The East Mill Creek Community Council meets on the first Thursday of each month at the Millcreek Recreation Center, 2266 E. Evergreen Ave., 6:30 p.m.
LeeAnn Hansen, School POC
East Mill Creek History
As one of the oldest communities in the mountain west, East Mill Creek is rich in the history and folklore of Utah. Its residents have played a part in the progress and creation of the Salt Lake Valley. From rough and humble beginnings, to silver mining, to the beginnings of technology, and it’s present charm, East Mill Creek has been the home of famous and infamous Utahans’ whose presence and influence can be found in the homes, the neighborhoods, the green spaces and in the often forgotten legends these places hold. It is often the history of a place that gives people a reason to care about it—and history is made up of the stories of people.
The way west was marked by a string of mills built by John Neff, who, in his lifetime, was responsible for building more than 30; but the most enduring of these was the mill built in 1847 in East Mill Creek.
At the urging of Brigham Young, Neff began working on the mill soon after arriving in the valley, but the summer of 1848 was disastrous when crickets descended on the valley and destroyed all the nursery trees and much of the grain. It seemed inevitable that everything would be gone. Community leaders sent messages back to Brigham Young urging him not to bring any more people to the valley or they’d starve. John Neff told them he had stopped building his mill because there wouldn’t be any grain to grind, and John Young assured him they would all have to leave the valley and to stop wasting his money. In spite of the circumstances, John Smith told Neff to continue building. He did, and almost before it was finished residents began bringing their crops to be milled. That first harvest, the yields were poor and small, bran, “shorts” (the stalky remains), even soft and half-moldy corn was brought in – people were even glad to have the sweepings from the floors.
Over the years the crops improved, Neff updated and modernized the equipment for nearly 50 years until, at the turn of the century, modern methods made the mill obsolete. Eventually the mill was torn down and Neff donated the land to the LDS church, but one of the millstones was installed at the intersection of 2700 East and Evergreen Avenue as a reminder of John Neff’s mill and its importance to the Salt Lake Community.
The Neff family was also participated in the ambitious plan of Brigham Young for the community of settlers to be completely self sufficient. The Neff’s planted several Mulberry trees on their property for the express purpose of raising silk worms with the thought in mind of providing silk, an almost indispensable fabric for ladies in the 19th century. Although the results of this experiment yielded less than 100 yards of fabric, the trees still stand, and residents are annually treated to a sidewalk full of mulberry’s to remind them of the valiant efforts of the pioneers.
One of the state’s most notorious residents was Porter Rockwell. During the 1847 trek across the plains he had become acquainted with, and interested in, Mary Ann Neff, daughter of John Neff. In 1851 they were married, and because Rockwell was often away from Salt Lake, he and Mary Ann made their home with her parents at what is now 2661 Evergreen Avenue until 1855 when their first child was born. Residents joked that they never had to worry about thieves or bandits in East Mill Creek. The reputation of it’s sometime-resident was enough to encourage outlaws to give the area a wide berth.
No one represents the quick fortunes and high living mining brought to Utah more than Her Royal Highness Susanna Bransford Emery Holmes Egeria Delitch Engaliltcheff. Known to her friends as “Suzy”, Susanna Bradford was visiting relatives in Park City in 1884 when she met and married Albion Emery. At the time, Emery was being used as a front for investors in silver, who were horrified when he died still holding their stocks. Susanna inherited Emery’s estate, and not only held onto the stocks, but added to them every chance she got. By 1894, Bradford was earning over $1000 a day in interest. Although her main residence was the world famous Gordo House on South Temple, “The Silver Queen” built a beautiful home in East Mill Creek where she enjoyed the cool summers next to the creek and often entertained 100’s of guests a week. As the first electrically lighted home in the area, people from all over the valley drove past in the evenings to see the hundreds of electric lights and decorations displayed at her parties. This home not only outlasted her 4 marriages, the Gordo House, and her $100 million dollar fortune, it outlasted “Suzy” as well. It has been beautifully restored and still stands at 2610 Evergreen Avenue.
Long before Bill Gates started tinkering in his garage, a hi-tech boom had come and gone in East Mill Creek. Even as a child, Nathanial Baldwin had tinkered with technology. Before he was 15 he’d built his own bicycle and steam engine. After working his way through the Brigham Young Academy in Provo, he studied physics and electrical engineering at Stanford, but returned to Utah as a young man and was a professor at BYU until his devotion to the “doctrine of polygamy” cost him his position. After settling in East Mill Creek Baldwin supported his family by running hydroelectric plants in Heber City and in East Mill Creek. After being unable to hear speakers in the Salt Lake Tabernacle, he experimented with compressed air and produced one of the first amplifiers. He invented the world’s first headphones, but until the US Government ordered 100 sets in 1917, no company would produce them. To fill the order, Baldwin built a plant at 2300 East and Evergreen Avenue, damned East Mill Creek and built a generator out of bicycle wheels and piano wire to power the machines. Hydropower soon lit not only his factory, but provided electric light for the entire neighborhood. Baldwin designed radio speakers, including the “Deluxe Mater-Baldwin Throatype Clarophone” said to be shaped like Enrico Caruso’s throat and according to legend, Philo T. Farnsworth built the worlds first television in the Baldwin Factory.
Unlike Bill Gates, Baldwin was neither a financial genius nor a good judge of character. He paid his employees the princely sum of $4.00 a day, and turned down an offer of more than $1 million for his plant to protect their jobs. He financed construction of twelve bungalows, known as “polygamy alley”, along Evergreen Avenue. From a high of more than 200,000 orders for headsets in 1922, competition, a cash flow crisis, and foolish investments led to bankruptcy in 1924. On the advice of shady partners he entered into illegal business ventures which led to his conviction of mail fraud in 1930 and 2 years in McNeil Island Federal Prison. He returned to Utah a broken man, and although he continued inventing until his death in 1961, he never recaptured his lost glory. The remains of his factory still stand, hidden behind the East Mill Creek Library, a forgotten monument to a troubled genius.
Current President of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Gordon B. Hinckley was also a long time resident of the area. At the age of two Hinckley was left weak and frail by a bout with Whooping Cough. His doctor advised fresh air and sunlight, so his father bought a farm and eventually moved to East Mill Creek. Hinckley credits living on a farm with teaching him the value of work, responsibility and self reliance. Like many early residents he learned to prune fruit trees and irrigate through the night to bring the precious water to their crops.
Although the name O.C. Tanner has come to be known throughout Utah as a philanthropic icon a business man, and a force dedicated to the creation of beautiful jewelry and gifts, as far as the residents of East Mill Creek are concerned, one of Tanners most personal gifts to the area are the beautifully landscaped acres of land surrounding his home just Southeast of the “S” curve on 2700 East. For many years the Tanners maintained extensive rose gardens on the south side of Craig Drive, and their home, originally a barn, was the beautiful setting for festive occasions for over 50 years.
East Mill Creek has spent 150 years creating a vital balance of heritage and progress. It has been a gem of charm and beauty that draws residents and businesses in increasing numbers every year. In an effort to preserve the character of the area for generations to come, the East Mill Creek Community Council is spearheading an effort to have the area designated a historic district. For information on how you can contribute to this effort, please contact Gail Miller at 467-768