High School Graduation, circa 1900s

I haven’t shared an Islander museum history article in a while as other topics were on the front burner, plus with graduations and Fourth of July celebrations, the newspaper just didn’t have room for the articles, so we get bumped.  However, this is the article I provided for the current issue and I hope you enjoy it.

High School Graduation, circa 1900s

Last month we saw the end of the yearly ritual of high school graduations.  Seniors, happy to have finished that milestone in their lives now look forward to college or jobs or whatever their plans are.  For most teens, completing the 12th grade is expected, but one hundred plus years ago, it wasn’t the norm.  Many young people went to only the 8th grade, as that much education would provide the skills necessary to get a basic job or help run the family farm.  College expectations were rare, unless you were wealthy.

For those lucky few who were able to remain in school, achieving the 12th grade was something to celebrate!  A quick look at the 1940 U.S. census bears this out.  So many young adults–my grandparents included–answered the question about the level of schooling reached as 8th or 9th grade.  I guess if you had no plans to go to college, and most didn’t due to low expectations, early marriage, or no money for a higher education, then why stay in school when you could be earning a salary and helping support your family?  The times were vastly different.

Old class graduation photographs of serious young men dressed in dark suits and prim young women wearing delicate white cotton lawn dresses adorned with lace and pin tucks capture this very special moment in their lives.  Unlike today, where even in kindergarten “graduation” ceremonies young scholars get to wear tiny versions of a cap and gown, the seniors of the early 1900s merely wore their Sunday best for summer.  Besides, the cost would have been too high to try and obtain these special graduation robes for remote places like Utah towns.

Graduation dress

In the U.S. until just after the Great Depression, academic caps and gowns were still reserved for college and university graduation ceremonies.  (While, in the U.K., all you Harry Potter fans are familiar with the academic robes worn by the Hogwarts’ students and professors.)  Steeped in Medieval origins and traditions the mortarboard hat and different sleeve shapes all carried meaning and significance.  In the 14th century academic robes with hoods were worn by students and professors alike to both set them apart as great thinkers as well as for warmth in unheated university halls.

The square academic cap also called a mortarboard–because of its resemblance in shape to the device utilized by masons to hold mortar–was reputed to have originated from a biretta worn by scholarly clergies, which was used to signify their superiority and intelligence. These hats became popular in the 14th and 15th centuries and were only worn by artists, humanists, students, and all those learned. They usually came in the color red signifying blood and life, hence, power more than life and death.  Clearly, an education carried value!

The Syracuse Museum and Cultural Center has several of these lovely white cotton lawn graduation dresses on display.  Next time you stop in to see what’s new, have a look at them and travel back in time to a graduation day long ago.   The Center’s hours are Tuesday-Thursday from 2-5pm and by appointment (801-825-3633) and is located on the south side of 1700 South (Antelope Drive) just before 2000 West, Syracuse, UT.

Published in: on July 30, 2013 at 5:04 pm  Leave a Comment  

Grinding Away: The Syracuse Millstone

Since I’m rather pleased with the most recent history for the Islander, I will again lean on what I wrote for the current issue for this week’s blog posting.  I did a fair amount of research into the topic and am proud of the result.  Hope you don’t find it too dry and boring….


                     Grinding Away: The Syracuse Millstone

Why on earth is there a millstone in the Syracuse Museum and Cultural Center?  Millstones are used to grind grains, most often wheat into flour.  Did this arid land once produce enough wheat to warrant a flour mill?  And did a mill exist in the area?  It’s hard to imagine, but the answer is yes to both questions.

Most of us are familiar with the area’s agrigultural history: tomato, pumpkin, pea, and fruit crops which led to many local canning operations.  Sugar beets were also an important cash crop.  But wheat?

In 1850, a mere three years after the pioneers came to the Salt Lake Valley, there were 926 farms of approximately 51 acres each. By 1900 the number had increased to 19,387 farms, many of which were dry farms. Dry farming refers to a set of techniques for raising crops in a semi-arid climate.  It involves the maintenance of soil conditions that encourage moisture conservation, including tillage and drought resistant crop varieties. Dry farm areas follow a summer fallow cropping practice and are tilled every other year to conserve moisture. Utah is credited with the origination of modern-day dry farming. It developed from a lack of arable land and the immediate need for more agricultural output. Dry farm land is on the edges of the valley or at higher elevations to take advantage of heavier precipitation and cooler summer temperatures.

