Note: Please be aware that while this story focuses on damage during recent floods, Rockbridge is open for business.
ROCKBRIDGE – A recent gray, cotton-sky Saturday threatens rain at Rockbridge, a town-turned-trout-resort nestled in Ozark County. The layered clouds remind of life given by water — but also its ability to destruct and devastate when given half a chance.
It was the chilly flow from Spring Creek called that settlers to build a town. A town, in turn, that developed into Ozark County’s first county seat. And at the heart of that town was a mill.
Rockbridge didn’t last long after the Civil War came to town. It was destroyed by fire during a battle — but, like the phoenix that rises from the ashes, so did Rockbridge. In 1868, the mill was built back on its present location. For decades, locals came to grind their grain, pick up foodstuffs and shoot the breeze with neighbors.
Rockbridge in days gone by. (Courtesy of Laine Sutherland and Lynn Fisher)
But times changed, and Rockbridge slowly disappeared. By the 1930s, folks went to larger towns and no longer needed to grind grain so laboriously grown at home. Buildings once vital became useless; pieces of a story paused by progress.
But not all was silent. The community’s post office stayed open, and the same strong, steady flow gurgled of what once was.
Rockbridge in the late 1950s. (Courtesy of Janet Stone)
In the 1950s, it called life back into the town when Rockbridge was reborn — this time, as a trout ranch and resort. Lile and Edith Amyx purchased the community, and invited the world to visit, dine and relax.
Thousands of visitors have come to the isolated getaway since then, many drawn by the pure water teeming with fish.
Despite the ease of modern transportation, it’s still a journey down winding Ozarks roads to reach Rockbridge. Travelers are rewarded for their trouble with a glimpse of the ruby-red mill, peeking through leafy-green treetops like hidden treasure. Still situated along the gushing creek, it’s a sight to behold.
But, like a fickle, two-faced friend, the water can turn mean. One of those times came in April 2017, when sheets of rain poured through, raising the creek and causing destruction. Months later, cleanup throughout the county is sill underway.
At Rockbridge, things generally look back to normal from an outsider’s perspective. Outside the resort’s restaurant, hummingbirds flit happily from one feeder to the next, delighting diners enjoying their own dinners on the other side of the window. Fishermen bring in their day’s catches. Those visiting are able to stay the night. Families still come for fun at the waterside.
While it’s obvious much work has been done, it’s clearly not complete. The historic mill, which these days houses a pub and place to watch the water, is closed. Scars are visible on its walls, proving that wounds take time to heal.
And they’re because of that life-giving water.
But as rain threatens from beyond the shades of gray on the aforementioned Saturday, visitors agree on the need for wet weather.
“It’s supposed to rain tonight,” says one man, next to a window in the restaurant. “If we don’t get it tonight, we’re in trouble,” a companion adds.
As if on cue, rain begins to fall just a few minutes later. The water quickly turn from sprinkles to sheets, forcing friends to gather on a nearby porch and wait for relief. Droplets pour in the mill’s gaping holes, and cover the creek like confetti. It’s the water that turns the countryside lush green — and the water that rises the creek and causes destruction.
The same water that brings the fisherman time and again. The same water that draws families for fun skipping rocks. And the same water that drew the folks to build the mill so many years ago.
Want to visit?
“Built in 1863 south of Ava,” Springfield Daily News, March 4, 1955
“Guests like old friends to trout ranch operators,” Susan Croce Kelly, Sunday News & Leader, Oct. 12, 1976
“Fishing brought success to town,” Mike Penprase, Springfield Daily News, April 9, 1985
“Historic mills in Ozark County,” Ozarks Mountaineer, May 1965
Map showing Ozarks mills, Ozarks Mountaineer, August 1968
Menu, Rockbridge Rainbow Trout & Game Ranch, August 2017