My friend Valerie and I have toured several old Ozark mill sites during the week that she has been here - including the mill at Alley Spring, Hodgson's Mill, and Dawt Mill. All of these mills are located next to powerful (and beautiful) springs. Farmers during the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries used these small commercial mills to grind their wheat into flour and corn into corn meal. They often covered the miller's fee by providing his with a share of their finished product. The old mills were a place where many would catch up on the neighborhood gossip or barter other goods as they patiently waited in line to have their grain ground into flour or corn meal.
Once old mills were plentiful across the Ozark hills. Today they are sadly few in number. The one described below by nineteenth-century poet Richard Henry Stoddard was located in Abington, Massachusetts. In his poem Stoddard gives a glimpse into the workings and life of an old mill, and he also compares the operation of the mill to life itself.
The old mills married man to nature and produced sustenance.
The Old Grist-Mill
by Richard Henry Stoddard
Beside the stream the grist-mill stands,
With bending roof and leaning wall;
So old that when the winds are wild,
The miller trembles lest it fall:
And yet it baffles wind and rain,
Our brave old Mill! and will again.
Its dam is steep, and hung with weeds:
The gates are up, the waters pour,
And tread the old wheel's slippery round,
The lowest step forevermore.
Methinks they fume, and chafe with ire,
Because they cannot climb it higher.
From morn to night in autumn time,
When harvests fill the neighboring plains,
Up to the mill the farmers drive,
And back anon with loaded wains:
And when the children come from school
They stop, and watch its foamy pool.
The mill inside is small and dark;
But peeping in the open door
You see the miller flitting round,
The dusty bags along the floor,
The whirling shaft, the clattering spout,
And the yellow meal a-pouring out!
All day the meal is floating there,
Rising and falling in the breeze;
And when the sunlight strikes its mist
It glitters like a swarm of bees:
Or like the cloud of smoke and light
Above a blacksmith's forge at night.
I love our pleasant, quaint old Mill,
It still recalls my boyish prime;
'T is changed since the, and so am I,
We both have known the touch of time:
The mill is crumbling in decay,
And I - my hair is early gray.
I stand beside the stream of Life,
And watch the current sweep along:
And when the flood-gates of my heart
Are raised it turns the wheel of Song:
But scant, as yet, the harvest brought
From our golden fields of Thought!