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Watkins Woolen Mill State Park and State Historic Site facts for kids

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Watkins Mill State Park and Watkins Woolen Mill State Historic Site
Watkins Mill, County Highway MM, Lawson vicinity (Clay County, Missouri) crop1.jpg
Watkins Mill
Location Lawson, Clay, Missouri, United States
Area 1,500.22 acres (6.0712 km2)
Elevation 896 ft (273 m)
Established 1964
Visitors 520,728 (in 2017)
Governing body Missouri Department of Natural Resources
Website Watkins Mill State Park
Watkins Mill
Octagonal Scoolhouse Watkins Mill Lawson Missouri January 1975.JPG
The Octagonal Schoolhouse at Watkins Mill
Nearest city Excelsior Springs, Missouri
Area 560 acres (230 ha)
Built 1860 (1860)
Architect Waltus Watkins
NRHP reference No. 66000416
Significant dates
Added to NRHP November 13, 1966
Designated NHL November 13, 1966
Designated NHLD September 28, 1983

Watkins Mill, in Lawson, Missouri, is a preserved woolen mill dating to the mid-19th century. The mill is protected as Watkins Woolen Mill State Historic Site, which preserve its machinery and business records in addition to the building itself. It was designated a National Historic Landmark and added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1966 in recognition for its remarkable state of preservation. The historic site is the centerpiece of Watkins Mill State Park, which is managed by the Missouri Department of Natural Resources.


Waltus L. Watkins established the 80-acre livestock farm he called Bethany Plantation in 1839. Watkins Mill was built in 1859-1860. 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, 2½-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, is an octagonal schoolhouse built in 1856 and 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 family 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.

After going through several changes in ownership, the state of Missouri took possession of the property, creating a 1,442-acre (584 ha) state park in 1964. It was named a National Mechanical Engineering Historic Landmark in 1980.

State park

The recreation area of the state park has 96 campsites, most of which have electric hookups, and many of which are available year-round. A 100-acre (40 ha) lake supports fishing for bass, catfish, crappie and sunfish and has a large sand swimming beach. A 3.8-mile (6.1 km) asphalt bicycling and walking trail follows the shoreline of the lake, and there is a separate 3.5-mile (5.6 km) equestrian trail.

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