The first white man to embezzle some of Indian Creek’s timeless energy was John Fitzhugh in 1832. Digging, crowbarring, smashing a water trench just above the picturesque falls at what is now 103rd Street, he distracted just enough current for a livelihood.
Soon the rasping sounds of a saw joined those of falling water, and local settlers carried away splintery but fresh-smelling planks of oak, elm and walnut.
After 10 years, James Hunter and Duke Simpson, Westport men, bought the operation and expanded it for the grinding of grain.
It was still known as Fitzhugh’s, though. That’s what Oregon-bound James Nesmith called it May 18, 1843, in his diary. The migrants gathered just west of the mill in a grove (no, not to have some Gates; it wasn’t there yet).
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More wagon trains topped off their food stocks here; tribes came from next door, their women relieved of at least one numbing labor — grinding corn. The price: a fifth of whatever the millstones spat out.
In 1852, Anthony Watts showed up from St. Charles and bought the whole outfit, by this time in the hands of Albert G. Boone (as was today’s Kelly’s bar building). Watts’ new home was part of a hamlet called Dallas, Mo. Down from the mountains, fur-trapping explorer Jim Bridger retired with his goiter and rheumatism in his farmhouse on the other side of the crick.
Just before the Civil War, the mill got an upgrade, rising to two stories and enclosing the waterwheel. Done soldiering, Anthony’s son, Stubbins (a name not hung on a boy much these days), took over inhaling flour dust for the next 57 years. Somehow he kept his footlong white beard out of the gears.
At one point, Dallas sported a dance hall, a little amusement park and a swimming beach on a creek lagoon. Stubbins, the “fiddling miller of Dallas,” allegedly won every contest he entered except the time he dropped and broke his instrument.
In 1922, his son, Edgar, took over, but unable to compete with steam or electric mills, their grinders switched to cornmeal and buckwheat. The Depression came and the big wheel stopped turning in 1939, but another decade passed before Watts Mill’s weathered, warped boards — hickory-pegged, not nailed — were dismantled.
Its iron had long been pulled out like rusty molars for a war scrap drive.
Kroh Brothers planned the strip center seen today. Around 1973, three acres were donated to the public so it could enjoy the falls, skip stones and clamber around the old water courses.
In 1992, the last building of Dallas went under.