THE NIELSEN MILL
THE OLD MILL PLAYED AN IMPORTANT ROLE IN MY LIFE
by CLAY M. ROBINSON
Printed in the
UTAH HISTORICAL SOCIETY NEWSLETTER
Your "Puzzler" for August, 1995 is no puzzle to me. The old mill on the Fremont River between Bicknell and Torrey played an important role in my life and in the lives of other natives of Wayne County.
Old and rustic, unpainted and weathered brown, the Old Mill in its picturesque site beneath red cliffs and azure sky was still grinding locally grown grains all through the 1930's when I was a boy living at Torrey. It stands in a bucolic setting beside the Fremont River near Highway 24, South and East of Bicknell.
I used to go to the Old Mill for mash and bran for our cows and pigs. And for many years before that time, Wayne County housewives baked bread from wheat ground at the mill. The mill had supplied cereals and feeds for middle and lower Wayne County people since it was built by Neils Hansen for Hans Peter Nielsen in the early 1890s. An earlier mill, made of logs in 1883 and operated by James Heath, once stood on the same site. After the Heath Mill burned, Mr. Nielsen had his mill built on the same site.
Niels Hansen was an emigrant from Denmark. He came to Bicknell, which was then called Thurber, in 1890. He equipped the mill with rollers and belting machinery. Water flowing in a canal from the Fremont River powered the mill.
Following Hans Nielsen's death in 1909, brothers Edmund and Leland King purchased the mill and adjoining property in 1910. They sold an interest in it to Ernest Syrett and his brothers, Jesse and Clinton ran the mill until 1921. Edmund King then bought all interests in the mill. He and his son managed the mill for a short time, then leased it to various people for 14 years.
Then better highways came into Wayne County. Feed stores and farmers installed their own more modern, high speed, electrically powered mills. This took work away from the Old Mill and today it stands only as a monument to an era gone by.
To me the mill still brings many memories. As a small boy I looked with awe at the big drive wheel as the water crashed against the paddles. And I recall the wide belting that whirred on the power spindle to turn the many grinding wheels throughout the tall wooden structure. And in my memory I still see the haze of grain of grain dust in the streaks of sunlight pouring through the windows, doorways and cracks. Aside from the dust irritation in my nostrils, the smell was good.
But the flour coming from the locally grown soft wheat ground at the mill was not good. My mother, like many other women of the valley, was elated when in the late 1820s they could purchase good, high quality flours made from hard wheat's grown on dry land farms of other Utah regions. Improved roads and means of transportation made better flour readily available. But the Old Mill continued to grind grains for livestock feeds.
After I had turned 13, my father often sent me alone in the old Dodge sedan to bring back mash and bran for the livestock. That was back in the days before Highway 24 was paved. A portion of the old highway still runs immediately past the old building and curves with the hillside just beyond the canal bridge. That too, was before highway patrolmen dared venture into Wayne County. And it was before drivers licenses were part of our vocabularies.
Because I was small the miller had to help me lift the 100-pound bags of ground grain. We would pile the full dusty bags into the rear passenger compartment of the car from which the seat had been temporarily removed. With the back end of the old Dodge loaded until the rear springs arched like rainbows to near breaking point, I would drive home.
As I look into the past some 59 years to the time I made those trips to the Old Mill, I realize that nearly a half century before my errands, other 13- year-old-boys must have been dispatched by their fathers to that same old mill or its predecessor, for ground grains. But they did it the hard, slow way--with horse-drawn wagons and plodding horses at no more than three miles an hour. They did not know the thrill of driving a 1928 four- door sedan--one of the last built by Dodge before Chrysler bought them out. On the washboard road I could speed at 30 miles an hour. Wow!
Today, as I cruise along smooth Highway 24 on my way to my boyhood home on the edge of Capital Reef National Park, I slow to about 40 as I come within sight of the Old Mill. I glance several times and utter a little prayer, for the memories are rich and pleasant. Those memories leave me with a bit of nostalgia for the days when I grew up in Fruita and Torrey.
P.S.; I am indebted to Anne Snow's, Rainbow Views for history of the Old Mill before my time.