The Watkins Mill Association

In 1958, The Watkins Mill Association (WMA) was founded to preserve and support the living history of the Watkins Woolen Mill State Historic Site, the last textile mill with its original machinery still intact in the United States. Watkins Woolen Mill, located northeast of Kearney, flourished from 1860 until 1886 when the cloth shear broke; they continued portions of their manufacturing until 1898. WMA has cultivated an 1870’s venue that highlights quality cultural, artistic and historic education and healthy outdoor activities for all ages.

WMA efforts assist in bringing over five hundred thousand visitors from all over the nation to Watkins Mill each year. The site provides important information about work and life in the 1800s, including farming, homesteading, business, craftsmanship, technology, wool yarn and cloth production, women’s roles, and the history of the industrial revolution in rural America.

Missouri State’s budget cuts, coupled with the rising utility costs, directly challenge operations. Attempts are being made to offset some of these challenges by increasing visitors, members and volunteers while providing necessary monetary support, directly funding cultural initiatives, brick/mortar priorities and healthy outdoor events when State funds fall short. WMA recently funded a $25,000 restoration of the Watkins home’s front porch. The goal is to help generate more funds to close the gap, allowing WMA to continue to support and restore this historic one-of-a-kind gem of days long gone for future generations. Read our History

Our Accomplishments

Since its inception, Watkins Mill Association has been the Historic Site’s “Friends” organization – proactively supporting its preservation and living history. Major contributions include:

  • Arranging for Watkins Mill to become a State Historic Site and State Park, with support from Clay County voters.
  • Promoting Historic Site recognition (1) as a National Historical Landmark by the United States Department of Interior, (2) on the National Register of Historic Places, (3) as a Clay County Historic Landmark, and (4) as a National Mechanical Engineering Landmark.
  • Underwriting restoration and ongoing care of the Mill – including roof, windows, paint, and Mill equipment.
  • Underwriting restoration and ongoing care of the Watkins Home – including windows, paint, masonry tuck point, and front porch renovations.
  • Arranging return of most Watkins Family original furnishings to the Home.
  • Replacing the Home’s formal parlor carpet and summer kitchen wood stove.
  • Advocating for the Visitors Center and Museum to be built.
  • Recruiting Volunteers and hosting the annual Volunteer appreciation dinner.
  • Promoting educational opportunities and resources at the Historic Site.
  • Helping launch a cooperative project with the University of Missouri Master Gardener Extension Program.
  • Funding an Internship position in the Museum archives and contributing toward the purchase of storage to protect artifacts housed there.
  • Hosting the 1999 annual meeting of the Association for Living History, Farm and Agricultural Museums.
  • Providing seed money for the Visitors Center’s orientation video.
  • Funding ongoing needs – including sheep, Historic Interpreter costumes, processed wool, fabric and yarn for exhibits, as well as ongoing property maintenance.

Our Gratitude

We would like to thank the following people and organizations for their roles in creating and preserving Watkins Mill.

  • Taylor & Patti Abernathy Charitable Trust – Bank of America, Trustee
  • William J. Brace Charitable Trust – Bank of America, Trustee
  • Clay County Historical Society
  • The Francis Family Foundation
  • Henry Frass Family
  • Forest Ingram
  • The Kemper Family Foundations – UMB Bank, Trustee
  • William T. Kemper Foundation – Commerce Bank, Trustee
  • Caroline Martin
  • Betty & Byron McDaniel
  • Means Living Trust
  • Missouri Department of Natural Resources, Division of State Parks
  • Lee Oberholtz
  • George Reuland
  • George Stilley
  • The Sunderland Foundation
  • University of Missouri Extension Master Gardeners of Greater Kansas City
  • Voters of Clay County, Missouri
  • Waltus Watkins Family
  • Herbert A. & Adrian W. Woods Foundation – Bank of America, Trustee
Watkins Mill Videos

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It's Throwback Thursday with the Dagley sisters Elizabeth and Martha Jane, who were weavers in the mill. Elizabeth tied the knot with Jim Goodwin and Martha Jane got hitched to his brother Milton. One of the things that is easy to lose sight of, with black and white images from the time, is how much the Victorians loved color. Let's take a second look at Elizabeth and Martha's dresses and imagine them in brilliant red and green plaids. Check out Jim's pinstriped pants. What color might they have been? ... See MoreSee Less
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Happy 171th birthday to Jewell Watkins. Of the eleven children that Mrs. Watkins gave birth to, Jewell clocks in as child number eight. Sometimes referred to as a “Pioneer Dentist” Jewell moved to Craig Colorado where he operated a candy store and dental office. ... See MoreSee Less
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Waltus Watkins is credited with having one of the first circular sawmills in this part of Missouri. As early as 1857, George Watkins (Remember George? He's the one going to a Yankee college in New York.) is writing to Waltus, "I was glad to hear that your sawmill was doing well. I think a sawmill would be a money coining machine to one that could stay right with it and keep it going..." This photo was taken approximately 43 years later, around 1900, Looks like the Watkins' did stay right with it. The man in the center of the photo is identified as Bill Cavender. ... See MoreSee Less
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Watkins Mill Association
Mailing address
P.O. Box 155
Kearney, Missouri 64060

Main Entrance of Watkins Mill
NE 161st Street and County Road RA, USA

[email protected]

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