THE WATKINS STEAM ENGINE


| September/October 1981



Watkins steam engine

The Watkins steam engine. The Gardner beltdriven governor is on the upper right and the large flywheel is visible in the background.

Site Administrator, Watkins Mill, Rt. 2, Box 270M, Lawson, Missouri 64062

In 1860 Waltus Lockett Watkins built a steam powered woolen mill on his farm in western Missouri. He had moved to Missouri from Kentucky where, as a young man, he had apprenticed in cotton mills and eventually became foreman of a mill in Frankfort, Kentucky. It was in Frankfort that he had his first experience with steam engines. He reported in his autobiography that 'I assisted in the building of the first locomotive and car that ever moved on a railroad in America by steam power.' This was the engine built in 1828 by Joseph Bruen and Charles Lewis.

Watkins moved to Liberty, Missouri in 1830. In 1839 he settled a farm about twenty-five miles north of present day Kansas City where he became quite successful as a raiser of mules and shorthorn cattle. By the mid-1850s he had a 3600 acre farm complete with a sawmill, flour and grist mill, and brick kilns. He then decided to build the first woolen factory west of St. Louis.

This three and a half floor mill was designed to produce fabrics, yarn, and blankets for use by local farmers. The power for the mill was supplied by the J. T. Dowdall & Company of St. Louis who's letterhead proclaimed them to be:

J. T. Dowdalll & Co. Dr. WASHINGTON FOUNDRY
Engine and Machine Shop Corner of Second & Morgan Streets

Manufacturers of steam engines and boilers, saw and grist mill machinery, muley saw mills, tobacco screws and presses, lard kettles, lard screws and cylinders, wool carding machines, Young's patent smut machines, building castings, etc.