Only a few crops are produced in quantity on dry farms, and it’s no surprise, wheat is the predominant crop. Both winter and spring wheat are produced.  About eighty-five percent of the total winter wheat crop is planted on dry farms.  Other crops produced on dry farms are alfalfa hay, wild hay, barley, oats, corn, and rye; all crops known to have been planted on Syracuse farms.  Early Scandinavian immigrants turned the alkaline water of Malad Creek onto their crops and the crops failed.  In desperation, they dug up sage brush, planted grain, and waited for the results. Surprisingly, the crops gave a fair yield.  A year or two later, Christopher Layton, an early pioneer, plowed land on the Sand Ridge between Salt Lake City and Ogden. He successfully grew wheat in the sandy soil.

So with all this wheat, mills were needed to process the grain into usable flour.  Even though fast-running streams to power a gristmill are pretty much lacking in this area, wind and animal powered mills were built.  Each larger town soon had its own mill. By 1886, eighty-seven Utah mills were listed by Cawker’s Biennial Flour Mill Directory and most of them still used traditional millstones.

Millstones come in pairs. The base or bedstone is stationary. Above the bedstone is the turning runner stone which actually does the grinding. The runner stone spins above the stationary bedstone creating the “scissoring” or grinding action of the stones. A runner stone is generally slightly concave, while the bedstone is slightly convex This helps to channel the ground flour to the outer edges of the stones where it can be gathered up.  French burrstones (or burhstones), are used for finer grinding. Not cut from one piece, but built up from sections of quartz, cemented together with plaster, and bound with iron bands.  The museum’s millstone seems to be of this type.

The surface of a grinding millstone is divided by deep grooves called furrows into separate flat areas called lands. Spreading away from the furrows are smaller grooves called feathering or cracking. The grooves provide a cutting edge and help to channel the ground flour out from the stones.  Advances in technology would replace these ancient-style stones with steel rollers

New forms of power and mechanical improvements of machinery impacted the millers as well as the farmers of Davis County. To keep abreast of improvements meant replacing water, wind, and animal power in the mills with steam or electricity and substituting metal rollers for milling stones. Owners of the county’s pioneer mills had few economic incentives to upgrade their old equipment. Thus, they were caught short when entrepreneurs built new commercial flour mills to produce flour for export. Most of these first-generation mills, including the half-dozen in Davis County, would soon be gone.

Kaysville miller John Weinel was one of the nineteenth-century mill operators who tried to improve his equipment as new machinery became available. He replaced his wooden waterwheel with a steel one shipped from the east in 1869. He then discarded his native grinding stones for two superior stones brought west by the railroad from St. Louis. Weinel did not make the change from water power to steam or electricity, nor did he install metal rollers to increase productivity; after Weinel’s death in 1889, those who ran the mill could not compete with new, modern plants. They limited their output to chopping animal feed. The mill closed after strong winds in 1906 caved in the west wall and made the building unsafe.

Replacing the old area mills were two up-to-date facilities designed for commercial production using steam rollers. Investors strategically built these new mills adjacent to the Union Pacific Railroad tracks in northern Davis County.  Their business was known as the Layton Roller Mills. It was located just south of the Farmer’s Union on Layton’s Main Street. By 1903 the mill was the most productive in the state; in a twenty-four-hour day, it could turn out 440 sacks of flour.

So it seems a simple object sitting almost forgotten in a museum can tell a big and important story of local farming and business opportunities.  Syracuse may not have had its own mill, but it certainly was one of the areas whose farms grew the wheat to justify the mills.

Stop in the Syracuse Museum and Cultural Center this summer and have a look at the millstone and other objects that bear silent testamony to a hidden history.  The Center’s hours are Tuesday-Thursday from 2-5pm and by appointment (801-825-3633) and is located on the south side of 1700 South (Antelope Drive) just before 2000 West, Syracuse, UT.

Published in: on July 25, 2013 at 3:01 pm  Leave a Comment  

Ten Days of 100+ Degrees….

After 10 days of 100+ degree weather, we are nearing both the end of the run of hot days and closing in on, but not breaking, the record of consecutive days of triple digit heat.  As I am constantly reminded when commenting on how hot it is, at least the humidity is low, usually around 6-8%.  I guess it could be worse and feel like Sumatra. The humans may complain about the heat, and the lawn is really suffering with brown spots everywhere (only the unwanted crabgrass and that damned bindweed seem to thrive), but the vegetable garden is going crazy.

