Another place that has some interesting history you might want to explore is the Markham Springs Recreation Area.
It is located along the Black River in Wayne County, about 25 miles northwest of Poplar Bluff, Mo.
If you come from the west on Highway 60, turn north onto Highway A at Ellsinore, Mo. Then, travel about nine miles (which ends up becoming 49 Highway) to the area right before the bridge going over the Black River. Another three miles past the area, you will end up in Williamsville where the Union Pacific Railroad runs through the town.
Situated along the railroad tracks is one of the hubs for the Gross and Janes Crosstie yard. This is considered the largest independent supplier and shipper of untreated railroad crossties in North America.
Markham Springs Recreation Area is managed by the Mark Twain National Forest. It has a day use area, boat ramp, several camping loops (with one loop having electricity available for RVs), a shower unit, bathroom facilities, about six springs on the property, several foot trails around the area, a 1.5-mile Eagle Bluff Trail loop along the river, remains of an old historic grist mill thought to be the first commercial enterprise in the area, a pavilion that you can reserve (www.reservation.org), and an historic house that can be rented out to the public (www.markhamsprings.com or call 573-341-5488).
Markham Spring has a daily output of five million gallons of water per day. A dye years back was put into Big Spring (the largest spring in Missouri) located in Van Buren and the dye actually came out into this Markham Spring pond. The water in the pond averages 50-55 degrees year-round and is 18-20 feet deep when full.
It is made up of six springs and one “bubble” spring (commonly called “little spring”), that originated from rainfall near the headwaters of Cane and the Ten Mile Creeks south and east of the towns of Ellsinore and Hunter.
The first recorded use of the springs date back to 1837, when Valentine Richards and Lee M. Byrnes received land patents for two 40-acre tracts that currently make up most of the Markham Spring area. Prior to 1850, Byrnes constructed a mill by enclosing the springs against the hill by a levee that created a larger, higher spring pool.
Elevating the springs enabled the water to fall from a 20 foot height down a wooden flume to turn the mill’s water wheel. The steep hill above, called Eagle Bluff (above where the house sets now), was used to roll the logs off the hill and into the pond below.
Eagle Bluff was named after an old Indian chief by the name of White Eagle, which legend has it that he used to camp out there with his tribe. Later, the military used it in the Civil War for a really good vantage point.
The lumber that was manufactured at the mill was sold to area farmers, until the advent of the Iron Mountain Railroad, when it was then shipped to St. Louis markets. The manufacture of the lumber was discontinued, though, only a year or two after the railroad was established.
This mill was said to have produced 1,500 board feet of lumber per day. Power was obtained by building a dam in a semi-circle below the large spring into a two-acre pond. The water then poured through a chute onto a large wooden wheel, which operated the mill.
After Byrnes died, his widow took over the mill operation. She later married Andy Plunket, who operated the mill till around 1874. He set out to drain and clean the pond to stock it with fish.