“Original Gristmill Stones” Monument

This article originally appeared in the July/Aug 1990 issue of Pioneer Magazine


On June 2, 1990 the South Davis Chapter of the Sons of Utah Pioneers held their dedication of the “Original Gristmill Stones” monument. V. Vee Reynolds, President of South Davis Chapter officiated. President Reynolds welcomed all those in attendance and announced the program. Howard B. Stringham, National Area Vice President played a stirring rendition of “God Bless America” after which Charles N. Barlow, Program Chairman and Life Member of the SUP, gave the opening prayer. Walter W. Willey, Treasurer, led everyone in the Pledge of Allegiance. V. Vee Reynolds then gave a history of the Heber C. Kimball gristmill and the stones which were used in the monument.

Heber C. Kimball, First Counselor to Brigham Young in the First Presidency of the church, was instrumental in the construction of the first gristmill in Davis County. In 1851, Heber C. Kimball called his family together and told them of the need of a flour mill in North Canyon Ward, now Bountiful. He thought it would be a good investment, so asked for their cooperation. They were all willing. The site was surveyed by Jesse W. Fox, Heber C. Kimball and Frederick Kesler, August 1, 1852. The architect for the building was Frederick Kesler and the machinery for the finished mill was installed by Appleton Harmon.

Daniel Davis, the adopted son of Heber C. Kimball wrote in his diary:

“On the 18th day of October, 1852, I went into North Mill Canyon for the purpose of clearing away the brush from the ground where father planned to build the flour mill. The ground had been staked off by father, Brother Fox and Brother Kesler and it measured forty-eight by thirty feet. I did most of the hauling of the stone for the foundation, the timber and the adobes. The spirit of building was growing among the people.

“Wednesday, April 20, 1853, Brother Isaac Hunter, James Leach and myself laid the southeast and northwest cornerstones for the foundation of the gristmill. I was mouth of the southeast corner and Brother Hunter for the northwest. Brother Hunter did the masonry work with Brother Leach as tender. May 6th, Isaac Hunter laid the south cornerstone and Father was present and dedicated and consecrated it and the mill and all pertaining to the mill, the ground and the water unto the building up of Zion and for the good of the Saints. I spent most of the time about the mill. In July 1853, we raised the attic story of the mill. On August 10, we finished laying the adobes to the gristmill. I assisted Brother Isaac Hunter in laying the first stones for the gristmill and helped him to finish even to the topping of the chimney. When I returned home from Green River in the month of August, 1854, the new flour mill was all finished and we looked upon it with pride. Its foundation was rock, solid walls, adobe with sandstone trimmings, gave it dignity.”

The exact day of completion of the building and beginning of operation is not known, but it is definite that it was sometime during the fall of 1853. The mill was again dedicated by Heber C. Kimball, after which a dinner was given at his home. After the mill building was finished and before the machinery was installed, a dance was given. A jolly company gathered and the fiddlers played the dance tunes of the times. Lunch was a feature of those pioneer dances. When the time came to go home, rain was pouring and the night was pitch dark, so they danced until morning. It was an ingenious solution to a vexing problem. How better to solve it?

The pond to store the water was excavated on the south side of the mill and water was taken out of the mill creek a few rods up stream. For a number of years, all baptisms in Bountiful into the Church took place in this mill pond. Sister Foy, who is 91 years of age, indicated that her mother was one of those who was baptized in the old mill pond.

The water from the mill pond was taken to the mill in a race, or wooden flume, which fell on a water wheel, which was an overshot type located in the northwest portion of the basement floor, and which in turn, furnished the power to operate the gristmill. The water was then sent out of the mill and returned to Mill Creek, none the worse for wear and usage.

The first flour mills in the Valley used millstones to grind the grain. They were made in Salt Lake City by Benjamin T. Mitchell, and had to be taken from a hard but cellular silicious stone, secured at Black Rock, west of Salt Lake City. Some French burrs were used in gristmills throughout Utah, but it has been definitely established that none were imported from France prior to 1861.

According to Benjamin T. Mitchell’s own story:

“Soon after I arrived I went to work at stonecutting for Brigham Young. I was closely associated with President Brigham Young, Truman Angell and others in drawing the plans for the Salt Lake Temple, served as one of the committee appointed to decide whether sandstone or granite should be used in the construction of the foundation of the Temple, and had active charge of stone cutting for a number of years.