The tomatoes are actually coming in before August!  Our red and orange cherry tomatoes are abundant and the slicing varieties are slowly ripening.  The rows of carrots will be ready to start pulling and enjoying any day now.  The scallions, likewise, are ready to use in cooking and salads, and we’ve picked the first cucumber.  Green beans have already been served for dinner several times and peppers are getting big enough to pick.  The Honeycrisp apple tree we planted 2 years ago will give us apples this year and we are thrilled!  The most exciting thing is the cantaloupe vines are going crazy.  We didn’t plant mini pumpkins this year, but instead put in 3 hills of loupes.  Lara found a small melon the other day and if we get half the melons as we have blossoms, we will be giving them away! The really cool item in the garden is Ethan’s cabbage plant.  A seedling showed up from school on one of his final days in June with the comment that we were to plant it and then in the fall when school started again, there would be a prize for the biggest cabbage head.  Well, I wonder how many survived and of those, how big some are getting.  I think we have a contender!  We’re not yet finished with summer; it has all of August to grow bigger!  I measured it, and it is 8″ in diameter already.  And such a pretty green!  Never tried a cabbage before, so I’ll call it a success!


In the decorative category and something the birds will benefit from, I planted a line of giant sunflowers along the back wall of the house, where it gets full afternoon sun.  They haven’t bloomed yet, but big buds are setting, so it should be spectacular.  Some of the plants are closing in on 6′ tall already and the leaves and stalks are impressive.  The plant closest to the back door (far left in 2nd photo) is the biggest and the base of the stalk, near the ground, is as big as my wrist.  It’s like it’s on steroids!  I’ll be sure to blog about the glories of a sunflower when the time comes, so you can enjoy the triumph!  Stay cool!

Soldier row

Sunflowers on wall

Published in: on July 24, 2013 at 2:56 pm  Comments (2)  

Beyond the Bonneville Salt Flats: Part II of Ken’s Visit

When my brother, Ken, was out for a visit in June, we did more than a mad dash one Saturday to the Bonneville Salt Flats.  In the Syracuse area luckily there is lots to do, as, unfortunately, the red rock canyon country is about a 5-6 hour drive from us, so that was not doable.  That journey is for another visit.  Instead, we took advantage of the local attractions: the Hill Aerospace Museum, ever popular Antelope Island State Park, just 2 miles from us, and a visit to Bear Lake.

One of the many planes at the museum.

One of the many planes at the museum.

The museum is open on Sundays, so after church, we took advantage of that and headed up the Interstate a few miles to the museum.  It’s a well-planned facility and traces the history of flight from the Wright Brothers’ first plane up to the advanced jets of today.  From the highway, the buildings look modest, but once inside, the area is huge and sprawls out.  Outside there are planes and rockets.  Inside, there are planes on the floor, as well as overhead, suspended on graceful angles.  All displays are well explained and the museum also pays tribute to Utah airmen of note.

A new exhibit has been installed since I was last there about 4 years ago and it chronicles a Vietnam POW’s experience in the “Hanoi Hilton.”  He has generously loaned his personal items for display, and, quite frankly, it’s chilling and give one something to ponder.  A four-man cell has been installed to recreate just how tight quarters were and the front entrance to the prison is replicated.  I wonder if he has flashbacks when he comes to visit….

On Monday, we headed out to Antelope Island to see the sights and, hopefully, some wildlife.  Usually, once on the island, visitors are treated to seeing many of the 700 head of bison.  We saw a few, but wondered where the rest of them were hiding.  Following the road to a high peak, we saw antelope and smaller creatures scamper across the road.  Finally, on the way out to the island ranch, we came around a curve in the road and there were close to 200 bison along the beach below us.  A late-comer to the party even ambled across the road in front of us, not 10 feet from the car.  What a treat!

Bison on the beach.100_1898

Later that week, we accepted the invitation of friends of mine from the Syracuse Museum and followed them up to their lovely lodge overlooking Bear Lake on the Utah-Idaho border.  We spent an idyllic afternoon and evening enjoying their hospitality in gorgeous surroundings; well worth the 2 hour ride there.  It was enough to sit and look at the lovely bright blue lake, we didn’t have to go swimming!  Great conversation after dinner capped the evening off and led to a good night’s sleep.

All in all, it was a great visit with my brother and he even got to connect with an old high school friend of his who moved to Utah a few years after graduation.  Now, Ken will have to bring his wife out so we can see the rest of the state!  Start planning!!!

Published in: on July 16, 2013 at 5:25 pm  Leave a Comment  

Something to Celebrate: Rain and Milestone Blog Post

Hooray!  Over the weekend it finally rained; and, boy, did it ever rain.  On Friday night–actually in the wee hours of Saturday morning–we had a thunder storm that dropped a decent amount of needed moisture.  Then on Saturday in the late afternoon, the storm clouds gathered themselves, a really gusty wind came through and the heavens opened.  We got about an inch of rain in the span of about an hour.  Keep in mind, in Utah, an inch is the average rainfall for the entire month of July.  More thunder storms are predicted for the end of this week, so it looks like we’ll be above average for this month, after a totally parched June.

