Where is it?



Father Domingues and Escalante passed through the area just east of Washington in 1776 and was the first explorers to visit the Rio Virgin River area. Jedediah S. Smith traveled through this area once in 1826 and again in 1827. In 1826 he traveled down through the gorge and in 1827 followed the Virgin until he came to a creek (Santa Clara Creek) which he called Corn Creek. He followed the creek up to where Santa Clara is now located and then over what became known as Utah Hill on his way to California.

The first LDS pioneers entered the Salt Lake Valley in July 1847 and in just two years, Brigham Young sent Parley P. Pratt with 50 men to explore the area looking for locations where cities could be founded. Tillable land and water sources to water farms and supply the needs of the new cities were located. It was in December and the weather was extremely cold when they left Salt Lake. One night they measured the temperature to be a minus 21 degrees. Parley P. reported back to Brigham Young after exploring the area. "The bottoms are now expanded about one mile in width and several miles in length, loose sandy soil, very pleasant for farming, extremely fertile and easily watered and sometimes subject to overflow. No timber in the country except large cottonwoods along the stream, sufficient for temporary building and fuel"

In late winter of 1852 John D. Lee with 11 men came through the area and on his return he reported to Brigham Young in glowing words: "Sometimes I think that I am more than anxious about the formation of new settlements south. When I was there in the forepart of the month of February and saw the trees putting forth their green foliage and the herbs, almost in bloom, the rich soil and the abundant streams ofpure water and many other advantages that to us as a people are desirable how convenient such a climate and facilities are to a people isolated as we are. Here we can raise cotton, flax, hemp, grapes, figs, sweet potatoes, fruits of almost every kind, and be independent of our kind Christian friends who drove us from their midst. In December 1852 John D. Lee and Elisha H. Groves founded Harmony Utah.

Santa Clara was settled in 1854 and was the center for the Indian Mission. Jacob Hamblin became ill and A. P. Hardy was sent to Harmony to obtain medicine for him. Hardy also went to Parowan and there he received a quart of cotton seed from Nancy Anderson, a Southerner, which he took back to Santa Clara. The seed was planted in 1855 and a crop was harvested. The new seeds where saved and planted in 1856 and enough cotton was raised so that thirty yards of cotton cloth was produced. Some was sent to Brigham Young. President Young then knew for sure that cotton could be grown successfully in the area.

Tonaquint was started in 1856 and was located where the Santa Clara Creek meets the Rio Virgin River by Rufus C. Allen and Hyrum Burges. They built three cabins there and started to farm. The "town" was also known as Seldom Stop, Seldom Sop, Never Sweat or Lick Skillet. The flood of 186 1-62 wiped the site away and destroyed their cabins.

Brigham Young then called 38 Southern families to the Cotton or Southern Mission. They were to grow cotton in the Rio Virgin basin area. Only a very few of the 38 families were Yankees but they had also lived in the South so they all had seen cotton grown or had grown it themselves.

On the 15 of April 1857 ten families under the leader ship of Samuel Jefferson Adair arrived in the Washington area and camped at a spring that became known as Adair Spring. The group explored the area and were down by the Virgin River on what is now called the sand plot when Apostle Aniasa M. Lyman, who was passing through advised the group to move back where the city of Washington is now located. On May 6, twenty eight families under the leader ship of Robert D. Covington came to Washington and camped with the Adair group at Adair Spring. On May 7 they had a meeting with Pres. Haight from Cedar City and named the new city Washington after George Washington the first president of the United States. The city was laid out, surveyed and put into a workable city. Robert D. Covington was selected as the religious branch president, Harrison Pierce (Pearce) first counselor, and Johnathan R. Regeon (James B. Reagan) second counselor, Win. R. Slade and James D. McCullough as Justices of the Peace, James Matthew and John Hawley as constables, Win. Young and Joseph Adair as fence viewers, G. R. Coley as stray pound keeper, and Win. R. Slade, Geo. Hawley and G. W. Spencer as school trustees. They immediately started to dig ditches, clear land and build a dam on the Rio Virgin to divert water onto what was called the Washington Fields so that they could plant crops. Cotton and corn were the main crops planted that first summer. They thought it was too late in the season to plant wheat. Since they were Southerners, they started to call their new home "Dixie" after their home lands in the South. This name soon spread to the rest of the area so Washington City is Utah "Dixie" Birthplace. This was natural for them because they all started their journeys in the South. The colonization and the beginning of the Cotton or Southern Mission started at Washington City by Southerners, called by Brigham Young, that had seen or grown cotton themselves.

