Surprise

(1885 - 1925)

Turner's Mill

Surprise was once a thriving village on Eleven Point River at Turner's Mill. The postmaster was John Letcher Clay Turner, and his assistant was Art Green. Clay said, "I was surprised to see this place with the spring and all its potential, so I sent in that name for the post office." He was also surprised when the post office was commissioned.

Historic Turners' Mill was acquired by the Forestry Service in the 1970s. Surprise School was on the National Historic Register; therefore, it was saved for posterity. Of the rest, only the rustic over-shot wheel in the spring branch escaped the demolition. The wheel, which was brought in pieces from the Fremont Depot in 1915, was installed by carpenters, John A. Brown and Bill Stewart.

The mill at Surprise was powered by a spring that flowed out of a cave. A shoot was built out of native rock to carry the water to the wheel which was connected to a turbine. Part of the shoot can still be found near the mouth of the cave and the spring water still flows clear and cold. Many families from the surrounding area traveled by horse, wagon, and on foot to take their corn to be ground or their wheat to be milled. Many times the families camped near the river for a few days until their meal was ready.

Ozark Land and Lumber Company built a rock dam across the river to catch and hold logs for the mill. A tram was built from Winona to Wilderness (another community), so that the steam-powered train could haul out logs and lumber.

Several families lived in Surprise and worked at the mill. There was a company store with a branch post office to serve the mill workers, and a traveling doctor rode in by train periodically to treat patients.

Turners Mill was self-sustaining. Crops of grain were grown, milled, and baked into bread or used as fodder for farm animals. Sorghum cane was raised and boiled into molasses in the fall. The tobacco crop was harvested and hung in drying sheds and later twisted for chewing or smoking in their corn cob pipes.

Photos from the Christmas Pageant and Christmas Parade on Saturday, December 7, 2019, sponsored by the Alton Culture Club.
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