Renovation Plan for the Historic Ozark Mill will Preserve Legacy


Amy Surface, Writer

Throughout the two centuries of change in Ozark’s inhabitants, infrastructure, and community, one famous spot has remained the beacon of the town: the flowing Finley river and the Ozark Mill that sits upon it.

As town members and visitors pass by this scenic spot though, they will now notice a chain-link fence and construction equipment crowding the historic building. Johnny Morris, Springfield businessman and founder of Bass Pro Shops, has ambitious plans to transform the area into a modernized development while preserving the historic significance. 

The mill first opened in 1833 before Ozark was an official town. In addition to being the main source of employment, it served as a meeting place for community gatherings, mail routes, and other important events. In addition, Ozark was a major stop on The Chadwick Flyer rail line, and the mill produced much of the materials and goods transferred. It was the industrial powerhouse of Ozark and played a critical role in revamping the town after the Civil War devastation. 

By 1922, the mill had been destroyed twice by fires. John Hawkins and his family bought it and rebuilt it once again with a concrete dam that could transfer more energy from the river than before. The Ozark Mill became the last water-powered mill to stay open in Missouri before its eventual close in 1992. Morris bought the property in 1993 but it has stayed stagnant until only recently. 

Preserving the mill’s historic architecture while modernizing it to ensure safety has been no easy task. Construction teams moved the mill over eighty feet while building a new, flood-proof foundation. In March of 2019, it was moved back to its original location. Remodeling has been occurring since then. Morris plans to turn it into a restaurant/brewery that overlooks the river, while additionally reopening it as a functioning grain mill. 

Morris handed the project over to his daughter, Megan Morris, who has been leading the renewal since. It holds special meaning for Megan because she grew up in the area and remembers exploring Ozark as a little girl. Her great-grandfather also lived in a house just up the road from the mill and worked at a separate one himself. 

Several phases including in-depth plans are in place and will span over the next couple of decades. Though the mill is at the forefront of Finley Farms, many other businesses and developments will come out of this project. 

As part of the first phase, The Workshop, Ozark Farmers Market, and Market Shed are already open and in use. All three are located just west of the mill. The Market Shed is used to host private parties or events, while also housing community gatherings like the Farmers Market or craft fairs. The Workshop serves as Ozark’s only sit-down coffee shop and is therefore typically highly populated. Its industrial and natural interior provides customers with a spot to study, spend time with friends, or attend one of the hands-on craft classes. These workshops include a variety of specialties such as weaving, gardening, cooking, or painting. Many students visit often to catch up on schoolwork or simply enjoy the atmosphere. 

“The best thing about it [The Workshop] is how cozy yet hip and fun it is. It’s a very cool place to drink a cup of coffee,” said Sophia Nelson, sophomore. 

The next phase will involve restoring the area across the river from the mill. Megan plans to turn the historic Riverside Bridge into a pedestrian walkway leading to this space that will include an outdoor chapel and walking trail. The Garrison, a speak-easy-like antique bar named after the owner of the former Riverside Inn, will be opened during this phase as well. 

As mentioned on their website, “Finley Farms is a place where craftsmanship meets discovery. Inspired by the spirit of the midwest, we are committed to delivering simple pleasures and genuine hospitality.” 

Further down the road, the Morris family hopes to turn their 14-acres of wooded land next to the mill into a collection of rentable cabins. These would be next to a boathouse providing easy access to the river and other aspects of Finley Farms. 

“Our family is restoring this mill with a genuine passion for Ozark’s heritage. [It’s] a big idea, a bold dream, or maybe a mad, crazy commitment to making some magic in the heart of the Ozarks,” said Johnny Morris. 

Significant changes are ahead for the future of Finley Farms and the community of Ozark, but it all begins in the place that gave this town its start two hundred years ago and kept it alive during hardship: the Ozark Mill. Though the Morris family is bringing a modern, urban touch into the historic walls of the mill, it will still remain the icon of Ozark, Missouri, and its heritage for generations to come.