East Mill Creek History: 1847 to 1855
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 East Mill Creek Community Council map 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.
1847: John Neff & The Mill
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.
1848: Disastrous Summer
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.
Continuing to Build
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.
Tearing Down the Mill
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.
1851: Marriage & Popular Residents
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.