Watkins Woolen Mill Field Trip


On September 30 we toured the Watkins Woolen Mill in Lawson, MO. This Missouri state park and historical site is the only 19th century woolen mill in North America with its original machinery. It is both a National Historic Landmark and a National Mechanical Engineering Landmark. The site has both the woolen mill and the Watkins family home, as well as a very nice visitor center.

While on our tour, we learned from our wonderful guides about the numerous steps that wool sheared from a sheep goes through to become fabric or yarn, the kinds of work that children did at the factory, the additional mills run by Mr. Watkins (a grist mill and a saw mill), the town of mill employees that sprang up as the mills became prosperous, and many details about the daily life of the Watkins family. The kids were able to see a grist mill stone, to feel various types of wool, to see the giant 16 foot flywheel and all the amazing equipment throughout the woolen mill. We also saw the expansive kitchen garden full of heirloom vegetables and herbs, and we took a moment to visit the heritage breed chickens on our way to lunch.

Here is some of what we saw on our visit:

2015-09-30 09.38.57The brick woolen mill, built with bricks from the Watkins brick kiln located on site

2015-09-30 09.42.20A grist mill stone

2015-09-30 09.54.08Learning about different types of wool and their softness and springiness.

IMG_0004Entering the flywheel room.

IMG_0005Closer to the flywheel

IMG_0007View of the 16 foot flywheel.  It is set lower than the floor because Mr. Watkins had ordered a 12 foot flywheel, so adjustments had to be made to use the larger wheel.

IMG_0011Inside the mill.


IMG_0017A machine to brush out the wool and break it down into smaller, finer pieces.

IMG_0019The rows of “spinning jacks” used in the mill; they are larger than the better known “spinning jenny”.

2015-09-30 10.17.10One of the weaving machines. Women worked on two machines at a time in the mill.

2015-09-30 10.21.27A washing machine for the wool before it went into the pressing machines.

2015-09-30 10.35.49-cleanThe Watkins family’s home, also built from bricks from their kiln.


2015-09-30 11.23.14The kitchen garden.

2015-09-30 11.28.46Heritage breed chickens.

If you are interested in exploring the site on your own, the Watkins Mill historic site has some events on their calendar:

Saturday, October 10, 12pm-5pm – Fall on the Farm
Costumed interpreters demonstrate rural life of the 1870s: sheep shearing, corn shelling, cider pressing, gardening, blacksmithing, wood stove cooking, seed saving and Victorian games. The Mt. Vernon church and the Franklin School will be open to the public. Admission to this event is free. There will also be tours of the woolen mill for a fee.

Saturday, October 24, 5:30pm – Halloween Campout
Bring the family camping and enjoy the park’s Halloween campout. Activities will include the spookiest campsite contest, a K-9 costume contest, campsite trick-or-treating (campers are encouraged to bring candy for trick-or-treaters) and a spooky nature program. Regular camping fees apply. Please call 877-422-6766 to reserve campsites. For more information, contact the park at 816-580-3387.

Saturday, December 5, 2pm-7pm – Christmas on the Farm
Visit with costumed interpreters as you stroll along lantern lit paths to the Watkins family home, where you will be greeted by the smell of hot apple cider and the sound of Christmas carols. Enjoy free samples of traditional treats, flaming of the plum puddings, reading of the family letters and a visit with Father Christmas. Activities at the visitor center will include kid’s crafts, live traditional holiday music and a performance by the Lathrop Singing Mules grade school choir. This event is free of charge and the Watkins home is open for the duration of the event. For more information, contact the historic site, 816-580-3387.

Special thanks to S.D. for arranging this great event, and to K.H. for the awesome photos!


1 comment for “Watkins Woolen Mill Field Trip

  1. Carmelle
    October 7, 2015 at 9:33 am

    Great blog post! Fantastic field trip!

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