This Saturday, weather permitting, the Narrows will be open to the public. The event is being made possible through efforts of the Oregon County Commission and the United States Forest Service.
Oregon County Southern District Commissioner John Wrenfrow has worked for quite a while trying to get the event organized
From 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. a shuttle will provide accessdown the hill to the now gated Narrows located near the small community of Billmore in southern Oregon County. The area was closed off to the public in 1968 after the Eleven Point River that feeds into the area, was designated one of the first Wild and Scenic Rivers in the country. Forty years later only one-quarter of one-percent of the nation's river miles are protected by the National Wild and Scenic Rivers Act.
The Narrows, located about 18 miles southeast of Alton, is named for the hog-back ridge that separates Fredrick Creek from Blue Springs and the Eleven Point River Valley. There are four large springs here, Blue Springs, named for the color of the water; Morgan Spring, originally named Thomason Spring but then changed to Morgan Spring after BB Morgan purchased the property; Sullivan Spring; and Jones Spring.
Blue Springs is the eighth largest spring in Missouri. It has an average flow of 46,500,000 gallons per day. Early settlers used a narrow wagon trail over the ridge to reach Thomason Mill. The road was about one-quarter mile up the Eleven Point River from what is now Highway 142. At that time, the river was forded. Shortly before the turn of the century, coming in from the west, a heavy iron cable that was strung on the left side of the road, was built to keep the horses and mules from bolting and stampeding over the edge of the bluff.
The early Billmore Post Office and store were at the spring. Water power was used to run the grist and flour mill as well as a cotton gin and a blacksmith shop was also located there.
Billmore had a post office from 1885 to 1906, a general store and school district #57. In later years, the students attended Couch School.
Eliza Standley was given and granted the Narrows from the General Land Office of the United States at Jackson, Mo. The papers were signed by President Franklin Pierce on November 1854. The tract of land was 115 acres.
In 1861, the land was patented by John Felkner as township school land. Historians say he paid $100 for 80 acres.
The Sullivan family owned and farmed much of the area from 1884 to 1986 when Thomas A. (Bynas) and Pauline Helen Brewer bought the property in 1946. Land on both sides of the Narrows had been in the Vaught-Sullivan family for over 60 years.
In 1950, Brewer sold the land to B.B. and Dorothea Morgan. They bought 178 acres encompassing the Narrows, the four large springs and the old mill site. Unfortunately, the machinery at the site had been sold for scrap, but some of the old concrete work remained, carrying a 1906 date. The cement was hauled by a wagon team from Piedmont, Mo.
After the construction of Highway 142, the Caldwell family and Bynas Brewer operated a ferry across the Eleven Point River until the bridge was built in 1957.
Willard and Tom Caldwell built the ferry that carried people across the river. The Caldwell Ferry was leased by Orbin Brewer from 1949 until the bridge was completed.
When the ferry was operated by the Caldwell's, Ted, Tom and George Caldwell tended it. A relative said George Caldwell was happy to ferry people day or night. Ted and Martha Caldwell had a small house and store on the south side of the river. George Washington Caldwell had a home on the north side of the road.
After the Morgan's purchased the Narrows, B.B. began to develop it into a park-like setting. It had nature trails, connecting roads to points of interest and permanent picnic tables. Some of the people that knew Morgan said he was fascinated with the varied plant life around the area, especially the underwater species and developed a large (one of the largest in the world) aquatic plant business, shipping 40 million plants a year for more than 25 years.
The Morgans mostly harvested moss, at and near the Narrows. This was a crop that required no planting, no cultivation and grew year around unaffected by seasonal temperatures. The moss cultivated in the area, replenished itself in three months. It grew in places for more than a mile and crisscrossed the Morgan's land.
The moss harvested by the Morgan's was called Myriophyllum, a long and delicately leafed moss that was and still is much in demand in aquariums. Only the tips were shipped, in moist packaging and sent all over the world.
From the beginning of Morgan's ownership of the Narrows, he battled the Army Corp of Engineers to keep a flood control dam off the Eleven Point River. He and Lewis Lindley carried a plan to officials in Missouri government, the Department of the Interior and the National Park Service that eventually became the present National Wild and Scenic River System. The high dam on the river was de-authorized by Congress and the Narrows and the Eleven Point River are now overseen by the National Forest Service.
Those planning to attend the shuttle to the Narrows are invited to bring a sack lunch and make a day of it. Water will be provided by the Forest Service.
Commissioner John Wrenfrow said he and the other commissioners have worked with the Forest Service to make the shuttle down to the Narrows a reality. "This is a way the community can re-visit the past in a safe and organized way," Wrenfrow said.
Reporter's note: Much of the information supplied for this article can be contributed to Shann Caldwell. His great uncles ran the ferry at one time.