“When work was going on, I was building for myself and jobbing for others occasionally as opportunity permitted, cutting ninety-six run of millstones, large and small.” The mill operation was no small undertaking as Archibald Gardner, a miller declared: “The mill was inspired. One time I put a grist of 20 bushel in the sink and in one hour it was ground.”

The millstones consisted of two flat cylindrical stones enclosed with a wooden or sheet metal base. The lower stone, or bed stone, was permanently fixed, while the upper stone, or runner, was accurately pivoted and balanced over it. The average size was about three to four feet in diameter and twelve or more inches in thickness. This corresponds perfectly with these two stones which we have incorporated in our monument. The smaller stone has a diameter of 44 inches and is 16 inches thick. This was the runner stone. The larger one, the bed stone, is 54 inches in diameter and 12 inches thick. They were generally built up of segments, bound together around the circumference by an iron loop and backed by Plaster of Paris. Both of these stones are constructed exactly that way.

The bed stone was dressed to a flat surface and a series of grooves or shallow depressions were cut into it. The grooves on both stones were made to correspond exactly so that when the one rotated over the other, the sharp edges had the effect of cutting, squeezing and grinding the grain. The upper stone, or runner, was set in motion by a spindle on which it was mounted and the spindle was passed up through the center of the bed stone. That is why the larger of these two stones, or the bed stone, has a 9” square center hole. There were screws and other appliances for adjusting and balancing the runner. The smaller but thicker stone has a steel yoke in the center, and a key slot to hold it securely while rotating above the bed stone. Further provision was made for the passing of air to prevent too high a heat being generated in the grinding operation. The greatest destructor of gristmills was fire, most often originating in the grinding process.

There were small sweepers to convey the flour to the meal spout, after which the meal was carried to a flour dressing machine and was passed through wire or silk cloth of different degrees of fineness.

Just as a passing remark, several people have wondered why the old mill fell into decay after it was shut down. You have to remember that in those days, they did not have cement readily available, although it had been used for centuries, consequently the mortar for the rocks and adobes was made of a lime mortar, with no cement in it, and subsequently could not withstand the ravages of time and weather. It was not that cement was not in use, it was just not available to the pioneer builders at the time.

At the conclusion of his history of the mill. President Reynolds asked if there were any questions and one young lady wanted him to tell of the finding of the stones in the first place. President Reynolds responded by telling them of the construction of a debris catch basin which was just to the rear of the spectators and in full view. Davis County, in cooperation with Bountiful City, constructed this debris catch basin. It was during this excavation of the basin site that these two original gristmill stones were uncovered and found to be in remarkably good condition after all these intervening years. As President Reynolds read from the plaque:

“Permission was granted the South Davis Chapter, Sons of Utah Pioneers, to construct this monument so as to complement and enhance the Daughters of Utah Pioneers replica of the old mill, and their monument, located just to the right of this monument. Thanks is given to all who had a hand in making this effort a reality and being able to bring back a few memories of our Pioneer Ancestors.”

Time was then turned over to Morris Bennion, Past President of the National, who spoke on gristmills in the area and on the efforts and rewards of the South Davis Chapter in bringing this monument to a successful conclusion. He then dedicated the monument.

The construction of the entire monument was taken on by the officers of the South Davis Chapter. Members of the chapter, other than officers, were not included in the construction effort. President Reynolds indicated the reason for going this way was to free the younger members who work and have other duties and obligations to perform, whereas the officers are all retired. The five officers, ranging in age from 70 to 76, completed the project in exactly one month. A great deal of time and effort was expended as well as a lot of chapter money in this tremendous undertaking. President Reynolds remarked:

“You should have seen us the day we hauled the rock from the old foundation up the hill to the site in wheelbarrows. Some of the rocks weighed over 200 pounds and it took a man with a rope pulling the wheelbarrow and a man pushing it uphill.”

Age of the five men who hauled rock were 70,74,74,75 and 76 years of age. You can’t tell South Davis Chapter that older men are not able to work when the situation requires it.

President Bennion was pleased, to say the least, with the efforts of South Davis Chapter, and was generous of his praise for the finished monument. It is hoped that it will last for generations to come to see and think of their pioneer heritage. It was a project worthy of thanks from the entire community.

Officers who took part in the construction of the monument were: V. Vee Reynolds, President; Wylo D. Reynolds, President Elect; Cloyd D. Seeley, Second Vice President; Howard B. Stringham, National Area Vice President and Secretary of the South Davis Chapter; and Walter W. Willey, Treasurer. Several members have contributed cash donations toward the construction costs.

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