Riverdale History

On the banks of the Finley River just a few miles south of Nixa, once thrived a vibrant town. Riverdale was born of the river, and always a part of the river.

1843- Riverdale area was signed over to Benjamin Hooten by President John Tyler. Hooten apparently built a primitive wooden dam across the Finley River and the first mill ever recorded.

1867- Alexander Clapp purchased the Riverdale property and built a more substantial ten-foot concrete dam and installed a Steffe-made turbine. Clapp also built a large three-story mill to make White Rose flour.
3 Story Mill


1880- Homer Gilmore bought Riverdale and built a store and a post office was installed in it, as was the custom of the times. Someone built a blacksmith shop across the road to the north of the store.

Most people of the area in those days made little cash but supported themselves mainly by what they could grow or produce themselves. Cash was for medicines, taxes, and such. Therefore they would trade goods whenever the chance arose. For their breadstuff they got at the mill. They used to trade homegrown hams, beef, potatoes, vegetables, or maybe even “homegrown” whiskey. If they needed some grain ground at the mill they would just give Homer Gilmore a certain amount of it for doing the grinding.


1905- Homer Gilmore sold Riverdale to Chapman Water Mill Co. Under their guidance the mill began to expand. They began to deliver their “White Rose” flour to little country stores throughout the Ozarks.

Riverdale Water Mill Co
At one time they had both a wagon pulled by a two-horse team, and one drawn by a four-horse team out delivering their flour. They made deliveries even 30 miles away not counting the ups and downs of the Ozark hills!

In 1906 due to an intense cold winter the mill pond froze over with thick ice. Some of the merchants at Riverdale cut the ice into blocks with a saw and hauled it in a sled to an empty building nearby and covered it with lots of sawdust to prevent it from melting. Next summer many Riverdale residences bought the ice and enjoyed wonderful home-made ice cream!

1908- The county court decided to put an iron bridge across the Finley River area.

1915- John and Ida Gardner bought Riverdale and operated the Mill for many years. In 1943 the property was passed to Floyd Jones, founder of Ozark Airlines. It was under Gardner’s care that Riverdale may have reached its finest hour. Another general store and blacksmith shop were built on the west bank of the river and Gardner remodeled an old barn and started a tomato-canning factory.

There was everything at Riverdale that the folks who lived in that area needed, they only needed to go to town to pay their taxes.

1926- The big mill caught fire and burned to the ground, followed by a devastating flood, ending the era of “White Rose” flour.

1930- Gardner built a much smaller grist mill to grind feed to sell to farmers. Along with the mill he put in a dynamo to provide electricity for Riverdale. This was one of the only sources of electricity for Riverdale in the county at the time and they even had the luxury of power for an electric washing machine.

Gardner also developed Riverdale into a Resort area, known as “Gardner’s Riverdale Camp”. In the summertime there were carnivals and big picnics Fishing, swimming and camping were it mainstays. There were several houses built at Riverdale for vacationers to stay in.
   Blue Heaven Cabin $2/Night                           Sun Bathing at the Finley River

1969- Upon Floyd Jones death, Ozark Airlines founder, he left Riverdale to Springfield Boy’s Club.
              Ben Turner

1977- Riverdale Property was purchased by Ben Turner to preserve irrigation water for Riverdale farms. With the modernization along the years a trip to town was no longer a chore and Riverdale slowly degenerated into ghost communities. One can still see the dams, some old ramshackle mills still standing.
Several years ago, when Ben’s active farming days ended, he gave the farm to his children. Dr.Glen Turner, one of Ben’s Son, bought the share of his siblings.

                                                                      Dr. Glen Turner

1981-Dr Glen Turner In an attempt to find out the feasibility of irrigation from the Finley River to his green fields of alfalfa contacted the University of Missouri Agriculture Extension engineers. The engineers not only confirmed that the irrigation was possible but also pointed out that the river’s flow was strong enough to produce electricity as well. So Glen Turner started building a power plant.
The break through for Dr Turner to start building the power plant was when he  found out that that the very company that manufacted Riverdale turbine in 1906, James Leffel CO., of Springfield Ohio, which has been making turbines since 1860, could rehabilitate the ancient turbine of the old mill.
           OldTurbine                                                              New Turbine 

1982-Glen Turner completed the project of the power plant. In order to complete the project Turner rehabilitated the ancient turbine retrieved from the old mill, re-strengthened the dam, built a steel-reinforced concrete house for the generator and raised funds from local banks.

Sunday October 17, 1982- Dedication of the Riverdale Hydroelectric Plant. 500 friends, neighbors, engineers, executives and a United States congressman gather together to recognize an pay atribute to the vision and drive of Dr. Turner.

The power plant produced about 110 kilowatts power hour electricity. The amount supplied about 80 households. Moreover Valley Electric Cooperative agreed to purchase the Riverdale power.


2004- The old iron bridge is torn down and a new modern concrete bridge was built.

                     Before                                                           After