As outdoor enthusiasts, my wife and I are always seeking out new places to visit in the Ozarks.
Memorial Day weekend always seems to be the unofficial kickoff to the summer, so with the holiday approaching, my wife and I began researching places to visit that had a deep history, somewhere we had never been, and somewhere or something that would be interesting to Traveler readers.
During that research, we come across a unique place called Dawt Mill. This 1897 establishment sits just upstream from Tecumseh, Mo., on the high banks of the North Fork of the White River in Ozark County.
After reading some of the facts about this historical mill, we decided this was how we wanted to kick off the summer, by visiting a new, interesting place and learning some rich history along the way.
In 1874 President Grant conveyed a patent for the land where Dawt Mill sits today to Rhuma J. Isom. There had been a mill established on this property as early as 1866. The land was sold the same year and the land patent was granted to Samuel S. Price. Price then sold the land to James Coloson on an order to pay alimony of $500, plus the court costs for the divorce of his wife, Mary A.H. Price.
After a short time James sold the land to Ben B. Price and John H. King. At this time the deed was lost or destroyed and it was not recorded. In February of 1878 there was a sheriff’s sale for a $500 debt and damages of $17.35. In 1892 John C. Cauldwell purchased the property and mill. At this time, Cauldwell had a 425 foot angling dam and mill designed and constructed. The dam was first constructed of sycamore timbers filled with rocks.
Sometime between 1897 and 1900 Alva Hodgson purchased the land after the original mill had burned. Local rumors say that the Friend Mill, which was competition, paid a young boy $10 to burn the mill down. On Jan. 12, 1901, Alva registered the purchase at the Ozark County Courthouse. It showed Alva, his brother, George, and his mother ,Mary E., as owners.
The old dam was still in as good condition as the day it was built, but Alva rebuilt it.The rebuilt dam was of stone, anchored to submerged oak trees, and capped with heavy boards which acted as a spillway directing the current up and over the dam and channeling into the millrace.
The rebuilt mill was a three-story roller mill, powered by a turbine. Along with the mill he built a general store, a blacksmith shop, cotton gin, sawmill and a large family dwelling. A post office was opened in 1907 and closed in 1934.
Over the next several years the mill changed ownership multiple times. In 1995, Dawt Mill was purchased by a small corporation that still owns it today. In years before the corporation’s ownership and during their ownership, floods damaged parts of the mill forcing them to rebuild.
In the spring of 2002 the mill was hit with another flood. During this flood the millrace was filled with mud and debris. The turbine was completely encased in mud and the high lake levels once again covered the bridge and the dam.
Even after all the setbacks, today Dawt Mill is better than ever. The mill is still being operated for grinding cornmeal and for demonstrations from days gone by. They now offer canoe rentals, they have lodging and camping, a conference room, catered meals, a deli, and restaurants.
I contacted Sandie Steele and other staff members from the Dawt Mill resort and they fixed us up for a weekend of camping, learning of how history is still a huge part of the Dawt Mill, as well as showing us some unique features of how the property and its establishments run today.
After arriving, we first set up our campsite. This included pitching a tent, pumping up our mattress, unpacking coolers and storage totes of camping supplies for the next two days, as well as unloading a stack of dry wood that we brought for our campfire.
After our site was set up, we then began exploring what Dawt Mill had to offer. Of course, the first thing that caught my eye was the four choices of dining. I’m guilty of usually planning our trips around food, so that’s what we checked out first.
We ventured into the first eatery, Henegar’s Grist Mill Restaurant, which is actually located inside of the old mill. Here we met up with Dawt Mill’s Dallas Getson. Dallas was nice enough to show us around and explain some of the history that is still in today’s version of the Dawt Mill resort.
He showed where they grind the cornmeal, and we were able to go to the third story which had a lot of the old mill machinery in it. However, now it is set up as a room with relaxing furniture and games set out on the tables for families to sit down and relax together.
You could also look out the third-story windows and see the rolling white rapids coming from the dam. The second story is where you could enjoy a nice sit-down dinner while inside the beautiful dining area or go outside on the huge wood balcony that is built over some of the old mill machinery as well.
