Volunteers saved it once before. They’re now helping to save it again.
After sitting idle since the 1940s and decaying to the elements, a concerned and energetic group of Tooele County residents joined forces in the 1980s to restore the Benson Gristmill next to Stansbury Park. The work was enormous, yet volunteers undauntedly completed the task.
By the early 1990s, the gristmill, which was originally built in 1854 by Ezra Taft Benson and ground wheat into flour for pioneers and local farmers for nearly a century, quickly became a popular historical site and a community events center.
It also regained its status as an iconic Tooele Valley landmark, and became Tooele County’s unofficial eastern gateway “Welcome Center” for Interstate 80 travelers.
Such celebrity for the gristmill, with an estimated 15,000 visitors annually, went without interruption for more than a quarter century. But then Tooele County government’s financial troubles erupted last year. The gristmill’s small staff and operating budget didn’t escape the county commissioners’ budget cuts. Except for weddings, receptions, reunions and other events, the facility was regrettably closed last summer until further notice.
That notice officially arrived Monday.
As reported in today’s edition, the old gristmill will reopen its gates for visitors, tours and community events from May 1 until this fall. Although open on a limited basis — Thursdays through Saturdays only — the gristmill and other fascinating antiquities on the property, will again be available for public enjoyment.
The reopening has been made possible thanks to a collaborative effort between Tooele County, and just like in the 1980s, the passion of dedicated volunteers. The impetus behind the reopening began last year when concerned citizens reportedly approached the county commission and offered to help. That resulted in the commissioners agreeing to budget $26,000 for three seasonal staff members, materials and supplies.
But here is where the collaborative effort rises to an extraordinary level: Volunteers will reinforce the gristmill’s paid staff with trained docents who will provide free tours of the mill and grounds, while volunteers also perform maintenance and preservation work. The number of volunteers and accrued work hours to accomplish those tasks over the next six months will be considerable.
The Benson Gristmill is hailed as one of the most intact pioneer-era structures in Utah. It is on the National Register of Historic Sites, and is deemed as the most significant structural landmark between Salt Lake City and Reno, Nev. Its unfortunate closure for the past year sent an unwelcome message to visitors who were just briefly stopping by, or came to experience the county’s recreational, historical and geographical attractions.
But that was then and this is now. Thanks to the willing hearts and hands of volunteers, and the county commissioners’ willingness to provide funds, the lock and “closed” sign on the gristmill’s gate can be put away. Without a doubt, the reopening stands as a victory to the power of volunteerism and collaboration.
And speaking of willing hands, a community volunteer cleanup day at the gristmill has been scheduled for this Saturday from 8 a.m. to noon. Bring gloves and tools — and come hungry. A free lunch has been promised for all volunteers.