Waltus Watkins Buys Land That Will Become Watkins Mill: March 27, 1839

Watkins Mill State Park, Watkins Mill State Historic Site, 19th century brick factory
National Park Service

The land that would one day become Watkins Mill State Park & Historic Site was purchased on this date in 1839. Or at least a part of it was. Waltus Watkins purchased the first 80-acres of what would one day become a 3,660-acre enterprise including the famous Woolen Mill.

Watkins was born in 1806 in Kentucky, and when he was 18 he spent time with his uncle who operated a successful textile mill. His experiences with his uncle would one day lead to him establishing the mill that still stands on the property today. In 1830 Watkins moved to Liberty and operated a successful business. After marrying, he decided to try his hand at farming and made the initial 80-acre purchase.

Although his family faced devastating hardships with the loss of two sons, the farm eventually began to prosper and by 1850 had expanded to 1,300 acres. Building on his success with agricultural business, Watkins also constructed a saw mill, a grist mill, and a new home for his family on the property. Finally, Watkins put his knowledge of the textile industry to use with the construction of the woolen mill, which opened for business in 1860.

The mill would have been considered large for the standards of rural mills, but it was not uncommon for operations like these to be set up outside major population centers. At its peak the mill contained more than fifty textile machines, and its forty workers processed anywhere from forty-thousand to sixty-thousand pounds of wool into various commodities each year.

The mill would pass through generations of the Watkins family until 1943 when it was sold by Carrie Watkins. It had two more owners after that time before becoming a national landmark and ultimately the state park we know it as today, but it all began on this date when Waltus Watkins made his first land purchase.