Academic journal article The Arkansas Historical Quarterly

Arkansas Listings in the National Register of Historic Places: Mammoth Spring Dam and Lake

Academic journal article The Arkansas Historical Quarterly

Arkansas Listings in the National Register of Historic Places: Mammoth Spring Dam and Lake

Article excerpt

CONSTRUCTED IN 1887-1888 by the Mammoth Spring Improvement and Water Power Company, the Mammoth Spring Dam powered the Mammoth Spring Roller Mill and Elevator and the Mammoth Spring Cotton Mill and Cotton Gin. This masonry gravity dam at the head of the Spring River in Fulton County was built by stacking six limestone slabs on a solid rock base. The widest slab was positioned on the bottom, with each succeeding slab slightly narrower than the one below it, forming a series of small steps. The construction of the Mammoth Spring Dam spurred industrial and commercial growth in the sparsely populated area known as "Head of the River," ultimately leading to the incorporation of the town of Mammoth Spring. After the Arkansas-Missouri Power Company purchased the Mammoth Spring Dam in 1925, it retrofitted the south turbine well to produce hydropower. The company operated the Mammoth Spring Power Plant until 1972, by which time it had become uneconomical to maintain the small station. The power company then donated the dam and powerhouse to Arkansas State Parks. The Mammoth Spring Dam and Lake continue to serve as the focal point of the state park. Visitors can still walk over the dam and feel the mist of the cool spring water as it pours over the weir. The Mammoth Spring Dam and Lake were listed on the National Register of Historic Places on July 15, 2009.

White settlers arrived in the area around Mammoth Spring, then called "the Big Spring," as early as the late 1820s. William Lindley held an unofficial claim on a forty-acre tract that included the springhead, or so he thought. When Lindley sold his claim to William Allen in 1830, Allen attempted to secure a formal legal title to the land. Much to his dismay, Allen discovered that the section lines running north-south and east-west went directly through the center of the spring. As a consequence, property disputes arose over the ownership of Mammoth Spring, with as many as four people claiming the actual springhead and even more claiming the meandering outflow of the spring downriver. This dispute continued until the late 1880s when the property was consolidated into a single tract. Meanwhile, the Lindley and Allen families built cabins on a hillside just to the north of the spring, and Allen constructed the first mill in 1836.1

The area known as "Head of the River" began to grow in 1850, when brothers William and Joe Mills constructed a larger grist mill and dam on the spring. The Mills brothers also opened the region's first store, which was operated by William's father-in-law, Daniel Woolford. The settlement had about twenty-five residents in the early 1850s, but the population would increase by the end of the decade after a state report advertised the geological resources of the area.2 Arkansas's first state geologist, Dr. David Dale Owen, conducted the first official survey of Arkansas's northern counties in 1857. In his report, Owen referred to "the Big Spring" as "Mammoth Spring" because he thought it to be the world's largest spring.3 It is actually the world's seventh-largest natural spring, and the largest one in Arkansas. Owen determined that Mammoth Spring was an up-swell of water from an extensive system of underground rivers beginning in Missouri. Mammoth Spring produces an average of 9.78 million gallons of water per hour at a constant temperature of fifty-eight degrees Fahrenheit. The spring's dependable flow yearround made it ideal for powering manufacturing industries in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.4

The Civil War slowed development in the area as Federal troops burned the mill and Woolford's store. But John S. Deaderick and his two sons, James S. and J. Smith, settling in Mammoth Spring in 1874, began to realize the potential of the spring. Deaderick purchased the spring from T. Trantham for $1,200. The Deaderick family improved the settlement by adding a flour mill and cotton gin to the existing corn mill, and, in 1880, J. …

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