, , , ,

Watkins Woolen Mill

At one time in our nation’s history there were 2,400 woolen mills in operation, many of them in the Midwest.

In 1834, Waltus Watkins and his wife, Mary Ann, moved to a piece of land he had purchased in Clay County, Missouri. It was near what is now the city of Lawson. On that land Waltus built a house and a woolen mill. Both buildings were built from his own handmade bricks, and supported by timber from his property. In 1860, he opened the woolen mill which stayed in operation until 1890. Today, that mill is open as a museum and a tribute to the American woolen mills of the 19th century. It is considered one of the best examples we have of our country’s early woolen mills.DSCN4551

Recently, my husband and I went to visit the mill. It was our second visit. We had been there in the summer of 2011, and now we were visiting on a cold day in January. The historic buildings are part of Watkins Woolen Mill State Park and Historic Site, located about forty miles northeast of Kansas City, MO. You can learn more about the park, and its operation, by going to its website at http://www.mostateparks.com/park/watkins-mill-state-park.


The Watkins house

Our first tour was of the home which the Watkins built on the property. We had the tour guide all to ourselves, and were able to ask many questions. Here are a few pictures we took at the house…

Our next tour was of the woolen mill. Again, we had a tour guide all to ourselves!

When Waltus Watkins opened his mill, he had more than fifty textile machines shipped to the mill by railroad from the east. Fortunately, those machines are the ones you will see when visiting the mill. They are no longer powered up, but the guides are very knowledgeable, and provide a good explanation of the purpose of each machine.

The mill kept busy during much of the Civil War, providing the wool for soldier’s uniforms. Following the war, the mill processed 40-60,000 pounds of wool into fabric, yarn, batting, and other items each and every year.

Watkins Woolen Mill State Park has a lake where we stopped on our way out of the park this January. At this time of year there are hundreds of Canada Geese in residence on the lake. It was fun to hear all the noise they make!DSCN4573

While at the park store, I purchased a cookbook of recipes from the era of the Watkins family. Many of the recipes are from the Watkins family, while others are from cookbooks of that era. It is a fabulous collection of recipes. The Watkins Mill Cookbook, edited by Ann M. Stigar, and published by the Watkins Mill Association, can be obtained from the association at their website, http://watkinsmill.businesscatalyst.com/books/the-watkins-mill-cookbook

This chocolate cake, circa 1875, is absolutely delicious. My husband says it is the best chocolate cake he has ever had. I think it is all the butter! Here is the recipe, slightly adapted.


A Seriously Good Chocolate Cake

  •  3/4 cup butter
  • 1 3/4 cups sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 tsp. vanilla
  • 2 cups flour
  • 3/4 cup cocoa
  • 1 1/4 tsps. baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 1 1/3 cups water

Cream together the butter and sugar. Add the eggs and vanilla. Beat until the mixture is very light and creamy. This beating of the mixture will take between 3-5 minutes, depending on the power of your mixer.

Combine the flour, cocoa, baking soda, and salt in a separate bowl. Add the dry ingredienets alternately with the water to the creamed mixture, beginning and ending with the dry ingredients.

Pour into a greased and floured 9″x13″ pan and bake at 375 degrees for 20-30 minutes. Be sure to check on the cake after 20 minutes; you do not want to over-bake the cake. It is done when a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.

Cool the cake before icing.

Chocolate Icing

  • 8 Tbsps. butter
  • 2 cups powdered sugar
  • 1/3 cup cocoa
  • 2 Tbsps. vanilla
  • 2-3 Tbsps. cream

Cream the butter and add the powdered sugar, a little at a time, alternating with the cocoa. Add cream one tablespoon at a time to keep the frosting creamy. Add the vanilla after the first tablespoon of vanilla to guard against the icing becoming too thick.