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Haunting at The Old Mill

by Jennifer Jones
Reading Time: 5 minutes

Sorry for the lack of posts lately, I’ve been busy working on a project that I will hopefully be able to share soon. Since it’s now October (my favorite time of year!!) I thought I would write about one of Utah’s most well-known haunts that also happens to be practically impossible to get into.

I first heard about the Old Mill from my friend Helmey a few years ago. One of his ancestors was the first mill foreman, and he’s always been drawn to the creepy derelict building. It’s also rumored to be one of the most haunted places in Utah. Since I’ve lived north of Salt Lake City  since moving to Utah in 2007 I really didn’t know too much about it.

Old Mill - The Dead History

Like many other haunted locations that have reached almost a mythical status due to being off limits, the spooky stories surrounding the Old Mill are fairly vague. The most often repeated story I found says that two vagrants died in a fire along with their dog and they have haunted the mill ever since. There is also a report of a caretaker committing suicide at the location. Neither story mentions when these events occurred.

People have reported cold spots, hearing a dog barking when none can be seen, doors opening and closing on their own (sometimes slamming shut), lights being turned on and off, and lights being seen in the building long after electricity to the building was cut off. Those that have visited or used to work at the mill say it has a very oppressive and eerie feel to it.

The Old Mill - The Dead History

I began to research the history of the Old Mill to see if there were historical events that could help account for the stories of paranormal activity that people have experienced but came up mostly empty-handed.

The mill has been referred to by a few different names over the years: Old Mill, Cottonwood Mill, or Deseret News Paper Mill, Old Mill Club, and the Haunted Old Mill when it was used as a haunted house. The original name of the mill is the Granite Paper Mill.

Located near the mouth of Big Cottonwood Canyon, construction began on the mill in 1881 and was completed by 1883 at the cost of $150,000 (about $3.5 million in today’s dollar). Some of the granite used to construct the mill was leftover from the construction of the Salt Lake Mormon Temple.

Deseret Paper Mill - The Dead History

Courtesy, L.Tom Perry Special Collections, Harold B. Lee Library,
Brigham Young University, Provo, UT 84602.

The Old Mill was constructed by the LDS church to help supply enough paper to meet demand due to their extensive record keeping and publications. It would also make them self-sufficient and not reliant on paper manufacturers back east.  At its peak, the mill could produce 5 tons of paper in 24 hours.

Success was short lived however when on April 1st, 1893 a fire broke out at the mill. People thought the alarms were an April Fool’s joke and failed to respond until the building was almost entirely destroyed. It was a total loss, and despite calls for it to be rebuilt, it sat abandoned for the next 34 years.

The Old Mill - The Dead History

P. Kent Fairbanks, Photographer September 10, 1967, via Wikimedia Commons

In 1927 the mill was in use once again, this time as the Old Mill Club. It was operated as an open air dance club through the 1940’s, and again in the 1970’s as a discotheque. It was also used as a haunted house around Halloween throughout the 1970’s and saw it’s last use in the early 1980’s when it a craft boutique. It has sat empty since the 1980’s and was finally condemned by the city in 2005.

Old Mill Club - The Dead History

The Salt Lake Tribune (Salt Lake City, Utah) · Sat, Apr 22, 1933

Other than the original fire in 1893 that destroyed most of the building, I only found mention of one other fire at the Old Mill. It occurred in July 1935, and not much was said about it. There was no mention of any injuries or death. That’s not to say that additional fires didn’t occur, but I would think if there had been a fire that caused a fatality, it would’ve made the papers.

The Old Mill - The Dead History

P. Kent Fairbanks, Photographer September 10, 1967, CENTRAL HALL., via Wikimedia Commons

I did come across an interesting story of a shooting that took place at the Old Mill in 1933.  On the morning of June 27th, the night watchman who lived at the Old Mill said he was woken by the sound of breaking glass. When the watchman went to investigate near the north side of the building, he found a young man peering into the broken window. He told police that confronted the 18-year-old boy and told him to stay put. The boy threw his hands in the air and then turned and started running. The watchman then shot the boy in the back.  He was taken to the hospital in critical condition. He soon recovered, and a few months later sued for almost $30,000 in damages.

