Volume 7, Number 10, Winter 1982


New Life to Historic Riverdale

by Edith McCall

[by Author]


Members and guests of our society heard the story of the old Christian County Milling community of Riverdale at the quarterly meeting on Sunday, December 13.

With slides, a recorded narration and the presence of Mr. Ben Turner, a lifelong Riverdale resident, Mr. Paul Johns, program Chairman, gave a presentation of historical interest.

Riverdale, once a thriving settlement on the banks of the Finley River, is now in the process of redevelopment. Its history goes back to 1819, when Henry Rowe Schoolcraft wrote in his journal on December 31, of seeing rolling plains and well-wooded bottom lands along the Finley. When Schoolcraft's account of his exploration of the land between the White River and the James was published a wave of settlement began. The only other residents before 1830 were Delaware Indians.

Around 1840, Benjamin H. Hooten built the first mill on the banks of the Finley at Riverdale. For most of the ensuing century a succession of owners operated that mill or others built on the site. In 1867, a much-improved mill-dam was constructed across the river of hand-hewn hardwood logs. Changes in the mill itself culminated in the building of a three-story structure between 1891 and 1896. By then, the community included a post office in the general store, and the name Riverdale became official.

Wagons carried sacks of "White Rose Flour" from the Riverdale Mill to towns throughout the region, crossing the Finley via an iron truss bridge erected in 1906. A little later, a concrete dam was built to replace the 1867 log dam. The bridge, raised and strengthened for flood resistance, and the dam are still functioning today.

Riverdale’s importance as a milling center ended in 1926, however, when a fire broke out in the mill building and burned it to the ground. This ended the production of White Rose Flour, although a small gristmill was built fur local use. First attempts to promote tourism came in the 1930’s. Within the memory of many people alive today are the pleasures of swimming, camping, and picnicing at Riverdale.

Early Riverdale community residents were the John Turners, who owned a nearby farm. There Ben Turner, their son, was born in 1896. A guest at Sunday’s meeting, Ben Turner had interesting tales to tell of growing up at Riverdale, where he still lives. Among his mates at the old one room schoolhouse were "Ma Barker’s Boys." Even in their youth three of the four Barker boys showed the inclinations that involved them in violence and crime in later years.

The Turner family is now deeply involved in the move to bring new life to Riverdale. In working on the old mill pond, they uncovered the ancient timbers of the early dam, underwater for 115 years but still worth salvaging. Also underwater was the 75 year old turbine that had been installed in 1906 in the mill by a Springfield, Ohio company. The Turners, seeking to put the turbine to use in generating electricity, sent the old machinery to Ohio for rebuilding. The manufacturers claim it will be as fine a water-powered small turbine as any they could supply to replace it. The plan is not only to use the Finley’s waters to generate electricity, but also to restore old buildings of Riverdale and possibly open a museum.

Riverdale is reached via U. S. 160, by a gravel road branching off to the East about four miles South of Nixa. Historical society members will follow progress there with interest after hearing its story.

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