The Friday of November 20, 1818 found Henry Rowe Schoolcraft and his companion, Levi Pettibone, within the valleys of the North Fork River of what is now Douglas County Missouri. They were making their historic trip through the Ozarks, a lone packhorse in tow. On that day, Schoolcraft made this observation:
“The stream which we are pursuing is devious beyond all example, and is further characterized by being made up wholly of springs, which bubble up from the rocks along its banks......... We have passed one of these springs to-day, which deserves to be ranked among the natural phenomena of this region. It rushes out of an aperture in a lime-stone rock, at least fifty yards across, and where it joins the main river, about 1,000 yards below, is equal to it, both in width and depth, the waters possessing the purity of crystal. I set my gun against a tree, and unbuckled my belt, preparatory to a drink, and in taking a few steps towards the brink of the spring, discovered an elk’s horn of most astonishing size, which I afterwards hung upon a limb of contiguous oak, to advertise the future traveler that he had been preceded by human footsteps to his visit to the Elkhorn Spring.”
That spring is now called Topaz Spring. At some ten million gallons per day, the waters of the spring were more than enough to draw the attention of Native American tribes, and later Schoolcraft, but also early settlers to the area.
In 1840, Aaron “Posey” Freeman and his Choctaw wife, Alabeth “Dolly”, erected a grist mill and distillery at Topaz. In his book Searching for Booger County, Sandy Ray Chapin notes that people were particularly fond of the Freeman’s peach brandy. The mill was destroyed by flood.
In 1895, Robartus “Bart” Hutcheson would hire Master Carpenter Lawrence Smith of Vanzant to build the new mill. Smith also built the Basin Park Hotel in Eureka Springs, Arkansas and supervised the building of part of Drury College in Springfield. He also built several buildings that still stand on the square in Mountain Grove. The old store still sits near Topaz Mill. At its peak, Topaz boasted a large cannery, the aforementioned store that had five clerks, a post office, a blacksmith shop and a barber. The mill housed three small steel rollers for flour, and a buhr stone for milling corn. During the 1930s and 40s, the depression grasped the nation and the mill closed.
Joe O’Neal later purchased the mill and was fond of giving tours. An auto lathe was installed and spun out ax handles and such. O’Neal added a wooden water wheel, but it has since been damaged and removed. Sadly, Joe O’Neal passed away in 2010.
Topaz Mill is still owned by the O'Neal family and has undergone some restorations in recent years. Tours are available by appointment.