Historic Baron Woolen Mills destroyed in five-alarm fire

Published: Monday, June 30 2014 3:51 p.m. MDT

A fire burns at Baron Woolen Mills in Brigham City, Sunday, June 29, 2014.

Whitney Ritchie

BRIGHAM CITY — For 129 years, wool and cotton were spun and woven here into blankets, coats and other items.

Suits for three presidential inauguration speeches were reportedly made here.

But in 1996, the owners of the Baron Woolen Mills stopped major production due to a turn in the economic landscape. By the turn of the new century, some had hoped to preserve the vacant building and turn it into a living history museum. Those plans did not come to fruition.

Now, only rubble remains of the historic building.

A five-alarm fire destroyed the Baron Woolen Mills, 56 N. 500 East, on Sunday night. The cause of the massive blaze was still being investigated Monday. A plume of black smoke could be seen hovering over the city Sunday night.

The fire was reported about 9 p.m. Fire crews from Brigham City, Willard, Tremonton, Honeyville and Corrine responded. Most of the fire was extinguished by 10 p.m., but crews were mopping up hot spots through early Monday morning.

A tin building south of the main building was also a complete loss.

The Baron Woolen Mills was established in 1869 by Lorenzo Snow, who later would become president of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Snow also formed the Brigham City Mercantile and Manufacturing Association, which was commonly known as the Brigham City Co-Op.

The mill was built in 1870, and full production began in 1873. By the early 1930s, the mill was one of the largest direct sales forces in the United States.

After the co-op closed, James Baron bought the mill and renamed it Baron Woolen Mills. The Baron family operated the mill for more than 100 years before selling it in 1988.

The mill was moved to Hyrum in 1889 but was destroyed in a fire in 1907. Thomas Baron brought the mill back to Brigham City in 1915.

Former owner Dale Baron called Sunday's inferno "a devastating loss."

"It's hard to take," Baron said Sunday night while watching crews battle the fire. "I hate to see it like that. Lot of good memories in that place."

The mill survived several major fires over the century, including one in 1877 that gutted the original building and forced the owners to completely rebuild.

But Baron said the building was still structurally sound. Half of the structure was still from the 1870s construction.

"It was a sturdy building, completely, until this fire," Baron said.

The Baron family sold the mill to Sherwood Hirshi in the summer of 1988. Hirshi declared bankruptcy in 1992 and sold the mill to Bob and Marva Sadler in 1993.

About 10 years ago, Jim Davis and his two partners acquired the mill in a foreclosure sale. Their goal was to turn it into an art studio for local residents while still preserving the historic structure. Unfortunately, because of the economy, they were never able to realize their dreams.

Now, Davis said the loss of the old mill in "heartbreaking."

"It's sad that we lose structures like this in Utah and America and they get replaced, somehow, with more Wal-Marts and more McDonald's. And the unique flavors of our communities are lost. One city is just like another city without places like Baron Woolen Mills," he said. "That whole thing now is lost, the opportunity to do that. And I think that's really sad for a city like Brigham City."

Davis said about 90 percent of the machinery that used to be in the mill was donated previously to a museum in Montana and that the mill was mostly vacant during Sunday's fire.

Davis spoke Monday with the fire marshal, who didn't have a possible cause for the fire yet. As for what he'll do with the property next, Davis said he's still considering his options but may go along with whatever is in the best interest of the city's long-term plans.

The vacant building also developed a reputation of being one the most haunted structures in Utah, attracting ghost hunters and paranormal investigators from all over the nation.

There were four confirmed deaths in the building during its heyday, in addition to a woman who was believed to have been murdered there in the early 1900s.

Email: preavy@deseretnews.com

Twitter: DNewsCrimeTeam

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