Monday, June 30, 2014

Watkins Mill State Park - 6/24/2014

June was an unusual month in that we had two Power Partners Club Events.  On the first Friday, we all gathered in the West Bottoms of Kansas City for breakfast and antique shopping.  That event is covered in the previous post on the blog.

On June 24th, we had a picnic lunch at Watkins Mill State Park and toured the historic woolen mill and farm located in the park.  There were 32 club members joining in the fun and great BBQ.  Mike Apprill, one of our club members, brought his trailer mounted smoker and served up some of the best pulled pork, hot dogs, and BBQ beans in recent memory.  Everyone else brought a side dish so we had plenty to eat.  Watkins Mill is about an hours drive north of our home up I-35.

Edel DeMaria and Sigrid had a great day.

Checking out the cookies.

Temperatures were moderate, humidity was fairly low, and we had a nice breeze through the shelter house.

The park has a nice visitors center that gives the history of the area, the farm and woolen mill, and the park.  We missed photoing the very nice fishing lake and campgrounds in the park.

Our tour started with a 30 minute film on the history of the woolen mill and farm in the visitors center.

It was a short walk from the visitors center to the Watkins house and the mill building.

Rather than trying to write my own history of the site, I will copy what Wikipedia has to say about it.

Watkins Mill, in Lawson, Missouri, is a preserved woolen mill dating to the mid-19th century. Designated a National Historic Landmark on November 13, 1966, the mill is protected as Missouri's Watkins Mill State Historic Site which preserve its machinery and business records as well as the building itself. The historic site itself is the centerpiece of 1,500-acre (610 ha) Watkins Woolen Mill State Park.

Watkins Mill was built in 1859-1860 by Waltus Watkins, who called it Bethany Plantation. Watkins built housing for the mill workers nearby, creating one of the first planned communities in North America. The community was effectively self-sufficient, the mill producing yarn and wool cloth. The mill operated at capacity until 1886, two years after Watkins' death. From 1886 to the turn of the twentieth century production declined. Nearly all of the mill machinery has been preserved, including a 65 horsepower steam engine that powered the factory.

The site also includes the Watkins house, dating to 1850. The twelve-room 2-1/2 story house includes three staircases, the main stair detailed in carved walnut. It remained a Watkins family home until 1945.

The Franklin School, or Octagonal School was built in 1856 and was used by the Watkins family and their employees until the mid-1870s, when it became a residence for mill workers. The unusual octagonal building was built of locally manufactured brick on Watkins land.

The Watkins' also donated the land for Mt. Vernon Baptist Church, built in 1871 to replace a log church dating to the 1850s. Of the $5000 construction cost, more than half was donated by Watkins.

The property became part of the Missouri state parks system in 1964, and it was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1966.

The photo below is of the home's parlor where visitors were hosted.

Our tour guide was very knowledgeable and patient.  He was also thoughtful in that he walked slow enough to not leave the older and less steady members behind.

This is where the family business was managed.

I wish the steps in our new home were as solid as the ones here.

A view of the front lawn from the second story of the home.

The dining room.

An old stereoscopic slide viewer.

A small loom just off the dining room in the home.

This is the smoke house where the family cured their meats.  Salt was the main ingredient for curing.  The heat from the smoking helped dry the meats to prevent soiling.  Meats were kept in the smokehouse even after smoking for up to a year.  Butchering, curing, and smoking usually took place in the late fall or early winter and the meats were then consumed through the next summer.

The interior of the smokehouse.

The home has a summer kitchen at the back of the house near the dining room.  By cooking in a separate building outside the house, the house was kept as cool as possible in the summer.  Don't forget that everything was cooked over a wood fire in the 1800's.

The summer kitchen is just visible on the left edge of the photo.  The door to the dining room is just the other side of the table so the distances are not great when delivering food to the table.  The smokehouse is in the background.

The rear of the home with the summer kitchen on the right.

A herb and vegetable garden is just beyond the summer kitchen.  Pens also house the chickens and turkeys that provided fresh protein for the family diet.

This is the drying shed for preserving fruits.

The equipment barn is very scenic with it's red color surrounded by the green trees.

The park still has a small herd of sheep to add to the historic feel of the farm.

Our group heading for the mill building.

A few of the picnickers didn't join us on the mill tour due to the walking required and the three floors in the mill that needed to be climbed. 

The mill's general store.  There were at times up to 60 employees working on the farm/mill.  This is where they got their essentials.

A scene from a time long gone.

I am not going to try to explain all the machines in the mill or the process for handling the wool as it is turned into a finished project.  That is too much for this blog.

All the machines in the mill are driven by a single steam engine and an elaborate scheme of drive belts that run all through the mill.

Another great outing for our club.  If you are ever passing through the area or if you live in the KC Metro, this park is well worth the drive and the time to visit.