James and Matthew Sims built the first mill. Property records show that they bought ten acres from Washington Smith, the first sheriff for Lawrence County, in 1852. Two years later, a land patent was issued to Mathew [sic] Sims for the 40 acres adjacent to the first ten acres.
The true identity of James and Matthew is unclear. The 1850 census, the earliest of Missouri, shows a Sims family in the Ozark Township (now designated as Township 29) the location of the mill property. This family was headed by a Matthew Sims, age 38, and Nancy, age 39. There is an 18-year-old, James, who was presumably the son of Matthew and Nancy.
To confuse matters, nearby were James Sims, age 68 and Julian, age 61. One can reasonably assume that Matthew was the son of the elder James. Both could have been the purchasers of the property.
However, there was also a Matthew Sim in nearby Mt. Vernon Township, who at age 60 could well have been the brother of James, age 68. Further complication is the presence of James Simms (two m’s), age 29, in the same Township with six children, one of whom was named Matthew!
Assuming that Matthew, age 38, was still living at the time of the eventual sale of this property, it is my conclusion that he and James, age 68, were the owners and operators of the first mill. This logic follows since Nancy Sims’ name (Matthew’s wife) also appears on the deed when the property was sold.
The construction of the first mill is reported between 1839 and 1845. It seems possible that any of those dates are valid, since Lawrence County wasn’t founded until 1835, and its organization wasn’t complete until 1845, when property records began to accumulate. One possibility is that the Sims squatted the land, but didn’t bother to buy it for some years later. This procedure was common at the time. Moreover, the Sims’ first site was not on the ten acres purchased from Smith, but was some distance upstream. Notes from the previous owner, Vivian Boswell, suggest it was approximately 50 yards upstream, but the source of the information is unknown.
According to the mill restorer, Bill Cameron, Sims partnered with Oliver P. Johnson in 1854, who installed a carding machine in the mill. O. P. Johnson also had a carding mill and a sawmill on nearby Johnson Creek and served as the postmaster for Paris Springs in 1882. However, property records show that the partnering occurred later with another Johnson and the Likins family.