Thursday, March 3, 2011

The largest producer of wool fabric west of the Mississippi

In 1908, this picture of the Provo Woolen Mills was taken from the corner of 200 West and 100 North in Provo, and I included what the area currently looks like below.

Photo courtesy of the Provo City Library

This lot stands the State of Utah Fourth District Judicial Building and a nice big parking lot.  Next to the flag pole in front of the Judicial building there is a plaque commemorating this old building.  It reads:

"In 1870-72, four rods [60 feet] north of this site, Provo Woolen Factory was build at a cost of $155,000.  Main building was stone, 65x145 ft., 4 stories high; another was 33x134 ft., 2 1/2 stories.  A county court house built on this block in 1867 and John Taylor's flour mill became part of the plant.  These properties, workmen, and materials were obtained by issuing stock.  Machinery installed costing $75,000.  Employees were paid in factory scrip, first cloth dyed by H. B. Smart, produced in 1873.  It was the largest manufacturer of woolen fabrics west of Mississippi River.  Jesse Knight purchased the mills in 1910 and operation continued until 1932." 

A really good history of the building can be found at Utah History To Go.  I thought that the building was destroyed in a fire, which is what shut it down, but the fire occurred in 1918 and the buildings were rebuilt.  The buildings were probably just destroyed after the mill shut down.

I did want to take a second to highlight a really cool building located to the east of this lot.  The J Will Robinson Federal Building is located on the block to the east of the Judicial Building on 100 North.  I couldn't find any history on when it was built.  However, it has a very distinct Art Deco style, which means it was probably built around the 1930's.  Here is a picture of it from the 1930s and what it looks like today:

Photo Courtesy of the Provo City Library

Inside there is a really cool mural by Everett Clark Thorpe about the history of Provo done in 1941.  

The top left features BYU and the Old Lewis Hall, which burnt down.  In the middle are pioneers coming from Salt Lake, being chased by Johnston's army.  On the right are some of the important industries, such as wool, iron, and mining.  On the lower left are pioneers promising the Indians not to drive them from their hunting ground.

So on to what is happening in this area.  Kiddy corner from the old Mill lot, the Utah County Convention Center is being construction.  Just north of it (the lot just west of the old Mill lot) there are plans to build what is known as Freedom Plaza.  This is the lot that has the old Carmike Theatre.  The plan is to put in a hotel, a parking structure, some housing and some commercial space.  The plan, specifically the parking structure, might need some funding by the city (although some of the other parking structures around Provo also required funding).  More on it can be found in this Salt Lake Trib article and a really good discussion at this Utah Urban Forum site.


  1. Thanks for publishing this history and photos. I believe my mother worked at the Woolen Mills for a short time before she was married. We still have a couple of blankets that she purchased - old mill ends (not quite full sized, but almost). They've been drug around the West for over 80 years and are still in excellent condition!

  2. Thank You for publishing this history and these photos! I have just recently learned that William Joseph Taylor is one of my 3+great Grandfathers and that he is connected to the Woolen Mills..... I know very little about the history of the Provo area so I welcome any information!