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Pieces of Cedar County history: Caplinger Mills roars with deep waters of history

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Located just 8 miles outside of Stockton where Washington Avenue and the Sac River meet lies Caplinger Mills. Full of historical significance, Caplinger Mills Historic District was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1993. 

It’s recognized for the industry, commerce, engineering, and transportation it provided.

The Caplinger’s, transplants from Tennessee, purchased the mill before its completion in 1842 but didn’t move to the area until the following year. Meetings were held in 1847 to form the first school district in the county. There is some debate about whether there was already a settlement in the area prior to a listed settlement date of 1849.

The district includes one contributing site and three contributing structures related to the development and use of waterpower in Cedar County. The period for development was 1895 through 1943 and included the grist mill site, the dam, the powerhouse, and double-span Pratt with two pony truss approach spans bridge.

The bridge, built in 1895, was the first iron bridge built in the county.  Chicago Bridge & Iron Company contracted to build the bridge for $3,900.00

Maybell (May) Whinrey Camphbell, daughter of W.A (Bunk) Whinrey, provided much of the local history, as it was her family who bought the mill in 1893. At the time her family acquired the mill, the dam was a log affair constructed of cribs filled with rocks and thought to be constructed by Andrew Masters.

Mr. Whinrey began construction work in 1911 to replace the log dam with concrete.  It was made by hand with concrete poured one wheel barrel at a time. Many of the individual concrete pours are still visible when the water levels recede. Over the years, Whinrey continued to add concrete to the dam.

Eventually the dam provided more waterpower, which provoked Whinrey to have a hydroelectric system designed. This would allow him to produce and sell electricity. Lines were strung down what is still known as “power line road.” 

By 1917, Whinrey was selling power to Caplinger Mills, Humansville and Flemington, Missouri.

The system worked well and was dependable. 

According to newspaper accounts, the county seat of Stockton had constant power problems and would sometimes be without electricity for weeks. There was much talk about connecting to Whinrey’s power, but no action was ever taken.

In 1919, the width of the river increased so much that the dam had to have a curved extension added. Portions of the dam washed out over the years and several times, Whinrey would add new layers of concrete or make repairs.

 After one wash out, Cedar County Court brought a lawsuit against him due to damages to a county owned bridge that had been erected below the dam. It was an unsuccessful lawsuit.

In 1925, he sold the power rights and dam to L.K Green of the Ozarks Utilities Company.  Green built a powerhouse at the end of the dam which supplied power to more counties and the grist mill.

Other changes have occurred over time due to deterioration, but mostly because of fires. At least four milling buildings on the Caplinger Mills site have succumbed to fire. 

One of the mills was destroyed by Shelby's Raiders during Civil War times and the last mill fire was in 1953.

After the last fire, the power plant was closed. 

The powerhouse, dam and park were then sold to the City of Stockton for $1.00. 

The property was acquired by the Missouri Department of Conservation, which allowed it to revert to the city. In 1989, the property was procured by the Caplinger Mills Bridge Preservation Society.

The sandstone and concrete foundation of the mill remains. According to the National Register, the old turbine is still present, as well. The turbine is a Samson Model 45 inch and the private property of Julie March. According to the purchase receipt, the order was made on Sept. 19, 1893. The Leffel Turbine Company in Springfield, Ohio, sold the turbine at a cost of $490 "cash."

Presently, the dam is approximately 390 feet in length with a straight section measuring somewhere around 190 feet long and 10 feet high.

The final destruction of the mill in 1953 is what set the decline of the one industry village of Caplinger Mills, but the area remains an attractive place with many recreational opportunities.  There is a small riverside park, a store and plenty of places to enjoy fishing, camping, and floating on the Sac River.

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