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Davis Journal

Farmington resident receives outstanding achievement award for historical preservation

Feb 01, 2024 10:21AM ● By Peri Kinder

When Farmington resident Tom Owens purchased the Old Rock Mill property in 1992, he received offers from developers that would have given him a lot of money. But Owens didn’t purchase the property as a financial investment, he bought the historical site to save it from demolition. 

For 30 years, he maintained the property and lived in the mill chasing off vandals and developers. The property is zoned for townhomes, but Owens’ dedication to preservation was straightforward. He would not let the historically significant property be destroyed.

Owens sold the Old Rock Mill to Farmington City last summer for $4.75 million after the city agreed to maintain and preserve the property. In January, Owens was presented with an award from the Utah Historical Society for his efforts to preserve the site. 

Gov. Spencer Cox presented Owens with an outstanding achievement award in recognition of his positive contributions to history in Utah.

“I’m really glad the city recognized the importance of the mill because it’s been pretty lonely at times trying to preserve and protect it,” Owens said. “We’ve got a city government now that does care. I think all the awards should actually belong to the city mayor and the city manager. In fact, the whole staff was enthusiastic about the project.”

Farmington City Manager Brigham Mellor said he didn’t fully appreciate the maintenance Owens had provided over the last three decades until mid-January. Mellor met with consultants to discuss upgrades for the structure but they told him there wasn’t an immediate need for restoration to protect the structures from damage. 

“He kept up the roof, the sewer, water, plumbing, electrical, etc., and it is over 100 years old, something hard to appreciate unless you have had to do it yourself, but few have had to do it over 14,000 square-feet of buildings,” Mellor said. “That is a lot of work for one individual. The landscaping is something we will tackle first. Understandably, in the face of severe drought and an aged irrigation system, Tom cut off the water to the property. One could argue this act ‘restored the ground to its pioneer historical condition,’... which is to say 'very dry’.”

The mill was originally built in the late 1850s for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Owned by Willard and Franklin Richard, it served as a flour mill until 1906 when it was converted into a hydroelectric power station. It was also used as an ice house and was the location for the Heidelberg Restaurant in 1960 before being abandoned and falling into disrepair.

City officials are working with GSBS Architects to create a master plan for the area that will include a public park. Owens, who just turned 82, acknowledged he’s always loved history and historic buildings. As part of his agreement with the city, he will continue to live at the mill.

“That’s what the award was for, in my mind, for spending 30 years preserving and protecting and restoring it to a certain degree,” Owens said. “But I didn’t do it for the awards. I did it because it was a wonderful place. I enjoyed it. I loved it.”

Mellor said Owens jumped at the chance to sell the property to the city to ensure its continued preservation. 

“[The property] has been zoned for townhomes the whole time he has owned it. It is not a protected structure that would prohibit demolition for profit,” he said. “Tom is a great guy, and I am so happy that we worked out this deal and that the mayor and council had the foresight to allocate the resources for this purpose. It will be an amazing project. I am very lucky to be a part of that and to have gotten to know Mr. Owens.”