Several weeks back Sarah and I jumped in the N.E.V. and decided to go put a few more Missouri Ozark water mills on our list. Armed with a copy George Suggs’ “Water Mills of the Missouri Ozarks”, we decided to go after a few that were closer to home. The first on the list for the day was the Byrnesville Mill. After doing some location scouting on Google and Google Maps, I decided to just tell the GPS to take us to the town of Byrnesville, then I would go from there. Of all the cool things, the GPS led us directly to the mill! If only all my destinations were this easy. We pulled into a large drive and I realized quickly we were on private property, with cool farm, pioneer and ruin type structures all around us. Looking around I see a white-haired gentlemen coming out of one of the buildings. We strike up a conversation and I let him know what we are looking for. He goes on to tell us some fascinating stories about the buildings and particularly the Byrnesville Mill.
“Byrnesville Mill, June 2012”
Technical details: Canon EOS 5D Mark II camera, EF24-105mm f/4L IS USM lens @ 35mm, ISO 100, f/14, 1/13 sec
Jim had bought this mill in 1976 and converted it into a home where he raised a family. I couldn’t think of a better place to grow up! This was one of a dozen or more mills along a rather short stretch of the Big River. Elaborate dams, like the one pictured above, and other containment structures were built with most of these mills in order to efficiently harness the water’s power. The Big River is a remarkable waterway for Smallmouth Bass fishing and apparently it doesn’t get much better than right outside Jim’s back door. Talk about envy! Jim was most gracious and let us walk about the property, including his own personal bridge that the railways used to cross the Big River. The image below shows some of the fascinating objects one can find by exploring the property.
“Mill & Stone Ruins”
Technical details: Canon EOS 5D Mark II camera, EF24-105mm f/4L IS USM lens @ 47mm, ISO 100, f/13, 0.8 sec
Further conversation with Jim led to the discovery that he also owned the nearby Cedar Hill Mill, which we had planned on visiting as well. Jim had purchased this mill in 1982 with plans on using it to generate and sell electricity. This plan did not work out and he has been doing a pretty good job of maintaining it since. They are currently brainstorming ways that the structure could be used for business.
“Cedar Hill Mill, IR, June-2012”
Technical details: Canon EOS 5D Mark II camera, EF24-105mm f/4L IS USM lens @ 82mm, ISO 640, f/10, 120 sec
I told Jim about the boom in micro/craft beers and brewery/restaurant style establishments in St. Louis during the past several years. This building is four stories with part of a river running through it. Would this not be the perfect place for a little micro brewery and pub!?!?
“Cedar Hill Mill Workings I”
Technical details: Canon EOS 5D Mark II camera, EF17-40mm f/4L IS USM lens @ 23mm, ISO 400, f/10, Photomatix-HDR blend of 8-images
Seriously, just relocate the several thousand mud-daubers and the swallows, but leave everything else as is. I’ll even name the first brew: Cedar Hill Mill IPA. Easy.
It is interesting to read and hear about the changes that went through the life cycle of these water mills as diesel and electricity became much more efficient sources of power. This mill, built in 1876, was first built to mill grain for human consumption. Jim told me it was also used to mill grain for the pet-food trade and the energy captured was also utilized in the production of ice.
“Cedar Hill Mill Workings II”
Technical details: Canon EOS 5D Mark II camera, EF17-40mm f/4L IS USM lens @ 21mm, ISO 320, f/8, Photomatix-HDR blend of 7-images
“Cedar Hill Mill & Big River Dam, IR, June-2012”
Technical details: Canon EOS 5D Mark II camera, EF24-105mm f/4L IS USM lens @ 32mm, ISO 640, f/10, 90 sec
The majority of the water mill structures along this popular stretch of the Big River have fallen to time and ages. Likewise many of the dams have been breached as can be seen in the above picture. This was a popular spot on this Sunday afternoon as dozens of people swarm to this spot to swim and fish. Just as Jim allowed us access inside his mill to take photos, it comes as no surprise he allows his neighbors to use the dam and the river along his property. With the magic of long-exposure photography, you can see no signs of the several people who were moving along the dam when this image was taken.
Even though Sarah and I could not find a great place for a meal (always a goal of mine during travels) during this trip, meeting Jim and taking some images I’m somewhat happy with was a great way to spend the day. I can’t wait to visit Jim again, give him a print or two as thanks for allowing us to explore his properties and hopefully make some more memories.