From the balcony you can also see out over the river, watching canoers coming in from their all-day float trips, or even watch as multiple fishermen wade the fast flowing water while fishing for brown and/or rainbow trout that call the river home.
Our second stop was the old general store, which is now the office/gift shop where visitors check in before their stay. Inside were several souvenir gifts that visitors could buy as well as some old-fashioned canned jar-style foods such as pickled mushrooms.
In back of the general store is Sawyer’s Deli. Here floaters can call ahead and order deli-style sandwiches that the staff will wrap up for you to take along on your float trips or if you just want a good sandwich to take back with you to your campsite.
Sawyer’s Deli also had a small ice cream shop in it, which had several flavors of cold ice cream and several different types of candy toppings, in old-fashioned jars, like you would expect to see in days past.
Our next stop was one of our favorite features of the resort. We were able to spend 30 minutes or so with Chef Ryan VanWinkle. You can find Chef Ryan at what Dawt Mill calls the Chef’s Table. On weekends you can find the very talented chef entertaining to a reservation only sit-down dinner, in which he prepares your meal right in front of you.
Inside the Chef’s Table restaurant, Chef Ryan explained how all of the walls inside were from the old blacksmith shop that had been a part of the Dawt Mill property from the beginning times. He went on to show us that all the cabinets, the table where he prepares his meals, as well as the table guests sit at to eat were all made of native White Oak.
Even the wood trim that went around the windows and doors were native pine, sawn in a local sawmill.
The most interesting fact about Chef Ryan’s meals that he prepares for guests is that he uses a lot of ingredients that are grown on the Dawt Mill property. He took us on a tour, showing us their crop of lettuce, tomatoes, potatoes, kale, and many other plants that he makes seasonings from.
The garden spot included one of my favorites, a beautiful strawberry patch, in which we were able to sample some delicious mouth-watering berries. I want to go back and try one of the strawberry pies that Chef Ryan talked about that he prepares using the native berries.
Our last place to visit on the property was the Gravel Bar. Here guests can enjoy a nice burger while sitting out on the patio after coming in from floating all day. Since, we were there on Memorial Day weekend, we had the opportunity to listen to Cyndi and The Tone Daddys who were the featured band that night.
All throughout the summer the Gravel Bar has either live bands or karaoke on weekends for all visitors to enjoy. It was as if the resort kind of regained life when the live band started playing.
Saturday night my wife and I sat with our feet hanging in the river while we listened to the band play. It was very relaxing to just sit and listen as the sounds echoed down the banks of the river as we watched the sun go down in front of us.
Now that you know where you can get your belly full and find entertainment at this wonderful place, let me tell you that Dawt Mill has several different options of places to sleep on your stay. Again, my wife and I stayed in our tent, in a designated area just for tent-style camping, and it was sit up nicely and not too far from the river. Shower rooms and bathrooms were available just a few steps away.
If your camping consists of a little more relaxing style, they have an RV area which has nice big oak trees for shade, and electric and water hookups. Or you could stay in one of the many cabins they have.
If you want to go along with the more historic side of the mill, guests can stay in the Hodgon House which has private baths, sleep units, a kitchenette, and of course air conditioning and a picnic/grill area.
Another place on the property to stay is called the Cotton Gin Inn. The inn sits right where the cotton gin did in the old days and features two room suites capable of accommodating up to six guests. Each bedroom features a queen size bed, private exit to the deck, and it also has air conditioning as well as television, a telephone, microwave and a mini refrigerator.
As you have now read, there is so much to do and so much to see at Dawt Mill. It was great to see how the history has such a big part of all of today’s accommodations. It practically takes you back in time to see the way of life in times past.
The staff at Dawt Mill does a wonderful job operating this must-see place. It was clean, family friendly, and again had a lot to do and see, which is why they stay busy all year.
Sandie Steele explained that camping and floaters isn’t all that keeps them hustling. Because of the rich history and beautiful sights they stay busy with weddings, receptions, reunions, and meetings.
My wife and I will definitely be back to experience more in the near future. You can contact Sandie for more info on staying at Dawt Mill by visiting www.dawtmill.com.
(Heath Wood can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.)
By Heath Wood