Old mill will be rolled into a home
FAIRVIEW—Erick and Jette Utley were looking for a new home. Life on the Wasatch Front had become constricting, routine, banal.
“We were on the TV every day instead of living our lives,” Jette said.
In Herriman, where they resided, she was serving on her neighborhood homeowners’ association (HOA), and Erick was a successful general contractor.
But something didn’t feel right.
“Herriman was just getting too crazy,” Erick said of the explosive population growth in a formerly remote corner of the Salt Lake Valley.
So the couple, newly married, began searching for homes in rural Utah. They looked at Delta, Beaver, Price and a host of other communities in the region.
On their way back from Ferron, they passed through Fairview and noticed a towering structure in the distance. It was the Fairview Roller Mill.
Erick called the owner and asked if they could see it the next day. It was a call Katie Shell had been waiting for.
“[They] just called me out of the blue,” she said. “I would say that somebody from on high delivered them to us.”
Shell, who lives in Draper, purchased the mill in 2012 in an effort to protect the deteriorating structure. She had hoped the local economy would improve so that she could convert the mill into a place for business.
But with mounting bills and limited prospects for renovating the mill, Shell, a 25-year veteran in historic preservation, began looking to sell.
“I just thought that Erick and Jette would protect it, that they would do their best to preserve it,” she said. “They have the experience and the skills and the right vision.”
Erick was initially concerned that the mill would be structurally unsound. He observed big holes in the roof, and the exterior of the building looked shabby and uninviting.
But the mill was ready for the Utleys. And the Utleys were ready for a new kind of home.
“We wanted a fixer upper,” said Erick, who has remodeled homes in Salt Lake’s Avenues and Federal Heights neighborhoods.
So the couple braved loose floorboards, rusty nails and a collapsing roof and began restoring the mill, which Shell described as “one of Sanpete’s most picturesque industrial buildings.”
It has not been easy work.
“Every project demands a pound of flesh,” Erick said. “It’s daunting.”
The Utleys spent the first month just clearing out garbage.
Jette said there was “a foot” of feces—“cat, rat, pigeon”—“probably human,” Erick added—that had accumulated on the floors.
“And feathers,” Jette said. “It was just like a down comforter on cement.”
Now the Utleys have turned their attention to repairs—insulating gaps in walls, shoring up sagging ceilings with two-by-six boards, refurbishing original floors.
The Utleys want to stay true to the design and feel of the original mill, so Erick says they are going for an “industrial chic” look.
“We want rustic,” Jette said. “This is the mill. We are very much aware that it is still part of the community.”
So the bathtub in the master bedroom will be an old horse trough. An original wash basin will be used as a sink, and ceilings will remain exposed throughout.
The floors, a piecemeal collection of boards and metal scraps, will be restored to reflect the frontier sensibilities of early mill workers.
“It’s a very eclectic floor,” Jette said.
The centerpiece of the main floor is the roller mill itself, a hulking piece of machinery that was used for decades to crush grain. Erick said they’ll move the roller mill to the center of the floor where there is greater load-bearing capacity.
Red pine boards—30 feet long with a unique tongue groove—used in old grain bins are being repurposed as a wall covering.
“They don’t build it like that anymore,” Erick said. “Everything was cut to order.”
Outside, a working 50,000-pound scale at the front end of the property is “open to the community for free.”
“It’s a beautiful piece of equipment that would just go to waste if it weren’t being used,” Erick said.
Constructed in 1921, the mill was operated by the Fairview Rolling Mill Company for 15 years before it was sold to the Utah Poultry Producers Association (later renamed Intermountain Farmers Association).
Doug Misner, research and collections manager at the Utah State Historical Society, said the mill produced milk white flour and Germade as well as custom grains for dairies and farmers.
Flour milling was discontinued by the 1950s, but grains were still available through the 1970s. By the 1980s, production at the mill had ceased altogether.
The mill sits at a 22-degree angle on a three-quarter-acre lot at about 250 E. 200 North in Fairview. The reason it is positioned that way is because the Rio Grande Railroad was there first; the tracks made their way through the center of that block until they were torn out in 1983. The mill sat parallel to the tracks.
Evidence of the old railroad abounds. The Utleys’ son, J.B., regularly scans the property with a metal detector and has uncovered rail spikes, wire and other items.
Between them, Jette and Erick have four children. Myla, Jette’s daughter, lives in Salt Lake, and Ethan and Izzie, Erick’s children, live with their mother in St. George but visit Fairview often.
J.B., who has a cognitive disability, is the only one of their children living with them in Fairview. Jette said small town life provides opportunities for people to get to know him rather than “being lost in Herriman.”
“Sanpete is known as a place that accepts people with disabilities,” she said. “That is what I want for my son—that people just embrace him, and love him, and respect him and not treat him like an oddity.”
The Utleys said they received a warm welcome the moment they moved into town.
“In a month and a half, we know more people in Fairview than we ever knew in Salt Lake,” Erick said. “It’s a special place.”
“People here just love life and live life,” Jette added. “The air is clean. We can see the stars. We walk every night. It’s beautiful living.”
Erick and Jette met on the popular dating app, Tinder. Jette, who was tiring of the dating scene, swore she’d be done with it all if things didn’t work out with Erick.
But the two quickly fell in love and were married a year ago in August.
Though they are doing most of the restoration work themselves, Erick and Jette were quick to acknowledge friends in the community who have helped.
The county and city have “been amazing”, Erick said, with approving the necessary permits and paperwork. Branch Cox helped the Utleys with a sewage line and water line in the midst of his own very busy schedule.
“You’ve never seen a man work so hard,” Erick said. “I’m a hard worker, but this man puts me to shame.”
A neighbor, Justin Allred, routinely stops by to help with roofing and other projects.
“He’s amazing,” Jette said. “That roof would not have been done without Justin. He’s a blessing, a total blessing in our lives.”
When they’re in town, Ethan and Izzie help, too. Ethan was climbing a ladder to the spacious second floor of the mill when Jette described it as a place he could “show off to his hot girlfriend” someday. “Or boyfriend,” Erick said. “We don’t care.”
Erick has put together a 10-year plan for restoring the mill bit by bit, piece by piece. He estimates they’ll spend well over 3,000 hours on the structure before it’s finished.
“It’s never-ending,” he said. “There’ll always be something to do.”
Such a project would scare away most, but the Utleys said they are determined to do the job right.
“We’re really trying to touch every piece of it with love,” Erick said. “It’s truly a work of art.”
After spending the summer in a fifth wheel in the shadow of the imposing mill, Jette said work and personal sacrifice are helping the couple accomplish something they never thought they’d do.
“If you have a dream or an idea or an initiative, it can happen,” she said.
In the process of fulfilling that dream, Jette said she and Erick have been touched to see people in the community respond with gratitude and emotion.
“When people come up and touch the wood and say, ‘My grandfather worked here’, you know it’s a part of them,” she said. “It’s a part of our community and it’s part of their heritage.”