Baron Woolen Mills: 149 years and four fires

Monday , June 30, 2014 - 6:46 PM

Tim Gurrister
Standard-Examiner staff

BRIGHAM CITY — The 149 years of history for the Baron Woolen Mill here has gained another chapter, which could be its last.

Firefighters from five departments spent three hours fighting a fire at the historic-but-empty mill Sunday night, crews were still on the scene Monday dousing hot spots.

The fire was the mill’s fourth. The building has resurrected from three other fires since Brigham pioneers laid its first bricks in 1869.

“For starters, the mill was built by the Brigham City Mercantile and Manufacturing Association, the BCMMA or Co-op, and not the LDS church,” said Kaia Landon, director of the Brigham City Museum of Art and History, seeking to clarify information in some of the media coverage of the blaze.

“While the co-op was owned by members of the LDS Church, it was a regular corporation with stockholders. Lorenzo Snow was the driving force behind the Co-op, and he was one of the major stockholders.”

Snow was the LDS church leader who directed the settlement of Brigham City, renaming it from its title of Box Elder to its namesake of then Church President Brigham Young, who sent Snow to Box Elder County in 1853. Snow became church president himself in 1898.

The woolen mill was the flagship of the Brigham co-op, it’s most expensive building, constructed for the then monstrous price of $34,000. Beginning operations in February of 1871, it made $40,000 a year it’s first seven years, Landon said.

Landon found an anecdote from Snow in a sermon he gave in October of 1873 about a suit he wore proudly from the mill.

“I engaged a suit of clothes last fall (1872) of a tailor in Brigham City, the material of which was made at our woolen factory.

“I wore this as a traveling suit through Europe and Palestine, and felt rather proud in exhibiting it as a specimen of ‘Mormon’ industry, amid the vales of the Great West.

“While in France we had an interview with President (Alberte)Theirs and his cabinet; this was at Versailles, and it so happened I then was dressed in this homemade suit, my aristocratic one being locked in my trunk at Paris, twelve miles distant.

“It was agreed by my party that I looked sufficiently respectable in my home-made product, boots and suit, to appear with them in the presence of the President of the French Republic.

“I respected their judgment and honored their decision. I was received by the President as cordially, and I believe he shook hands with me as warmly and fervently as though I had been arrayed in superb broadcloth.”

Then the mill burned to the ground on Dec. 21, 1877.

It was rebuilt the next year, but the fire was one of the factors, Landon said, in the dissolution of the co-op.

James Baron, who had worked at the factory, continued to operate it as a private venture, until he was enticed to move to Hyrum in 1889 and open a woolen mill there. The Brigham mill was operated by Anthony A Jensen for a short time until a fire struck again on Sept. 10, 1907.

“A spark in some machinery caused a fire that left only the shell of the building intact,” Landon said. The mill was not rebuilt until after Thomas Baron, son of James Baron, moved back to Brigham with his own two sons and bought it in 1915.

On September 8, 1949, the mill burned again, Landon said. Rebuilding cost $150,000, she said, while an insurance policy covered only $8,000.

The Baron family name stayed on the mill at 56 N. 500 East until June 24, 1988, she said, when the family sold the mill.

Owners since have included Sherwood Hirschi and Bob Sadler attempting various ventures to keep a historical tone, with little luck, according to city histories and news accounts.

Up until a few years ago, ghost hunters were selling tickets at times for tours of the now empty mill. Tooele-based Wasatch Paranormal Investigators published an account of one of the tours in 2012 on, noting “Full apparitions were seen by many people.”

Dale Baron, who still lives within sight of the mill he and his brother Duke sold in 1988, was on hand watching the flames Sunday night.

As was his grandson Kristopher Baron. He’d heard about it through social media, then turned on the television to see it on fire. From Tremonton, he came back again Monday morning.

He recounted how his grandfather and his brothers owned the mill, passed on to them from their forbears. “My dad worked there... It was a little devastating,” he said.

The current owners of the property are Jim and Jaron Davis, of Salt Lake City. Jaron Davis said the plan for the building was a multiple-faceted development featuring a variety of small businesses such as artists, technology entrepreneurs and produce growers. He had retained an architect.

Standard-Examiner multimedia reporter Kelly Keiter contributed to this report.

Contact reporter Tim Gurrister at 801-625-4238, Follow him on Twitter at @tgurrister

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