Constructed in 1855-56, the Box Elder Flouring Mill is significant for three primary reasons. First, it is associated with important industrial and commercial developments both in Brigham City and in Utah. It was the first industrial
building constructed in the town, which was established in 1853-54 by Mormon settlers. Beginning in the mid-1860s, the mill operated in conjunction with the Mormon Church-sponsored Brigham City Mercantile and Manufacturing Association (the Co-op), a highly successful cooperative economic and social system that became the model for Mormon cooperatives throughout the Utah Territory. The mill was sold and converted into a monument factory in the 1890s as the town shifted from the cooperative system to one of private enterprise. That phase of private economic growth lasted until the Great Depression of the 1930s. Second, the mill is significant for its association with Lorenzo Snow, who established and directed the Brigham City Co-op and later served as president of the Mormon Church. Snow had the mill built and owned it for at least 30 years. The mill is the only known, extant building in both Brigham City and Utah that is closely associated with Lorenzo Snow. Third, the mill is a significant and rare example of the work of Frederick Kesler, who designed and built over two dozen mills and factories throughout the territory. Kesler was one of the most significant figures in the development of Utah’s pioneer industries. This mill is one of only two Kesler
mills still standing.
Located at 327 East 200 North in Brigham City, Utah
The Box Elder Flouring Mill went through three distinct periods of operation during the historic period (pre-1930s). The first was from 1856 until 1864 when it served as a privately operated mill in the new Mormon settlement of Brigham City. It was the first major industrial enterprise in the community, and it is the only remaining building that dates from the initial period of industrial and commercial growth. The mill was built for Lorenzo Snow, who had been assigned by Mormon Church president Brigham Young to direct the settlement of the town in 1853-54. Snow realized that the isolated, fledgling community could not easily survive without a mill to grind grain into flour and grist for animal feed. Investing partners with Snow in the mill included Brigham Young, Judge Samuel Smith, and trustees of the Brigham Cooperative Mill Company. Snow served as superintendent of the mill, but hired Mads Christian Jensen, an experienced miller, to run the mill. Jensen eventually became a stockholder in the operation as well. The mill was completed in 1856, but did not begin operation until 1857, when the local wheat crop was sufficient to supply the mill.3 Production of flour was vital in the development of all small Mormon communities, and early mills were often joint projects of religious and secular leaders as well as private individuals.
At the time the mill was built it served a secondary purpose as a fort at the northeast corner of the rock wall surrounding the town. The rock wall aided in protection against hostile Indians, and the mill itself was used as a fort, with armed guards posted in the upper levels to protect the townspeople. Rifle portholes in the upper wall were covered over in the 1890s.
The second period of the mill’s operation was from 1864 until c.1880, when it was part of the community-wide cooperative, the Brigham City Mercantile and Manufacturing Association (the Co-op). Though the building remained in Snow’s ownership during those years, it undoubtedly functioned in concert with other Co-op enterprises, since Snow was director of the Co-op and Co-op leaders frowned on the operation of private ventures.
The Brigham City Co-op was an outgrowth of communitarian ideals that had been part of the. Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormon) philosophy from its beginning. in Kirtland, Ohio, on February 9, 1831, while the church was still in its first year, Church President Joseph Smith instituted the law of consecration requiring the people to turn over to the church any surplus property or possessions for the support of the poor. The United Order, an economic cooperative system, operated for a time in Kirtland and then was discontinued.
After the Mormons migrated to Utah from Nauvoo, Illinois, in the 1840s and 50s, church leaders encouraged the settlers in Utah communities to again implement the cooperative system. Part of the reason was to encourage patronage of Mormon enterprises rather than non-Mormon ventures, which were seen as a threat and intrusion in the Mormon settled region. Over 200 cooperatives were established and in operation in Mormon communities between 1868 and 1884 as part of the churchwide effort referred to by historians as the Cooperative Movement. Cooperatives were formed within the local Mormon wards (congregations) for community welfare purposes rather than mere profit. Their methods of operation ranged from businesslike joint-stock corporations to more communal arrangements where members shared everything. The Brigham City Co-op was an example of the joint-stock approach.
