Nestled among the rolling Ozark foothills in a valley beside the clear, cold waters of Capps Creek, Jolly Mill stands. Despite the remote location – eighteen miles east of Neosho, Missouri and about fifty miles west of Springfield – thousands of visitors come each year to see the mill. Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, Jolly Mill dates back to the time of the region’s earliest settlers. First built in 1848 as a whiskey distillery, Jolly Mill remained in the hands of the same family until 1880. By that time, the mill had become a flour mill and was was once center of a bustling community called Jollification.
First built in 1848, Jolly Mill distilled area corn into whiskey. When a village grew up around the mill site, stories abounded that the name came from the men who purchased the liquor and then had a “jollificiation”, i.e. a rowdy party that often included in a fight. Others say that those stories are false and that the name was just a variant on that of the mill. Regardless, the small town of Jollification soon became known as Jolly. Located along one of the earliest roads, Jolly soon became a stage coach stop on journeys from Springfield to Neosho and into Indian Territory (now Oklahoma). By the time of the Civil War, Jolly had a number of businesses – blacksmiths, general stores, a school, churches, and much more.
In an area hard hit by the Civil War, all of the village except Jolly Mill burned during skirmishes between Union and Confederate forces. Because Jolly was in the center of the largest slave holding district in the area, many believe that Union soldiers burned the village to the ground in retaliation. It’s believed that the mill was spared for its’ importance although no date is known when the mill began grinding flour rather than distilling whiskey.
Jolly townspeople rebuild but when the railroad bypassed their city, the town declined. Many businesses moved east to the new town of Pierce City where the railroad would stop. Over time, the community vanished until once again nothing but Jolly Mill remained.
Today, Jolly Mill is part of a privately owned park. The mill still stands and opens on one Saturday a month for free tours to demonstrate a grist mill operation. Fishing in Capps Creek is allowed and picnic shelters often house families who enjoy a meal in the quiet, lovely place. Walking paths, arched bridges, and even an old highway bridge are part of the park. Several old buildings have been brought to the site to reconstruct images of the former village that flourished here. Special events are sometimes held that include traditional music and crafts.
Jolly Mill is located a few miles off U.S. Highway 60 between Granby and Monett, Missouri. Watch for historic sign markers to turn off the highway to see a piece of living history in Southwest Missouri.