Filed Under Architecture

The Benson Gristmill of Tooele

The popular image of early pioneer Utah is often one of rural and agricultural communities, with little technology beyond the cow and plow. However, industrial mills like the Benson Gristmill in Tooele were integral to utilizing Utah’s resources and encouraging the economy.

In the early days of Utah’s settlement, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints encouraged Utahns to develop their land and build industrial infrastructure. One fitting example of this occurred in 1854, when Ezra T. Benson (the great-great grandfather of the later prophet, Ezra Taft Benson) moved to Tooele Valley with orders from Brigham Young to build a gristmill, which would grind raw cereal grains into flour. Such a mill would provide a vital service for the surrounding settlements. Soon, Benson and a few other men gained the rights to the land, water, and timber from Brigham Young and started building the mill by a pond in northern Tooele. 

The mill itself was a remarkable piece of resourceful architecture. For example, wooden pegs were used in stabilizing the beams of the building. This allowed the pegs to expand and contract along with the beams as the weather changed, leading to greater stability. 

For almost one hundred years, from 1854 until the 1940s, the mill processed many tons of corn and wheat for the communities of Tooele Valley. For instance, in 1860 alone, the mill processed about $17,000 worth of grains. That same year, the mill’s rights were transferred to Brigham Young, after Benson moved to Cache Valley. This transfer of ownership was likely to prevent the mill from being seized by the federal government during the conflict over polygamy. 

  In 1922, the mill was bought by the future LDS apostle J. Reuben Clark. Under his ownership, the mill was upgraded and the older wooden waterwheel and millstones were replaced by a metal turbine and free standing “grain breakers,” which were more durable and could grind the grain with greater efficiency. In 1938 the mill switched from milling flour to making animal feed. A few years later the mill stopped being used and fell into disrepair. 

The building stood abandoned until 1983, when a committee of volunteers recognized the Benson Gristmill as an important historical site to the community of Tooele. In the next few years, the small group got Terracor Corp, a land development firm that then owned the property, to donate the site to Tooele County as a historical monument, allowing them to restore and preserve the mill. The Benson Gristmill is now one of the most intact pioneer-era sites in the state, standing as a reminder of the humble yet powerful origins of Utah’s communities. 

Images

Gristmill 1
Gristmill 1 Source:

“E.T. Benson Grist Mill: Markers and Monuments.” J. Willard Marriott Digital Library. Utah Department of Cultural and Community Engagement. Accessed April 19, 2023. https://collections.lib.utah.edu/details?id=1326048&q=Benson%2BGrist%2BMill&facet_setname_s=dha_mm.  

Gristmill 2
Gristmill 2 Source:

“NPGallery Digital Asset Management System.” National Parks Service. U.S. Department of the Interior. Accessed April 19, 2023. https://npgallery.nps.gov/AssetDetail/NRIS/72001260.  

National Register of Historic Places Inventory
National Register of Historic Places Inventory Source:

“NPGallery Digital Asset Management System.” National Parks Service. U.S. Department of the Interior. Accessed April 19, 2023. https://npgallery.nps.gov/AssetDetail/NRIS/72001260.  

Location

Metadata

Grace Bodily, Brigham Young University, “The Benson Gristmill of Tooele,” Intermountain Histories, accessed July 24, 2024, https://www.intermountainhistories.org/items/show/773.