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Moving a 200-Year-Old, 464 Ton Mill Takes Patience and Lots of Know-How

Work has begun to move the Ozark Mill, along the Finley River in Ozark, onto its new foundation. Expert House Movers, a St. Louis-based company, started the process of moving the structure off its old foundation last March.

The new foundation sits three feet higher than the original one to protect the building from flooding.

Moving the 464-ton building took much planning on the part of the moving company.  Gabe Matyiko, vice-president of Expert House Movers, said they had to lift the mill up three feet due to the higher foundation it would be set on, and then they arranged sliding rails that it could move on with the help of skates.

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Credit Michele Skalicky
Gabe Matyiko, Vice-President of Expert House Movers

"These skates are...tempered steel rollers, and they cut down the friction it's  going to take to actually get the mill to move, and then we have hydraulic push rams that are attached to the building and the roll beams," said Matyiko.  "They stroke out three feet at a time.  So, the building will move three feet.  Stop and then retract, three feet again, and we'll continue that process until we reach the end of the track."

The tracks will then be reset until they extend over the foundation. 

Matyiko said it will take several days before their work is finished.

While his company has moved a variety of buildings--heavy, tall, big and small--Matyiko said this is one of the largest timber-framed structures they've moved.

"A lot of the large historic structures that we've moved have been masonry, you know, a lighthouse or a theater--things like that, but as far as timber-framed structure, this pretty much takes the cake," he said.

The difficult part of moving timber-framed structures, according to Matyiko, is they're really flexible.  And another challenge:  The Ozark Mill is more than 200 feet long. 

"You've got some concentrated loads in this section right here," he said, pointing to the north end of the mill, "where it's two and three stories tall, and then you've got other sections on the opposite end that weigh almost nothing in comparison and so, you know, you get varying loads from one side of the building to the other."

And once the building is over the new concrete foundation, workers have to be sure it fits the footprint of the building.

"The key part is at the end because it's got to match, and it's got to hit just right, he said, "so, you know, you've got a 60-foot wide...220-foot building that's got to hit within an inch or so on all corners of the foundation, so that's a difficult thing to do."

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Credit Michele Skalicky
Sign at the Ozark Mill Project Site

Johnny Morris, owner of Bass Pro Shops, plans to restore the 200-year-old mill as part of his project, Finley Farms, which will include riverfront dining and recreation.

According to Morris’ company, once the mill is back in place, exterior renovation will begin as well as site work and then interior restoration of the mill.  The Morris family is working to keep the mill as original as possible, according to Katie Mitchell, Communications Manager for Bass Pro Shops.  Items from inside the mill were taken out, catalogued and stored so they can be returned to where they were.

Even though restoration won’t yet be complete,  said some components of the project could open this spring, she said.

Mills were once the cornerstones and community meeting places for people in the rural Ozarks, according to Mitchell.  Not only would they conduct business at mills, but they would socialize with other members of the community.  And she hopes the mill will continue to bring people together. 

"We hope to establish it as an offering to the community, an amenity that will provide socialization from the past and where people can gather and have a good time and hearken back, maybe,  to some of the old ways and the old days," she said.

According to Mitchell, plans for the site include an orchard, gardens, workshops, restaurants, a coffee shop, an open air chapel and more.