First posted on 09-24-2008
Jolly Mill Park in Newton County, Missouri just off Highway 60 is a quiet, tucked away oasis where people come to relax, sit by the water and read, picnic or just stretch their legs and enjoy the scenery. There is no telling how many senior pictures, engagement announcements and portraits have been made here.
The park grounds include a mill and several other old, historical buildings, a dam across spring-fed Capps Creek, fishing access, a childrens’ fishing area and peaceful surroundings.
Since 1983, the park has been supported by the Friends of Jolly Mill, and it is listed on the National Register of Historical Places. But its history began about 160 years earlier.
The mill was constructed in 1848 on the south bank of Capps Creek, most likely with slave labor as that part of Newton County relied heavily on slaves. Initially, the mill served as Isbel’s Distillery where corn grown on area farms was made into whiskey. As the whiskey business began to prosper, the town of Jollification began to grow up around the mill.
There are several stories about why such a peculiar name was given to the small community. One is that the people who worked the distillery had an unnaturally cheerful disposition. Another claims that the men who bought liquor from the mill held a “jollification,” a rowdy party that included a brawl. But a number of people say both stories are tales and that the name was simply a play on the Jolly Mill title. Regardless of how the name was given, it was quickly shortened and the little town became known simply as Jolly.
Since it was established on one of the region’s earliest roads, the town served stagecoaches making their way from Springfield to Neosho and into what is now Oklahoma. At the time, besides the distillery, Jolly boasted blacksmiths, a general store, churches, a school and several other businesses. At some point, it is unclear exactly when, Isbel decided to discontinue the production of whiskey and turned to making flour instead.
The Civil War brought battles and skirmishes to the area and Jolly was not spared. During the fighting, Jolly was set ablaze. Only the mill itself was spared. Speculation has been that Union soldiers burned the town as a message to the area, which was the largest slave holding district in the region.
After the war, the town fought to rebuild itself, but a railroad connecting Northwest Arkansas with stops in Missouri bypassed the community in favor of Pierce City, which was just beginning to prosper at that time. Eventually, Jolly disappeared completely except for the mill.
The mill has retained its hand-hewn framing timbers and peg construction details as well as its original foundations, although the building has been restored even stronger than the original. That included using concrete in some of the footings, adding new wooden piers and updating wiring. The building is usually kept closed, but the interior has some of the machinery back in place and it has been remodeled to closely adhere to the original apparance.
In an effort to give visitors an idea of how Jolly may have looked in the late 1800’s, several structures have been brought in, including an old school house and a sawmill. Even with the more modern playground equipment, gazebos and bridges on the grounds, the old and new blend well together.
If you are in the area, Jolly Mill is worth a stop to relax, grab a picnic lunch or try catching a few of the rainbow trout that the Missouri Department of Conservation stocks in Capps Creek. There is also a special creek reserved for children and also stocked with rainbow trout. The creek is also home to crayfish, which will sometimes fool a young fisherman hoping to land a big trout.
To get to Jolly Mill Park, take Highway 60 west from Monett. The first road to the park, about six miles out, is CR 1010 headed south. A small Jolly Mill sign marks the turn.
If you miss that, don’t worry. A second road, about eight miles from Monett, is Wallaby Road headed south. There is an old wood flooring company at the intersection of Wallaby and Highway 60. After about 1.8 miles, a sharp left turn where the road forks will take you to the park.
Jolly Mill Park is open from Sunrise to Sunset.
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