The first mill built on Machine Creek (Mill Creek) was Thomas Washington Smith's Corn-Cracker Mill. "According to the record compiled by Andrew Jenson, former Assistant Church Historian, Thomas W Smith built a corn-cracker on the creek in 1857, the year of arrival of the Covington company, of which he was a member. In May 1858 James Richey built a cotton gin mill just north of the present cement bridge over Mill Creek and was used to remove the seeds from the cotton grown in the area. Brigham Young knew that there was going to be trouble even war between the North and South, which would disrupt the availability of cotton. He also wanted the pioneers to be self-sufficient. "Do not buy anything if possible from the Gentiles so the money we have will remain with us". Brigham assigned Erastus Snow the job of selecting a site for a cotton factory. He also bought the water rights of Machine Creek (Mill Creek) from John M. Chidester. The site was selected for three reasons. 1-It was centrally located for the growing areas. 2-Most land to grow cotton was located around the Washington area. 3-There was water available to supply the power for the factory.

The factory was started in 1865 and finished one story high in 1866. It was soon learned that the different stages of producing the goods could not be coordinated so that the factory could not run continuously on each phase of the production of cloth. So in 1868 they started to add the higher stories. These were finished in 1870 and new equipment installed. The small addition to the west side of the Factory was added where much of the bartering of goods took place. It was known as the ZCMI store. It was not a true ZCMI store but items were sold or traded (bartered) there. Many of the items that were bartered came from the ZCMI store in Salt Lake therefore it was known as the ZCMI store.

Water was the source to produce the power to run the Factory. The water was brought by ditch to the millponds that were located west of the factory on the hill. This gave the water the fall required to produce the power for the factory. The building on the South end of the factory was the wheel house where the water wheel was located that generated the power for the building.

Construction on the Factory began immediately after the site was selected and water rights were purchased. John M. Chidester sold his water rights on Machine Creek to Brigham Young. The main supervisor of construction was Appleton Milo Harmon, for a fee of $1000. John P. Chidester was the chief carpenter or timber foreman who was responsible for all of the structural timbers. Elijah and Elisha Averett along with Charles L. Walker were stone masons. Hyrum Walker and August Mackelprang hauled the first lumber and timbers to the factory from Cedar Mountain. The dedication of the factory when one story high was recorded in Charles Walker's diary dated 24 July 1866. He states: "P.M went over to Washington. The citizens met us before we got there and welcomed us to the town. We all went to the President*s Factory that Br. Snow dedicated, after which the remainder of the time until near midnight was spent in dancing, singing, etc. So ended the 19th anniversary of the saints entering these peaceful valleys of the mountains. Got home a little before daylight."

Part of the machinery for the factory came from Brigham Youngs factory in Parley's Canyon near Salt Lake City. The factory started operations under John Birch, supervisor with Hames Davidson in charge of the machines.

The mill shipped 1,100 pounds of cotton cloth to California in 1868 and kept

1,600 pounds for stock. The selling price was $1.25 per pound.

1861---Start of the Civil War.

1865---End of the Civil War.

1869---The continental railroad was finished in northern Utah.

The end of the Civil War and the completion of the continental railroad meant that the Cotton Factory could not compete with cheap cotton from the South and it was necessary that wool became one of the raw materials that the Factory could produce woolen cloth. The factory did not operate after the late 1890s and remained empty or was used as a building to house other projects. The building gradually deteriorated and it was Norma Cannizzaro, a non Mormon, who restored and saved this old building.

1 868—Started to build the upper stories on the Factory.

1870—Finished the upper stories on the Factory. Charles L. Walker' s diary again fixes the date. Under the date of 18 Aug. 1870 he wrote: "Hot weather. Today I went over to Washington to work on the Factory to lay rock; as the calculation is to raise the building another story higher. The weather is very hot and the work hard and laborious. With me, all has been peace and quiet. I don ‘t think it worthy of note to put down every day when it is the same thing every day over again, work, work, work, eat, sleep, work again and not much time for mental improvement." "Saturday, September 15th Warm day. Got through on the Factory today.

1871 Jan. 5---The new machinery was in production for both cotton and woolen goods.

1871 March 28---Brigham Young sold the Factory to the Rio Virgin Manufacturing Company for $44,000.00. He only received a small partial payment for the factory but never did pursue further remittance. The Cotton Factory was a private concern from the day it was conceived until it fell into disrepair. It never was owned by the LDS Church.

