The Fair Grove Historical & Preservation Society began with about a dozen people in 1977. During the first couple of meetings, we decided to start a collection of old hand tools, purchase a portable tape recorder to interview elderly citizens, and survey Fair Grove’s original cemetery just west of the town square. Money to pay for the survey was generated by the first Annual Ice Cream Social at the Old Bell Hotel, an early-day boarding house that had been the home of Dan and Betty Manning since 1974. Orval and Lema Eagleburger donated an old log structure from their farm that had been homesteaded by Chatham Duke, Fair Grove’s first school master. I was moved in pieces by members of the historical society and rebuilt on the old cemetery grounds to replicate the Duke Log School built in 1846, as the town’s first structure.
Jerry Thomas and Dan Manning were at Oda Shipman’s farm sale after his death. Word got around that his old mules, Jack and Pete, were going to be bought by the dog food canner. For very little money they were purchased and put out to pasture so people could drive by and see the area’s last old work team. Before long, as the society’s mascots, Jack and Pete were shown at the Ozark Empire Fair, the Springfield Square, pulled a newly-restored Springfield wagon in its Christmas Parade, and brought Santa to the Battlefield Mall. Jack and Pete were also used to bring in a crop of field corn and sorghum to make syrup with them powering a cane mill.
Ethel Wommack, and her husband, Clifford, had operated the mill together from 1941, until his death in 1969. Joseph Hine and John Boegle had built the mill in 1883 to be operated by a single cylinder steam engine. Over the years it not only was a place for local farmers to get grain ground into human food and animal feed, it was sometimes the town’s post office, and a place where people gathered to share information. The mill changed owners, grinding methods, and power sources several times over the years. During the 1920s it started being powered by electricity, then in the 1930s it was powered by a gasoline engine. In 1951, Clifford installed a diesel engine in as its power plant. The original 42-inch French burrstones that ground corn into meal had been quarried in the Paris Basin. There was originally a pair of wheat stones, but they have since been sold along with a few other pieces of equipment. Around 1900, three steel roller mills were installed to grind grain. Sometime during the 1930s, an industrial grade hammer replaced the mill’s other machinery. From then on only animal feed was produced at the mill. The roller mills were gone when the historical society purchased the mill along with 2 acres of adjoining land in 1984, from Ethel Wommack, shortly before her death. It was then that members of the society began its restoration, and registered as a Greene County Historical Site and put on the Registry of National Historic Sites. After fifteen years of volunteer labor on the building, the mill’s machinery was restored so grain could be ground as a demonstration at ongoing annual celebrations.