James Graham was born on September 27, 1828, in White County, Illinois to John H. Graham from Pennsylvania and Rebecca Graham of Virginia, who died when James was only eight years old. The couple later moved to Illinois where James took up farming. John and Rebecca had seven children; James, William John M., Emily, George, Alfred, and Oliver.
At the age of seventeen, James Graham left his birthplace and arrived in Grundy County, Missouri in 1845. Like his father, he pursued farming. On November 9, 1848, he married Miss Sarah Ashbrook from Ohio and the couple had four children together: John, George, Henry, and Mannie. In 1850 he moved to California where he worked in the mines and obtained the property of the Quartz Mill, known as the Choate, in the town of Ophir California. Unfortunately, Sarah died in September of 1866 and he returned to Grundy County.
In 1866 and 1867, James Graham and his father John M. Graham, along with Isaac Waldrip, built a stone flour mill on the Grand River and a covered bridge, four miles from Chillicothe, Missouri. This mill produced about 75 barrels of flour a day when they installed the full rollers system to grind grain. The Graham company shipped flour in Livingston County and the surrounding communities.
In 1887, James’ brother, Oliver D. Graham, had taken over Graham’s Mill on the Grand River and in 1890 the mill was remodeled into a wooden frame. During this time, ‘flatboating’ down the Grand River to the Missouri River to St. Louis, became an essential transportation route for importing and exporting goods such as “pork, wheat, hides and furs,” and other products to Graham’s Mill. The Grand River would often flood, damaging the mill and the bridge.
In about 1904 Oliver D. Graham sold his property to a miller, J. Henry Campbell of West Virginia and Campbell and his family built a cement block house. The mill building sat between the blockhouse and the covered bridge. Campbell rented the land as sharecropping and he ran the mill by grinding corn, making flour, and cornmeal until his death in 1913. In 1907, Joseph Gladieux, a local ice manufacturer, built a four-room ice house and another north of the bridge on the property to conduct his harvesting and shipping of natural ice from the river, which was delivered to patrons using horse and mule teams. However, in 1912 he shifted to manufacturing artificial ice and moved the business to Chillicothe.
It is unclear when the Graham flour mill building was razed but it would have occurred between the 1900s and 1920s. Beginning in the early 1900s, the property gradually became a resort for the public to camp, picnic, fish, boat, and have baptisms on the Grand River. Also, high schools and churches planned outings at the site. In 1913, the mill dam where fishermen sat and which held the water and generated the power to run the Graham mill was removed in order to save the bridge from the strong currents of the river. That same year, Mr. G. Ed. Nothnagel had a grocery store on the property. In 1917, the grocery store was remodeled and Nothnagel continued his mercantile business until 1927.
In 1920, a summer home was built on the grounds for Dr. William Girdner and his family, named Beating Back Lodge. Between 1924 and 1925, Dr. Girdner planted about 5,000 vines of grapes in his vineyard near the country home and sold his grapes per pound. During this time, G. Ed. Nothnagel owned a Standard Oil Service Station on the property. In 1927, A. M. Haynes purchased Nothnagel's store and Mr. and Mrs. J. R. Campbell lived in an apartment above the store. The next year, E. F. Vandyke from Kansas City purchased the store from A. M. Haynes and he continued to operate a general store business named Frank’s Grocery that sold groceries, feeds, and general merchandise to the public.
In 1931, Clarence and Henry Still started sawing lumber at their sawmill one mile north of Graham's Mill bridge. The next year, the State Highway Department discussed replacing the weakened Graham’s mill-covered bridge with a $92,000 new bridge. The construction of the bridge began in 1935 and provided much needed employment for workers who were struggling in the midst of the Great Depression. The construction on the Grand River bridge began about 200 yards southwest from the old bridge and was completed in 1936. In 1939, volunteers worked to construct a new dam in order to change the river course channel as a way to preserve the old bridge and a historical marker was placed at the entrance. That same year, the Graham’s Mill Nightclub Tavern operated day and night near the old covered bridge under the management of Theodore Dalton. Several orchestra band acts and dances performed there. Graham's covered bridge finally collapsed in the river in 1944 due to flooding. Between 1944 and 1945, concrete was placed on the floor of the new 1930s constructed Grand River bridge, southwest of Chillicothe, to facilitate traffic flow on U. S. highways 36 and 65 South.
During its early years, Graham’s mill on the Grand River had served Springhill, Sampsel, Chillicothe, and other surrounding communities with corn and wheat that were cultivated by farmers. Graham’s covered bridge became an important transportation route across the Grand River and carried wagons, carts, automobiles, animals, produce, and people. The Grand River and the dam at Graham’s site were popular spots for recreational hobbies and religious ceremonies. Today, only the remains of a stone pillar, which was the foundation of the mill building can still be seen on the west end of the road 228 near the Grand River.