In 1819, Thomas Duley bought 320 acres of land in southern Boone County on Cedar Creek. I’ve been unable to pinpoint the date that Duley’s Mill was built, but I know that George Washington Duley, Thomas Duley’s 7-year-old nephew, inherited it from Duley in 1830. George operated it until his death in 1895. This mill was powered by the Cedar Creek, near Devil’s Backbone, 12 miles southeast of Columbia. It was about 10 miles upstream from where the Cedar empties into the Missouri River.
Boone County wagons reached Duley’s Mill by going down a very steep hill leading to creek level. Layers of limestone rock, with the road surface washed away by heavy rain, made the steep road almost impassable. Called a "backbone," it is a free-standing ridge, a half-mile long and only a few feet wide at the top. This narrow ridge rises 170 feet from the creek bed below. I can imagine a team of horses or mules straining against their harnesses to keep the heavy load of grain from bouncing off those rocks. Of course, pulling the wagon loaded with bags was even more difficult for teams and drivers. It was, for most, a once a year, two-day effort.
To understand the importance of milling homegrown grain, we should review the lives of the people on the western frontier of Central Missouri. Farms were small - from 10 to 30 acres. The farmer started by cultivating an acre or two of cotton, hemp for making rope, flax for spinning and weaving linen, maybe 20 acres of wheat or corn and a patch of tobacco. Corn sold at 20 cents a bushel, pork at a penny a pound, and whiskey got as much as 25 cents a gallon!
Cabin floors were dirt, and chimneys were wooden poles daubed with clay mud inside. The owners were people of integrity, energy, courage and compassion. They were also very social. Everyone took their children to special events. Two big celebrations were General Jackson Day and the Fourth of July. Taking oats, corn or wheat to grind at Duley’s Mill became a social occasion in itself.
The mill building was a 70-foot-by-30-foot, four-story wooden structure. The top floor was available for those who came a long distance, bringing provisions to stay all night. Frolics at Duley’s Mill were special events that went along with the long wagon trip. People from Boone and Callaway counties often became good friends.
An ingenious mill race, which tunneled through limestone rock, brought water power to turn the grinding stone. Later, when W.H. Renoe, a dentist, owned the mill, it was converted to steam power. Customers could get dental work done while waiting - the first one-stop shop in the area! The mill’s flour was sifted through silk and delivered in cloth sacks bearing the logo "Duley’s High Patent."
Some of my information has been gleaned from material loaned from the Kingdom of Callaway Historical Society in Fulton and from William S. Switzler’s "History of Boone County - 1882."