The earliest and most successful Mormon cooperative was in Brigham City. Lorenzo Snow, one of the founders of the town and a member of the church’s governing Council of Twelve Apostles, established the Brigham City Co-op in 1864 with the formation of a co-op mercantile store. The Co-op went on to form 19 different departments encompassing commerce, industry, agriculture, horticulture, and construction. These departments employed most of the available workers in Brigham City for three decades. Though the Co-op operated until 1895, its first 15 years were its most successful. The demise of the Co-op was brought on by natural disasters, changing attitudes about the role of the Mormon Church in business, legal and financial attacks against the Co-op, and changing hierarchy within the church. One by one, all of Brigham City’s cooperative departments were either abandoned or taken over by private interests. The Flouring Mill probably ceased operation by about 1880, and in 1892 it was sold by the Co-op and converted into a
private business. The Co-op itself ceased operation in 1895.
Only five Co-op buildings remain standing. They include the Flour Mill (1856), Woolen Mill (1869-70), Planing Mill (c.1876), Relief Society Granary (c.1877), and Mercantile Store (1891). The Woolen Mill has been extensively altered by later additions, though it still functions as a woolen mill. All of these industrial buildings were located along Box Elder Creek, which runs through the town.
Sale of the Flouring Mill in 1892 marked the beginning of the third phase of the building’s operation. At that time it was purchased by John H. Bott and converted into a monument factory. Bott was an experienced stone cutter, having worked on the construction of the Salt Lake Temple. In 1877, he took Lorenzo Snow’s advice and opened a stone-cutting and monument business on Brigham City’s Main Street. By the time his business grew enough that he needed larger facilities, the Flouring Mill was available. He purchased the mill and the whole city block on which it stood for $300. H He converted the mill into a monument factory and operated it until his death in 1914. His sons John, Lorenzo, Philip, and William continued the business, incorporating under the name John H. Bott and Sons Company in 1917. By 1919, it was considered one of the leading plants in Utah. In 1933, the company became a strictly wholesale enterprise because of its volume of business. Large additions were made to the building at that time to accommodate the increased business. The physical appearance of the building has changed little since that time. By 1939, the company was receiving large blocks of stone from several locations throughout the country. John H. Bott and Sons Company, billed as the oldest monument company in Utah, has continued under the ownership and management of four generations of Botts.
In addition to its role in the industrial development of the community, the mill is significant for its association with Lorenzo Snow. Lorenzo Snow was the leading figure in Brigham City during the nineteenth century. He lived in the town most of his adult life, directing the spiritual and secular affairs. He became president of the Mormon Church’s Quorum of Twelve Apostles on 7 April 1889 and on the 13 September 1898 was chosen to be president of the Mormon Church. At that time he moved to Salt Lake City, where the church headquarters are located. Snow served as president of the church until his death in 1901. “M* None of his residences in either Brigham City or Salt Lake City are still standing.
The mill is also significant as one of only two remaining mills designed and built by Frederick M. Kesler, an important figure in the development of many of Utah’s early industries. Kesler, a native of Crawford County, Pennsylvania, had been apprenticed to a millwright at age 15 and had begun building mills at 19. When his family converted to Mormonism and migrated to Utah in 1851, he was in great demand as a mill builder for the Mormon Church. Most of the mills he constructed were in or near Mormon settlements in northern Utah. Usually his mills were the first industrial buildings in their locales. A distinctive feature of virtually all of Kesler’s mills, including the Box Elder Flouring Mill, is their gabled clerestory roof.
Kesler’s importance as an industrial designer is summarized in the following description of his career:
“He was a self-reliant craftsman as well as an industrialist, inventor, architect, engineer, and man who took advantage of the available resources or opportunities. His talent in building mills and machines and operating them are attested to by the number and variety he either constructed, superintended the construction of, or drafted plans for others to build. These include over twenty flour and sawmills, oil mills, foundries, a nail factory, sugar and molasses factories, carding and weaving mills, a paper mill, blacksmith shops, grain-cleaning machines, a button factory, and others. He also designed and constructed churches, schools, bridges, canals, private homes and shops“.
Most of these projects were completed prior to an accident in 1867 which left Kesler an invalid. (See attached list of Known Industrial Buildings of Frederick Kesler). Only two of Kesler’s industrial buildings are known to be standing
today: the Chase Mill in Salt Lake City and the Box Elder Flouring Mill. The Chase Mill was listed in the National Register in 1970. A c.1980 rehabilitation of that building stabilized it and restored its appearance, but covered over most of
the original exterior materials. The Box Elder Flouring Mill is considered the best-preserved Kesler mill in Utah today.