Couple renovates historic mill, preserves memories

Scoop, shovel, dump, scoop, shovel, dump. Ten inches of dirt, dead raccoons, screaming mice, mummified cats, feathers, and even more feathers. All of this and more began to pile up, rot, and decay in 1921. With every year came a new layer.

“The pit of despair,” Erick Utley said. “It’s just 24 inches of death down there.”

The tunnel under the old Fairview mill, also known as the pit of despair, kept Erick and Jette Utley scooping, shoveling, and dumping for a week. There are two tunnels that run under the five silos. They were built in 1921 all by hand.  Farmers would drop their grain into the auger box in the tunnel. The auger would move the grain and it would be sucked up to the roof.

After the they cleaned out the tunnel Erick spent a week afterwards suffering from illness. The illness came from a variety of things such as numerous spider bites from a black widow, a brown recluse, and hobo spiders.

“Whenever he would start feeling dizzy or sick, we would check,” Jette Utley said. “One time there was this huge bite that was black, and you would squeeze it. It was horrible.”

Although a vast majority of work is still to be done, Erick and Jette are turning the old Fairview mill into their forever home.

The couple met on Tinder “swipe right.” They fell in love almost two and a half years ago. Not long after, they fell in love with the old mill.

One day the couple was out searching for houses to buy, and they weren’t having much luck.  They turned the corner to look at a few homes, and they found themselves looking at the old mill.

“Our first thoughts were, ‘How cool would that be?’ It was just amazing,” Erick Utley said.

To their surprise, the building was for sale. Erick called the previous owner, Katie Shell, and told her they wanted a tour.

Erick’s vision was to turn the mill into their home. He knew it would take a lot of work. He went back six times to fully wrap his head around it all.

“That’s where I excelled in my business. I would walk into a structure and say we can turn it into this, and this, and this,” Erick Utley said. “That’s where my creativity really excels. We walked through [the mill], and it was a no-brainer—we had to buy the place.”

Many years before the mill was bought by the Utleys it was used as a co-op for farmers. At the time there were 16 dairy farms within the Fairview City limits. In 1983 the mill stopped production due to the Thistle flood. The flood took out the railroad tracks, which caused the train to stop running.

The railroad tracks were built before the old mill. When the mill was built, it was built on a 22 degree angle. This lined it up with the railroad tracks. There was a switch on the side of the mill, so the train could load up.  Workers would only have to walk about six inches to load up the train.

“It was IFA before IFA,” Erick Utley said.

The mill began to go out of business in 1969. At this time dairies were also going out of business due to the strictness of the government rules. The state passed an act stating that farmers would be paid more to dump their grain in the ditch, rather than to sale it.

“The grain was worthless at the time,” Erick Utley said. “The mill had no way to sustain itself.”

As Erick began to design their dream home, Jette realized she did not have the same vision when she first saw the mill. She thought it was cool, but described it as “run down.”

“I didn’t really have a vision—I looked, and it was cool. As the framing went up I thought, wow, I obviously have no imagination,” Jette Utley said. “Looking from the first time, Erick said this could be our home, to where we are now it’s what I’d never dreamed. Never.”

The work continues and will for at least two more years. The mill has five floors of livable space. It also has a basement and silos.  Altogether it is about 60,000 square feet.

Jette and Erick are using a store in Spanish Fork called Restore. Restore helps you to buy brand new parts of torn down buildings for a relatively low price. They found the perfect eight foot doors at Restore for only $20 each. They also found many of their commercial kitchen supplies at a very reasonable price.

The Utley’s bought the mill with the promise to keep it as historically correct as possible. Trying to keep the promise the Utleys spent eight months taking nails out of original boards by hand. They are leaving the original flooring and just sanding it. They are trying to preserve as much as possible.

They also kept and restored a 50,000 pound scale. It is certified and open for free public use. Farmers used the scale to weigh their hay. The more the hay weighed, the better profit they made. This lead farmers to wet the hay to raise the weight. This caused the scale to be irrelevant when they decided to charge by the bale.

Erick and Jette want to preserve the memories people have at the mill. Many people remember buying a soda. During deconstruction they found the two old Coke machines. They will be fixed up and put out front so people can come buy a soda.

“We know the mill means so much to the community,” Jette Utley said. “When people talk about it they’re excited. We want people to come and feel like they can come visit.”