write-up by Jaclyn Foster
Placed By: Daughters of the Utah Pioneers, no. 326
GPS Coordinates: N 40º37’603” W 111º48’000”
Historical Marker Text:
Daughters of Utah Pioneers
COTTONWOOD PAPER MILL
In 1880 the Deseret News Corporation purchased a 28-acre millsite including water rights. With Henry Grow, architect and builder, the $150,000 structure, made of granite from nearby quarries with mortar of clay and stone grindings, took three years to erect. The 1860 paper machine from Sugarhouse Mill and some new machinery was installed; a 1500-ft. race brought water through the penstock to encased turbines. The plant could yield 5 tons of paper a day. Chas. J. Lambert, manager, sold to Granite Paper Mills Co. 1892; destroyed by fire 1893; restored 1927 as a recreational center.
The first newspaper established in the Mountain West, the Deseret News, began publication in June of 1850. In order to reduce production costs, LDS leader Brigham Young appointed Thomas Howard, a paper maker from England, to construct a paper mill in Sugar House. The machinery for this mill was updated several times, with thrifty pioneers exchanging parts between beet sugar, iron working, and paper industries. In 1883, under the direction of Henry Grow, Deseret News Company received new paper machinery, and built Cottonwood Paper Mill to house the old machinery for use as a spare. The new mill was built using discarded granite from the construction of the Salt Lake Temple.
After the completion of the railroad, paper became cheaper to import, and the Deseret News sold Cottonwood Paper Mill to Granite Mills Paper Company in 1892. The mill was destroyed by fire in 1893.1
Paper mills produce paper from waste cellulose fibers. In this case, the mill used cotton and linen rags. These rags were cooked and beaten to suspend the cellulose fibers in water. The fibers were collected on framed screens dipped in the water, and the water was removed by stacking frames between felt sheets. After the paper was dry, they were briefly soaked in gelatin or starch solutions, and dried again. This last step was known as “sizing” and prevented ink from feathering.2
Successful operation of the mill was a community endeavor. The mill required a constant supply of rags, which were collected by the Deseret News, public works programs, and church initiatives. In 1861, George Goddard was called on a three-year mission with the sole task of collecting rags for the mill. The calling “was a severe blow to [his] native pride,” but Goddard accepted the assignment. His rag collecting took him from Franklin, Idaho to Sanpete County, and involved preaching sermons on Sunday about rag collection. Goddard collected over 100,000 pounds of rags for the mill. The Women’s Relief Society took over rag collection in 1867 and organized regular rag drives.3
Following its destruction by fire in 1893, the mill remained unused until it was rebuilt in 1927 by J. B. Walker, a private citizen. The mill was transformed into an open-air dance hall, the Old Mill Club, and played a significant role in the local social scene. The club’s use was disrupted by World War II, when rationing increased food prices and military enrollment made mixed-sex activities, such as dancing, impractical. Following the end of the war, the social scene had shifted to drive-in movies, and the Old Mill Club never regained its former prominence, although it had rebranded itself as a “discotheque” by 1970.4 It has remained in the hands of the Walker family, with J. B. Walker’s grandson-in-law managing the property since 1987. The mill was condemned by Cottonwood Heights in 2005 due to earthquake building codes.5
Since its condemnation, the mill has been the target of repeated vandalism and theft. In 2011, thieves stole over $20,000 of copper wiring, and the mill’s historical marker was removed by the owner after he came upon thieves who had cut three of the plaque’s four bolts in order to steal it.6 Today, the mill is a study in contrasts. The crumbling, graffiti-laden building sits just up the road from a private gated community which bears its name and likeness. Residents tell ghost stories about the mill, and when the city of Cottonwood Heights commissioned a book on the community’s history, the mill graced the book’s cover. The mill’s owner envisions a future where the mill is rebuilt and used as an art gallery and dance hall.
For Future Reference:
“The Paper Mill,” Deseret News, April 8 1893.
Cabrero, Alex. “Thieves make away with $20,000 of copper wiring from Old Mill,” KSL News, November 17, 2011.
Arrington, Leonard. Great Basin Kingdom: Economic History of the Latter-Day Saints 1830-1900. (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1966).
Roberts, Allen D. City Between the Canyons: A History of Cottonwood Heights, 1849-1953. Available at Cottonwood Heights City Hall.
Saunders, Richard. “‘Rags! Rags! Rags!!!’: Beginnings of the Paper Industry in the Salt Lake Valley, 1849-1858.” Utah Historical Quarterly 62(1), 1994.
Smith, Melvin T. “National Register of Historic Places Nomination: Granite Paper Mill.” National Register of Historic Places Inventory, National Parks Service, (December 10, 1970).
1. Melvin T. Smith, “National Register of Historic Places Nomination: Granite Paper Mill.” National Register of Historic Places Inventory, National Parks Service, (December 10, 1970).
2. Richard Saunders, “‘Rags! Rags! Rags!!!’: Beginnings of the Paper Industry in the Salt Lake Valley, 1849-1858.” Utah Historical Quarterly 62(1), 1994
3. Leonard Arrington, Great Basin Kingdom: Economic History of the Latter-Day Saints 1830-1900. (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1966), 114-116.
4. Melvin Smith, National Register of Historic Places
5. Doug Shelby, interviewed by Jaclyn Foster at Cottonwood Heights residence, February 3, 2019.
6. Alex Cabrero, “Thieves make away with $20,000 of copper wiring from Old Mill,” KSL News, November 17, 2011.