The first Fourth of July celebration in this area was held in 1820 under sugar maple trees at a spring near Smithton. Several families were distressed because their infant village of Smithton was doomed, and they would have to dismantle their log cabins and rebuild in a newly planned town called Columbia. But this was a day of celebration.
A bountiful meal was served, and when the cloth was removed, men took turns offering tributes to great Americans. Thomas Duley, a land owner in southern Boone County, offered the 19th toast. Nineteen fellows proposed toasts that boosted the spirits of all - accounting for "great glee and hilarity."
Thomas Duley owned 320 acres of land on Cedar Creek in southern Boone County - Section 5 and 6, Township 46 N, Range 10 W. Perhaps he is the one who originated Duley’s Mill. It’s known that George Washington Duley, a 7-year-old child, inherited the mill from his uncle Samuel and apparently operated it until his death in 1895.
To understand the importance of milling, we should review the lives of the people in this western frontier in the l820s. Even large farms had only a few acres cleared and in cultivation. After obtaining a thousand acres, a family might raise only an acre or two each of cotton, hemp, flax, 20 acres of corn and a patch of tobacco. Corn sold at 20 cents a bushel, pork at a penny a pound and whiskey topped at 25 cents a gallon! Cabins had dirt floors, tiny windows without glass and low doors. Fireplace chimneys were of wooden poles, plastered inside with clay mud. These pioneers were people of integrity, energy and courage. They were also very social; everybody went to shooting matches, log rollings, frolics of all kinds and took the children along.
Taking corn, oats and wheat to the grist mill to be ground into flour or meal became an annual family social occasion. The long trip by team and wagon and the waiting in turn for the grinding and sacking of their products became an opportunity to make new friends, many from Callaway County across the creek.
Duley’s Mill was located on a loop in Cedar Creek with the high bluff called "Devil’s Backbone" forming a 170-foot backdrop. An ingenious mill race brought water, the power that turned the grinding stones as it crushed grain against the larger, stationary stone.
Area people and customers at the mill enjoyed swimming, fishing and visiting with new and old friends. Duley’s Mill was a 70-foot-by-30-foot, four-story wooden structure, the upper story being available for people to bring their provisions and stay overnight. Frolics at Duley’s Mill were special events enjoyed by people from both Callaway and Boone counties.
Later W.H. Renoe, a dentist, owned the mill, which had been converted to steam power. Customers could get dental work done - the first one-stop location in the area.
Because our farm is several miles north of Devil’s Backbone and the former mill site, I recognize the possibility that our pink granite mill stones might have come from Duley’s Mill. They once supported a log cabin that stood in our yard when we bought 160 acres in 1951. There may, however, have been smaller mills in the area. The beauty of the Duley’s Mill area was unsurpassed! Long after the building and equipment were gone, the site attracted vacationers. However, the property is privately owned and is not open to the public.
We extend special thanks to Barbara Huddleston and The Kingdom of Callaway Historical Society in Fulton for adding valuable information to this column.
Historical information has also come from the work of Edwin W. Stephens, William S. Switzler and from "Geological Wonders and Curiosities of Missouri" by Thomas Beveridge.