The Old Mill - The Dead History

From all accounts, it seems that most of the stories of paranormal activity began around the time that the Old Mill was being used as a haunted house. I’ve also seen a couple of reports that sometime in the 1970’s the nightwatchman committed suicide in front of his wife inside the Old Mill. ((http://ufofreeparanormal.com/stories/viewstory.php?sid=765))

Unfortunately, with the unsafe condition of the building, it doesn’t seem likely that groups or individuals will be allowed in anytime soon to investigate the possible paranormal activity here.

Have you had any weird experiences at the Old Mill? Let me know in the comments below!
If you know of a great urban legend or a haunted location that you’d like to learn the real history of send me the info and it could be featured on a future Dead History pos

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16 comments

Connie King October 3, 2016 - 12:15 pm

I was one that loved to go dance at the Old Mill during the late 60’s early 70’s period. There were groups from California that came and played. Every weekend it was open for dancing.
My brother was in a group named “Morning Sun” and had been booked to play for a Fraturnity party from the “U”. I was helping them set up and when we arrived the building was open but was dark inside. We saw a light shining down a corridor so we walked down and found a few people sitting and talking . We got talking with them and found they were the care takers and maintance workers. They told us stories about how there was a fire and it killed the family that lived there across the way and that the family was supposedly the ones who were haunting the Old Mill. Strange things happened there like one time the lights would go off for no reason . Another time, while a different group was playing, the lights would go off. Someone said that during a seance’ it was said they didn’t like the loud music and all the noise. So if it was too loud they (the ghosts) could cut the power. Another time they saw a person standing in a white dress inside the building after closing and went to talk to them but they floated outside. They ran after it but it vanished. They told us numerous other stories about strange happenings there. I always enjoyed my times at the “Old Mill”.

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Jenn October 3, 2016 - 7:15 pm

I love hearing stories like this, thanks for sharing!

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Michelle September 2, 2017 - 2:51 am

I was actually just down that way for a show tonight at the hog wallow. I love old abandoned buildings and towns so when I saw that, having no idea it existed, had to get pics. It was dark so my camera was slow as it focused with the flash before it would take a pic. I got three from the side, and wanted one from the back so I pulled off further down the road. I got out by my car and started to take a pic but as it was taking forever to focus, I heard an extremely loud shake of the chain link
fence. I’m not sure who, or WHAT was there that didn’t like me taking pics, but something or someone tried to scare me away.

I didn’t wait around to find out! Didn’t know if some crazed person who would’ve hurt me, or a spirit warning me to get away from it. I don’t know but it scared me enough that I took off and was shaking. Never stopping by there at night again?

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Lexi November 12, 2017 - 8:04 pm

One time me and my friend were walking past it at night time. We heard a weird noise like something big and heavy dropped. We stopped and started to freak out but wanted to investigate. Since we weren’t allowed inside we tried to get the best look we could but there was nothing. So we kept walking until we heard a dog barking and a woman crying when we didn’t see anyone we weren’t walking anymore we were running.

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Michelle November 13, 2017 - 12:42 am

I believe it. That place is freaking creepy. I usually don’t get too creeped out at places even at night but there is just SOMETHING to that place, some vibe that is just off.

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Steve chavis December 25, 2017 - 4:11 pm

I used to go to the old mill as a teenager,.
When they had the haunted house. It was the best haunted house around salt lake city.
I also new a guy named Randy Nielsen that helped the caretakers out and was possibly a caretaker himself at one time.
He owned a Hurst and would bring it to the haunted old mill and let them use it with a coffin he owned for the haunted old mill too.
I Have been inside there and visited him before when he was doing some work there.
He died back in the 1970s I heard different stories about hid death.
Some people said that he committed suicide a nd others said it was an accident.
I’m not sure either way.
But he definitely was 8 part of the old mill back in the day.
The first time I met him I was 14 or 15 and he was probably 4 or 5 years older than me m, and he bought me some cigarettes .
Then I went for a ride with him in his Hurst.,
Any way we were driving around the old mill road and he gunned it and I looked at the speedometer and it was over a 100 mph I just remember thinking that I didn’t want to die in a Hurst.
Anyway he was a good person and I considered him a friend.
Rip
Randy

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James January 6, 2018 - 9:44 pm

I shot a scene for a movie there in 97. The crew all complained about machines turning off and on by themselves and tools would be gone then found in strange paces about the property. The Art Director was alone setting up and she heard a child playing with a dog in the courtyard. She went to greet them and nobody was there. I didn’t notice anything personally.

