A group of volunteers will join with Tooele County to reopen a historic Tooele Valley landmark this spring.
Starting May 1, the Benson Gristmill will open for guided tours Thursdays through Saturdays from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. The tour season for visitors and residents will run through the end of October.
“The Benson Gristmill is the crown jewel of Tooele County,” said Tooele County Commissioner Jerry Hurst. “It sits at the entrance to our county and draws thousand of visitors, telling the story of the county and our pioneers.”
To prepare for the gristmill’s reopening, the volunteer Historic Benson Gristmill Restoration Committee will hold a community cleanup day on Saturday, April 26.
The cleanup will start at 8 a.m. and end at noon, with a free pulled pork lunch for all workers, said Lisa Bergantz, a member of the volunteer committee.
During the cleanup volunteers will help pull and cut weeds, do gardening, paint buildings, and clean cabins and the grounds, Bergantz said. Volunteers are encouraged to bring work gloves, rakes, shovels, weed eaters and other garden tools.
Normal operations at the gristmill ended a year ago when the county’s financial problems lead county commissioners to layoff the gristmill’s staff.
Tours by trained docents and visitor center operations ceased. However, the facility was available by reservation for weddings, receptions, reunions and other events.
The idea to start a volunteer committee to help get the gristmill fully reopened started at a Tooele High School reunion last summer.
“I attended my high school reunion at the gristmill this last summer,” said Michael Schuler, a 1958 graduate of Tooele High School. “We talked about the gristmill’s condition and some of us wanted to do something about it.”
Shuler’s discussion with his classmates grew into a group of area residents that started to meet and talk about how they could help with the gristmill.
“The community really wanted to do something to help preserve the gristmill and share its history,” said Stansbury Park resident Leon Jones, who chairs the restoration committee.
The committee started meetings with Tooele County officials last December.
The commissioners approved a budget of $26,000 for the Benson Gristmill as part of the county’s 2014 budget, according to Hurst.
The county will spend $13,000 of its budget to hire three seasonal staff members for the gristmill, with the remaining $13,000 to be spent on materials and supplies, he added.
Included in the county’s budget is a $8,300 grant from the Utah Division of State History that will be used to apply linseed oil to preserve the cabins.
The restoration committee will supplement the paid staff with volunteers trained to give tours, perform maintenance and groundskeeping, and assist with the promotion and preservation of the facilities, Jones said.
Marilyn Shields, who was involved in the original restoration of the gristmill and retired in 2010 as the gristmill’s first county supervisor, will help recruit and train docents.
Shields recounted the history of the gristmill and its restoration. The mill was first built in 1854. After it closed in the 1940s, the structure fell into disrepair.
In 1983, a volunteer committee consisting of Shields and her husband Robert, plus Jack Smith, Wayne Shields, Boyd and Ouida Blanthorn, Ray Court, Douglas Smith and Maxine Grimm, set out to save the structure.
They obtained the property from Terracor, the original developer of Stansbury Park, and removed debris, restored the exterior of the gristmill building, and strengthened its foundation.
The gristmill is now considered one of the most intact pioneer-era industrial structures in Utah.
In 1995, overwhelmed by the number of people using the building and concerned about liability, the volunteer committee approached the county commission about taking over the facility, according to Shields.
“It has taken over 30 years of hard work and dedication by many Tooele County residents, volunteers, and employees to make the Benson Gristmill a place to welcome, enlighten, and entertain people from Utah and around the world,” said Shields.
Over 15,000 people used to come through the gristmill each year, according to Shields.
On a daily basis the staff not only provided tours, but also provided information on other sites of interest, businesses, and events in the county.
“The gristmill drew a lot of people into the county to visit other venues,” said Shuler.
The gristmill grounds have grown to include much more than just the gristmill itself, according to Colleen Garrard, a restoration committee member.
The gristmill site now includes an operational replica of a gristmill, a replica of a one-room school house, a blacksmith shop, a working weavers loom and spinning wheel, a sheepherder’s trailer, family cabins, water wheel, and a country store.
The gristmill, which is available to rent for weddings, receptions, reunions, and other private events, will host a variety of public events this summer, according to Jones.
On May 15 the gristmill will host a Bridal Fair and will be the focal point of the Benson Gristmill 5K Run Memorial Day Run.
In June a “Fun at the Mill Day” will feature pioneer games for children and the annual pumpkin walk will be held in October.
A farmer’s market will be held at the gristmill from 9 a.m. until 1 p.m. on every Saturday beginning July 9 and run until “the freeze comes,” according to Walt Barlow, a restoration committee member and master gardener.
Volunteers are needed to help with the gristmill and its activities. Financial contributions are also welcome.
For more information contact Lisa Bergantz at 435-843-8030.