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The Story of Cottonwood Paper Mill

Uncovering the History of a Pioneer Landmark

Cottonwood Paper Mill

The Cottonwood Paper Mill, a testament to Utah’s rich history, stands as a silent witness to the wonders of innovation and community spirit. Erected in 1880 with great vision and determination, this mill played a crucial role in the local economy for decades. Let’s delve into its captivating story, filled with remarkable achievements and unfortunate setbacks.

The Birth of the Cottonwood Paper Mill

In the mid-19th century, Brigham Young, a prominent leader of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS), established the Deseret News, the first newspaper in the region. To reduce production costs, Young enlisted the expertise of Thomas Howard, an English paper maker, to build a paper mill in Sugar House. The mill flourished, constantly upgrading its machinery by repurposing parts from various industries.

Under the guidance of Henry Grow, the Deseret News Company decided to construct the Cottonwood Paper Mill in 1883. Utilizing discarded granite from the construction of the Salt Lake Temple, the mill took shape as a formidable structure. It housed the old machinery from Sugar House as a standby, ready to step in whenever needed.

From Boom to Bust

As transportation improved with the arrival of the railroad, paper imports became more affordable, leading to a decline in local paper production. In 1892, the Deseret News sold the Cottonwood Paper Mill to the Granite Mills Paper Company. Unfortunately, the joy was short-lived, as a devastating fire ravaged the mill in 1893, reducing it to ashes.

A Community’s Resilience

But the spirit of resilience prevailed. In 1927, private citizen J. B. Walker took up the noble task of rebuilding the mill. This time, it transformed into an open-air dance hall known as the Old Mill Club. The club became a hub of social activity, bringing communities together. However, the advent of World War II and changing social dynamics diminished the club’s prominence. By 1970, it even tried to reinvent itself as a “discotheque,” but its glory days were behind it.

Throughout its operation, the Cottonwood Paper Mill relied on a community-driven approach. A constant supply of rags, the raw material for paper production, was collected by the Deseret News, public works programs, and church initiatives. The Women’s Relief Society played a significant role in organizing regular rag drives, ensuring a steady stream of materials for the mill. The dedication of individuals like George Goddard, who collected over 100,000 pounds of rags, facilitated the mill’s success.

The Mill’s Changing Fortunes

Sadly, the mill fell into disuse after being condemned by Cottonwood Heights in 2005 due to building code violations. Today, the once-grand structure stands as a reminder of its former glory, marred by acts of vandalism and theft. In 2011, thieves stole valuable copper wiring from the mill, and its historical marker was also targeted.

Cottonwood Paper Mill by C. R. Savage. Deseret Paper Mill, Mouth of Cottonwood Canon Utah. L. Tom Perry Special Collections
Cottonwood Paper Mill by C. R. Savage. Deseret Paper Mill, Mouth of Cottonwood Canon Utah. L. Tom Perry Special Collections

Despite these challenges, hope flickers in the heart of the mill’s owner. The vision to rebuild the mill as an art gallery and dance hall still burns brightly. The captivating tales of ghostly encounters and the mill’s inclusion in the city’s commemorative book illustrate its enduring place in the community’s collective memory.

For those interested in further exploration, primary sources like the Deseret News and secondary sources like Leonard Arrington’s Great Basin Kingdom: Economic History of the Latter-Day Saints 1830-1900 provide invaluable insights into the mill’s significance.

The Cottonwood Paper Mill, with its intriguing past and uncertain future, stands as a testament to the pioneers’ determination, resourcefulness, and community spirit. Discover the allure of this historic landmark and immerse yourself in its captivating narrative. To learn more about Cottonwood Paper Mill and explore other fascinating stories, visit Quill And Fox.