Bass Pro Shops' Johnny Morris founder still buying land near Ozark's old mill; plans remain unclear
By: Giacomo Bologna August 5, 2016
Unused and locked up, Ozark's 19th-century mill represents a bygone time for a rural town that's become increasingly suburban, but some are hoping the mill could once again become an important feature of Ozark.
Johnny Morris, founder and president of Bass Pro Shops, bought Ozark's old mill more than two decades ago with a "dream" to develop it, according to a company spokesman. In recent years Morris has snapped up a few more properties near the Finley River and the historic mill.
And in July, Ozark city leadership met with neighbors of the mill who were concerned about possible developments at the mill.
But Bass Pro's director of communications, Jack Wlezien, said that's not an indication that anything is being planned for the mill. He said developing the mill is "not a priority at the moment."
The mill and several other properties were bought more than two decades ago. However, records from the assessor's office show a string of recent purchases. The Ozark Mill bought two nearby plots in 2012, one in 2014, another in October and then one as recently as March, records show.
Ozark City Administrator Steve Childers said it's "no secret" that Bass Pro Shops owns the historic mill."Everybody has always wanted to see something done to the old mill," Childers said, noting that he would like to see more use of the Finley River. "That guy (Morris) is extraordinarily creative."
Late last month, Childers met with concerned residents who lived near the mill to clear up rumors and answer questions, he said.
One of those residents in attendance was Andy Robinson.
Robinson said in June tours of the mill were being given at the Sunset Soiree, a public event held at the Finley River, and those tours "gave the appearance that there were more imminent plans for development."
About 25 residents attended the meeting, Robinson said, noting that the possible development of the mill has piqued people's interest. Residents were curious about the effect on traffic or property values if the mill is developed, he said. Robinson added that whether the mill area would be designated as blighted property for tax purposes was also discussed.
So what does the mill mean to Ozark?
Wayne Glenn is a local historian who has written 13 books about Christian County and the surrounding area. He said Ozark was originally centered around the mill.
Before the Civil War there was an important trail that came down from Springfield to Forsyth, Glenn said. "Wagon Road" crossed over the Finley River at the site of the mill, he said.
"That has been the center of the economic development of Ozark ever since."
In fact, the town was originally named Hoover's Mill in 1839 after the mill's owner, John Hoover, Glenn said, and a year later, Hoover's Mill became the town of Ozark.
"I think it would be wonderful if the mill were utilized," Glenn said.
He said he's spoken to Morris twice in his life — and one of those times they discussed the old mill.
According to Glenn, one of the reasons Morris has an interest in that area is because at one point his parents lived "within a stone's throw" of the mill.