For being Utah's second oldest community, not much is left in town to recall Bountiful's past. This is why Leslie Foy wants to turn the ruins of the old grist mill on Orchard Drive into a living memorial.
"There is more to history than just a textbook. Each generation needs to preserve something and pass it on," said Foy, a Utah history teacher at South Davis Junior High School.Foy, a member of the Bountiful Historical Preservation Commission, said one day he hopes to see the three-story adobe structure rebuilt. And even further down the road, he'd like to see the old millstones, powered by Mill Creek water, once again grinding wheat as part of a working museum.
It's the kind of place he would like to take his history students to visit. "There are some restored mills in Wisconsin, in Williamsburg and on the Pacific Coast, but there is nothing in the (interior) West," Foy said. "This is the oldest structure in the Bountiful area. At the time it was built it was the largest mill in the Utah territory."
Foy, preservation commission members and volunteers, under the direction of two local archaeologists, have been excavating the foundation of the mill at about Seventh South and Orchard Drive for several months. Every second Saturday the group has been uncovering layers of dirt to discover artifacts and information about the mill.
So far an anvil constructed from a railroad rail, flooring, nails and glass have been unearthed. The two large millstones once used in the mill were discovered earlier during the construction of a debris basin next to the mill site.
The mill stones were driven by a water wheel at the northwest corner of the mill. Water was piped from a nearby mill pond where it had been diverted from the creek. Drought or dry conditions dictated how long the mill operated each spring and summer, Foy said.
The mill pond was the site for early LDS baptisms in the area.
Heber C. Kimball, a prominent LDS Church leader who originally owned the grist mill, broke ground in 1852. It was completed sometime during the next year. Local residents' wheat, corn and other grains were ground there for almost 40 years. The mill was designed by New Englander Frederick Kesler, who was familiar with the water-powered mills of the Northeast, Foy said.
"From the census reports we have learned it was a 15-horsepower mill," Foy said.
For a time, the mill was owned by the Bountiful Cooperative Mercantile Institution and then was owned by a George McNeil, who old timers say trained bears in the basement of the building, said Foy, author of the book, "The City Bountiful."
All that remains of the mill today is its south rock wall and shorter north wall. A small replica constructed of foundation stones commemorates the spot. Underfoot in the walls' interior is a gray dust known as "adobe melt" and is all that remains from the upper stories, Foy said.
Foy said a complete restoration would cost about $500,000. Short- term plans, however, include building an observation platform at the site, then rebuilding the structure's walls and eventually piping water to a restored grinding system.
"We would like to preserve the site and make it into a historic park," Foy said.