LITTLE OSAGE - NOW COMMONLY KNOWN AS BALLTOWN
VERNON COUNTY, MISSOURI
Little Osage -- "Balltown"
The village of Little Osage -- or "Balltown," as the place was for many
years better known--is located on the south bank of the Osage, in the
western part of the township (se. sw. sec. 18 and ne. nw. sec. 19, tp.
37), about midway from north to south. Although at one time a place of
much importance and well known throughout the country, Balltown has
dwindled to insignificance -- almost to obliteration. Time and the
progress of events have well nigh accomplished its complete
destruction. There is at present one country store and half a dozen
settlement on the site of Balltown was made by Daniel H. Austin, a
member of the Harmony Mission Company, who in the year 1836 came over
from the Mission and began the erection of a water mill on the Osage.
It was both a grist and saw mill, but at first the grinding apparatus
was adapted only to grinding corn, which was practically the only kind
of grain then in the country. The saw mill was of great value to the
country. Prior to its establishment the only home-sawed lumber in the
neighborhood was whip-sawed. The first frame house in the county was
built by Edward Dodge, out of lumber sawed at this mill, and is still
standing on a tract of land adjoining Balltown on the east. Austin's
mill was a well known institution to the first settlers of Vernon and
Bates counties. Mr. Austin died at Balltown in 1852.
But the real
founder of Balltown was Cecil D. Ball, a nephew of Rev. Nathaniel Dodge,
who in the year 1837 came to the county first on a visit to his
relatives. After a stay of a few months he went to St. Louis and was
employed by a number of wholesale merchants as a traveling collector.
He returned to Austin's Mill in 1839 and decided to engage in business
and permanently locate at that point. He first purchased and then
repaired and reconstructed Mr. Austin's mill and set it to sawing lumber
with which to build a new mill. This was soon accomplished and without
delay the old mill was supplemented by a new establishment, in complete
repair, well built, and with a capacity apparently quite beyond the
necessities of the country at that day. But the judgment and foresight
of the enterprising owner were soon made manifest. The mill was crowded
with customers and some years later steam was introduced. The days of
corn bread alone were past. The farmers could now raise wheat
the have it ground and bolted into good flour, which they had hitherto
been unable to do, without a long and toilsome journey to a mill in a
Mr. Daniel H.
Austin had previously been the carpenter and millwright at the Harmony
Mission and had there built a water-mill on the Marais des Cygnes; but
the volume of water proved to be too large and the current too powerful
for the machinery, and in time he abandoned it and built a horse mill.
While Mr. Austin
was operating his little mill on the Osage, two men named Barnhardt and
Raper opened a little store here. But business was bad and after an
experience of some months they left the country. Soon afterward, Mr.
Ball established a first-class country store, erected a good two-story
dwelling, a barn, and other buildings, and opened a large farm. At
first Mr. Ball kept his goods in his dwelling house and in the room
which Barnhart & Raper had occupied, but his business increased so
rapidly and so extensively that it was not long before he was compelled
to build a large and commodious building expressly for a store-house.
The locality was at
first called Austin's Mills; then Ball's Mills; then Balltown. But in
1851 Mr. Ball entered the land and laid out a town which he called
Little Osage. In about 1842, the post-office was established here and
called Little Osage, having previously, about 1840, been located at the
residence of Dr. Leonard Dodge, who was the first postmaster. This was
the first post-office in Vernon county.
1887 History of Vernon County, pages 386-388