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Rural Missouri Magazine

Watkins Woolen Mill State Park
Lawson, Mo.

by Heather Berry

This 3-1/2 story woolen mill is just part of what is now known as Watkins Woolen Mill State Park and State Historic Site in Lawson. Built by Waltus L. Watkins between 1860-1861, the mill is part of the Watkins family farm, which he called Bethany. The farm, which took him nearly a half century to amass, included 1,300 acres on which he built an elegant home, brick kiln, smokehouse, sawmill, gristmill and acres of beautifully tended orchards and crops.

At that time, there were more than 2,400 small, local woolen mills scattered across America. Despite the passage of time, Watkins Woolen Mill, a National Historic Landmark, has all of its original machinery still intact.

The mill opened for business in 1861. During the Civil War, Watkins did business selling cloth. After the war, he expanded his carding, spinning and weaving operations and added bigger, newer looms. Forty mill workers processed 40,000 to 60,000 pounds of wool into fabrics, blankets, shawls and knitting yarns each year.

In the mid-1880s, the woolen industry began to fail across the United States, and the Watkins family cut back on textile production. The mill officially closed in 1898, but unlike many mills, Watkins Mill wasn’t scrapped out or converted into another business. Today, many of the original buildings have been restored. On weekends during the summer, the site’s Living History Farm Program offers visitors the chance to watch an 1870s family live and work on the farm.

For more information and for hours of operation, contact Watkins Woolen Mill State Park and State Historic Site at 816-580-3387. The farm is located near Lawson, 7 miles east of Kearney in northern Clay County.

 

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