nature has done her best to smooth over the rough places, but the Creek will never be the same.
In 1918 a new concrete bridge replaced the beautiful old wooden structure. And now surveys are made ever so often for the purpose, they tell us, of building a new bridge.
Now and then in my dreams I seem to hear the rumble of wagons as they once crossed the old wooden bridge. And the distant sound of horses hooves like muffled drums sounding the death knell of the Spring Creek Mill.
Days beyond recall...those were the happy days.
Few persons have courage enough to appear as good as they really are.
Guesses at Truth
Never trust the advice of a man in difficulties.
Copyright Ó White River Valley Historical Quarterly
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