Other names that played a major roll in the operation of the Factory: David Turner-machinist; Adolphus R. Whitehead-secretary of the factory; Cornelius McReavydyer; Julius Hanning-loom boss.

Tabernacle in St. George started in 1863 and finished in 1876. Temple in St. George started in 1871 and finished in 1877.

The Washington City Relief Society building was built in 1875 and is still standing today. It is the oldest still standing Relief Society Building in The Church of Jesus Christ of Later Day Saints.

Silver was discovered at Silver Reef in 1876 and was abandoned in 1908. During the life of the mines at Silver Reef the money generated by the pioneers by selling of the goods they produced meant a lot to the success of the area. Without this money, generated from the mines from Silver Reef, Utah and Pioche, Nevada, the pioneers in the area would have had a much more difficult time to make it. Many more of them would have left the area for greener pastures.

The stone church finished in 1877 was used as a school and church with everyone working together to build this building. Much of the labor to build the building was donated labor.

Brigham Young died in 1877 in Salt Lake City.

Franklin Staheli last operated the Cotton Factory, the machinery was sold, and with the exception of being used for miscellaneous purposes, the Factory stood vacant for over 75 years.

The grounds of the Factory were used by the CCC's in the 1930s. Their building was just north and a little to the east of the present building.

Norma Cannizzaro purchased the factory from the Washington Savings Bank in the 1985 with the intention of restoring it for operation as a community use facility. In her words, as related to George Staheli was as follows: "Several times as I traveled from California to the east on old Highway 911 ‘de see the Old Factory, falling more and more into distress each time I came through. I loved that Mill. I ‘d stop and walk a round and had a feeling for the place. Several times I ‘de receive afeeling that, that old cotton factory needed restoring. One night, in the middle of the night, I heard a voice telling me, "You ‘ye got to save the old Cotton Factory in Washington. I got up, got dressed, started for Utah. I made an offer on the Factory that next day."

Norma obtained the Factory, moved to Washington and began restoration. She poured all her life savings, abilities and energies in the restoration of the Factory. She took the proper steps in restoring it to its original state and stature. She saved the Cotton Factory. She moved into the Factory and was the steward over it and loved it. Norma opened it up to the community as a social community center, as she desired it to be. The city of Washington should be deeply appreciative for her love, care, and efforts in saving this monument for their town. Norma cared for the Factory, as she always called it, for years. Her health weakened and it was needful for her to move and live with her family. As much as she hated to leave the Factory, she did as her family requested and put the Factory up for sale.

Hyrum and Gail Smith's family purchased the Factory in August 1993 where it was continued to be used for social events. They renamed it "The Rio Virgin Cotton Mill. They made a few changes inside and restored an additional lean-to-wing onto the north east corner of the building, and added hitching posts to the outside parking area.

The family decided that they couldn't do with the Mill as they had intended so they put it up for sale in 1996.

13 August 1998 the Cotton mill was purchased by Craig Keough,, owner of Star Nursery. Craig started his business in 1983 with one store in Las Vegas, Nevada. As a young man he had worked with his father in a landscaping business where he gained much of his experience. Besides the nursery business, Craig is an avid race car driver and loves western music and line dancing.

While searching for more property one day, he and his Vice President, Mark Gill drove by the Cotton mill and noticed the "For Sale sign. "As they walked around the property, Craig had a real feeling come over him about the Mill, he envisioned how he could turn this into a viable business along with keeping the beautiful Cotton mill facility alive. Immediately after purchasing the Mill in August 1998, Craig got to work and opened the doors the day after Thanksgiving of that same year. Star Nursery is a Corporation, but Craig Keough is the sole owner. He owns 7 stores in Utah, Nevada, and Arizona. Craig visions this Cotton mill store as being a real "Show Place", with its property, setting. and, building. Again, Washington City should be very grateful and proud of what has been done to their Cotton mill by another individual who can vision the future for this Historic building and who has made entrance into their town a true beautiful "Show Place

The Cotton Factory was always known to the pioneers of Washington City as the Factory. Snow's Gristmill was located a few hundred yards down the creek and it was known as the Mill. If one said they were going to the Mill they went to Snow's Gristmill and they said the Factory they went to the Cotton Factory. The only references that the Factory was called a Mill is when some one wrote in their diaries that they were moving to Washington to work in the Cotton Mill. This was natural since technically it was a mill. Soon as they arrived in Washington to work it became the Cotton Factory. After Snow's mill was moved to St. George in the 1920s it started to be called the Mill. You can tell your age if you call it a Factory or Mill.


Submitted by:  Harold & Priscilla Cahoon