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James January 6, 2018 - 9:45 pm

I shot a scene for a movie there in 97. The crew all complained about machines turning off and on by themselves and tools would be gone then found in strange paces about the property. The Art Director was alone setting up and she heard a child playing with a dog in the courtyard. She went to greet them and nobody was there. I didn’t notice anything personally

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Jennifer Jones January 6, 2018 - 10:15 pm

Ahhhhhh that’s creepy!!!!

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Michelle January 7, 2018 - 6:53 pm

Yeah way creepy! When I took pics there in the dark and the chain link fence rattled violently, I drove off like a quarter horse! I don’t scare that easily…

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Pahl Thomas May 14, 2018 - 11:06 am

Our band rented the old mill many times for rock shows between 1977 and 1984. The dance floor was so rickety that when you packed the place with rowdy beer drinking teenagers, you could see the floor bounce from below. I thought the whole thing was going to collapse it was so bad. Great place to rock however, we had a great time.

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Joseph May 26, 2018 - 11:58 pm

On Friday May-25-18 I was taking a motorcycle ride at around 12:30am I like to ride down past the old mill. As I was slowly driving past on the road ride by the side of the mill I looked to me left and I saw on the other side of the road a person with a fedora and a trench coat facing the mill and their arm half way raised (position you would have it to shake someone’s hand) this person being on one side of the road and the old mill on the other. What was strange was not only seeing somone out and about at this time but when I saw them I wasn’t just startled with the feeling “oh hey there is a person there” but immediately I had a very unsettling and freaked out feeling come over me as if this wasn’t just a person. Needless to say I hit the gas and got out of there

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Paul September 30, 2018 - 10:48 am

In the 1970s, I attended Butler Elementary School. It was up the hill and west about a mile or so from the Old Mill.

In 1976 I was eight years old, and absolutely obsessed with the haunted old mill, especially at Halloween time. The haunted house went on nightly all through October. Huge search lights in the sky, and a very loud heartbeat sound effect that could be heard clear down to my house. I would lay in bed looking out the window to the east and see the searchlights hitting the clouds and lay there and think of what scary things were happening at the Old-mill that night.

Once for Cub Scouts, a tour was arranged for us to go through the Old Mill. One of my best friends cried and sobbed through out the entire tour. He was so scared. It was daytime, but the reputation of the place over powered the daylight.

Once also in the 70s, when it was a disco, my friends and I walked over there at night time and actually got in the club as nine-year-olds. We didn’t want to get in trouble so we only stayed a moment and left. I don’t remember what it looked like, I just remembered loud music and girls in hot red satin pants, good times.

I’m happy when I see that it is still there, although I know that can’t last forever. It brings back so many memories.

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Kami October 6, 2018 - 9:57 pm

As a young girl in the late ‘70s, my friends and I worked at the haunted house. We scared a lot of people and finally, got scared ourselves when the caretakers got a little bizarre and off into some spooky stuff. I’m still scared of that place and some of the things we saw there.

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Unnamed November 1, 2018 - 10:32 am

I plan on going there soon with a couple of friends but I know a guy named Neil who went in there with a group of friends when they were like 18. They got past the fence and were looking around the outside bit and a spotlight shines on them so they scatter. They don’t know where the spotlight was coming from it seemed like it was out of nowhere but they all scattered after that. That was like 10 years ago or something.

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Regan garrison November 28, 2018 - 11:00 am

In 1971 thru 73 we kept our horses just east of the mill my dad ran the gravel pit behind it and managed a few shows there. Then in 74 when my parents divorced, he moved to the little house across the street and. Was kind of caretaker,. I remember while he would be doing maintenance and work. I would get up on the stage and sing Joy to the World and bye bye American Pie and Sitting on the Dock of the Bay in the microphone and my dog would run around and play like he was playing with another dog. it was the strangest thing. and I always said I think Bucky has a ghost friend and my dad would just laugh. I didn’t learn until years later when I was much older that he probably really did have a ghost friend. I never felt scared there, though there were many unexplained sounds and movements. I never felt insecure or threatened, in fact even today the Old Mill has a very safe and secure feeling for me cuz that’s where I was with my daddy. But I would say there is definitely energies or spirits of a dog, a child, and a sad woman, but the y r not threatening or mean at all.

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