We recently wrote a story about Greer Spring Trail, a photogenic hiking spot a little more than two-and-a-half hours from Springfield.
The article was a guide for those who wanted to capture its beauty on camera, or just enjoy the gorgeous views as a hiker. But there’s more to Greer Spring than beauty.
Greer Spring’s backstory
Greer Spring is named for Samuel Greer, an early settler who moved his family to Missouri in 1859. He and his father, John Greer, purchased land that included the spring and built a mill the following year. That mill burned to the ground during the Civil War, according to historic records, and by 1870 Samuel Greer had constructed a new three-story mill, dam and water wheel near the spring. In 1883 he began construction on a third mill — this time a roller mill (new technology) at the top of a hill above the spring in partnership with George Mainprize. Tragically, Greer’s 23-year-old son Lewis was killed in 1884 during construction.
This third mill — the only one still standing — began operating in 1899. That the mill was built 1,140 feet above its source of power, conducted to the mill through a turbine and pulley system, making it a rare operation.
A catalyst also for social interaction and commerce, the mill changed hands twice until operation ceased around 1920. About this time the land changed hands twice again, with ownership held by the Louis E. Denning family until the late 1980s. That’s when St. Louis resident Leo Drey purchased the property to preserve it until an eventual sale to the United States Forest Service of the USDA added the mill and spring to the Eleven Point National Scenic River Area and Mark Twain National Forest.
In 1991, the Greer Spring Acquisition and Protection Act established the 4,100-acre Greer Spring Special Management Area. (Until 2013, the Denning family still had access to private property on the Greer Spring Branch.)
In 2018, the historic mill received new siding as efforts to protect the mill continue with support from the Friends of the Eleven Point River. In 2021, a mid-1880s millstone from one of the original grist mills was installed at the Oregon County Courthouse in Alton, Mo. Historic photos of the old mill operation can be found on the Friends of the Eleven Point River Facebook page.
New Greer Spring Mill Spur Trail
Construction on a new Greer Spring area trail is planned to start in the first half of 2022. The trail, a roughly two-mile out-and-back spur off the current Greer Spring Trail, will take hikers to the historic Greer Spring Mill and back, according to Brian Sloss with Friends of the Eleven Point River.
After exploring around the mill, Sloss suggests hikers continue another half a mile down an old gravel road to reach the old Denning family cabins along the widened Greer Spring Branch. (Preview that cabin area in this video.)