The Ozarks of Missouri are home to a wide variety of water mills from bygone days. Ozark County is home to five of these mills that can still be seen: Rockbridge, Hodgson, Dawt, Hammond and Zanoni. Zanoni Mill, located nine miles northeast of Gainesville on Highway 181, is now an event center and owned privately.
Although stripped of most of its indoor machinery and mill properties, the renovated Zanoni Mill touts a rich history. The first mill onsite is believed to have existed before the Civil War.
The Ozark County Chamber of Commerce claims, “Milling began at Zanoni during Civil War days in a little mud-built cabin built by John Cody.” No one knows whether the mill site survived the war or was, as several other mills had been, burned at that time.
According to information in “A History of Ozark County, 1841-1991,” which I recently purchased at the Ozark County Historium, two men – George Schoemaker and John Cody – bought the property in the late 1890s because a mill onsite had burned. The book states this mill is the only “true water mill” in Ozark County, because of its overshot wheel as compared to the other mills’ turbines. The men built a new mill that harnessed the energy from a nearby hillside spring, averaging 194,000 gallons of water a day. To this day, you can see the wooden flume that channeled water to the mill and turned the overshot wheel. Schoemaker added a sawmill to the site, too.
In 1898 Schoemaker served as the postmaster for the Zanoni post office, named after Zanoni, Virginia. However, Zanoni was the name of the protagonist in an Edward Bulwer-Lytton novel from 1842 titled “Zanoni: A Rosicrucian Tale.”
Fire again destroyed this mill in 1904, but it didn’t damage the wheel, flint mill stones or machinery. Schoemaker and Cody sold to A.P. Morrison and W.E. Newton in 1905. Morrison built the mill that you see today, and he also added French buhrs that could grind 20 bushels of corn or graham flour per day.
After this mill began seeing success, a community formed – as they oft do – around the property. Morrison, like other entrepreneurs who owned mill sites – took advantage of the popularity of the site and built a store, blacksmith shop and cotton gin. He charged 1/8-measure for work done at the mill.
By 1921, Morrison had built a water-powered generator that allowed him to operate the mill and store’s lights, along with 10 industrial sewing machines (second floor of the mill). The overalls operation was an affiliate site for Dr. M.C. Amyux, who owned an overall factory in West Plains, using the “Blue Jay” label.
Morrison also rebuilt the overshot wheel in the late 1940s. Unfortunately, the wheel served the mill for only a few years, before the mill closed in 1951. Morrison kept the general store open until his death in 1969.
In 1973, the Gramex Corporation of Hazelwood bought the property from the Morrison estate. The corporation renovated the mill and store.
In 1976, Dave Morrison, grandson of A.P. Morrison, bought the property from Gramex, essentially bringing it back into the family. Morrison and his wife, Mary, ran a cattle operation, built a big colonial home and a reflecting pool near the mill. Water from the pool runs over a spillway and into Pine Creek. They ran a bed-and-breakfast establishment onsite, as well.
The Morrisons sold the property to Bruce and Kimberly Peters in 2005. Later, Kansas City cattle ranchers Scott and Becky Matthews purchased it from the Peters’ family in 2012. Currently, the site is called Zanoni Mill Ranch, and not only offers the old mill as a venue for gatherings and weddings, but also sells Black Angus beef from the ranch.
I met the present day owners onsite in May 2021 and they allowed us to take the photos you see here. It is a gorgeous drive to the site, as well.
In fact, you may want to make a day of it and tour all the mills in this area. Rockbridge, Zanoni, Hodgson, Hammond and Dawt are all within 21-mile radius (driving distance) of Gainesville.
You may see more about what present-day Zanoni offers on its Facebook page. I recommend that you contact the Matthews before driving to their home.