The lawns are already responding and are greening up nicely and I don’t have to water the vegetable gardens so much, which pleases me, as there’s a water shortage caution at the moment.  The reservoirs are down about 10-15% and things could get dicey by September if we don’t get some more rain.  The snowpack wasn’t as deep this winter and the mountains are no longer white with any snow.

I must say, it was nice to hear thunder and witness a good old-fashioned electrical storm.  Hearing the deluge of rain was also a treat.  We even had about 2 minutes of scattered hail the size of peas.  But as you can imagine, with the ground so dry and packed hard the water just ran off and flooded the streets.  We had about 2-3 inches of water in our street and I waded through ankle-high water to get to my car and move it to the driveway.  At some point there was a loud crack and I commented to grandson Ethan, who was watching out the back door with me, that bolt hit something.  Indeed it had; the next day we heard that a nearby transformer had been struck, knocking out power to part of the town (not us).

Most of the storms come from the southwest, across the Great Salt Lake.  It’s amazing to watch the angry clouds move in and feel the wind.  The dark gray clouds sweep across the sharp spine of Antelope Island and then threaten us on the mainland.  Normally, the storms move quickly and pass within a half hour; then we are rewarded with a rainbow, many times a double arc!

Later this morning, I’ll check the gardens and potted patio plants and hanging baskets, as they dry out quickly.  It’s in the low 90s now, but we’re facing a temperature of 101 tomorrow.

While celebrating the rain, I want to point out that today’s posting is my 200th blog entry.  Little did I realize when I started this adventure almost 4 years ago (fall of 2009), that I’d actually find things to write about and not tire of the weekly writing assignment I gave myself.  I have no idea how many people actually read what I share, but I’m guessing they are a small, devoted bunch of friends, mostly back on the east coast.

I’ll continue trying to offer a slice of life in Utah and avoid being really personal, as that would be a diary and turn boring.  Next week, if nothing better shows up, I’ll finish sharing what my brother and I did on his recent visit beyond the Bonneville Salt Flats.

I’ll keep on writing if you keep on reading!  Hope you all had a great 4th of July!

Published in: on July 9, 2013 at 4:27 pm  Comments (1)  

We’re Cookin’ Out West

If you’re like the normal person, you usually have one eye on the sky and one eye on the TV weather reports.  Since I’m normal (though some would dispute that!) I, too, have been watching the weather this summer back east where I grew up and out here in Utah.

Seems like the east coast has been getting more than its fair share of rain and stormy weather, so much so that garden plants are beginning to rot and flowers are discouraged from blooming.  Just wait until that hurricane comes up the coast in August and dumps even more rain!

As for us out in the west, the rather infamous heat dome is planted directly over the southwest states and ensuring roasting temperatures and dry conditions.  We’ve had a week of it!  Perhaps we can’t blame it all on global warming, but we’re breaking all kinds of records in a place that gets notoriously hot in the summer anyway.

Death Valley, California recorded 126 over the weekend and Salt Lake City hit 105, tying an old record.  Down in the south of the state, nicknamed “Dixie,” the town of St. George was flirting with 114, breaking the former record by several degrees.  St. George is just below Cedar City, home of the Utah Shakespeare Festival, so I’m sure those folks were sweating too.  In fact, I believe one of the venues is an outdoor stage, so that must not have been a very comfortable performance for the audience or the actors (especially if in heavy costumes).

Proof positive.

But let’s look on the bright side: at least the humidity is in the single digits.  In fact, the TV weathermen don’t even include that number.

Because the warmer temps are finally reaching the upper altitudes, the snow pack, or what was left of it, is melting rapidly.  Two years ago, the ski areas extended their season until the July 4th holiday.  Not this year!

Gardens are really suffering; I can hardly keep up with the watering and we now have voluntary rationing in Syracuse.  We’re supposed to run the lawn sprinkler systems only twice a week.  Our green lawn now has brown spots all over it.  It didn’t rain for the entire month of June, so city officials are urging residents to conserve water; if we don’t, there will be mandatory water rationing.  Even with a shot of water twice daily, hanging pots are losing the battle and turning crisp.  I try to get some water on the back garden for the tomatoes’ sake, but they are still baking under the hot sun.  In the desert, the night-time temps tend to dip into the 60s and offer some respite to weary plants–and humans and animals.  Not so this stretch.  The temps have hovered in the mid-70s after midnight.  I keep thinking how miserable it must have been in the good old pioneer days with no air conditioning.

And, of course, no rain and hot temps equal conditions ripe for wildfires.  Colorado and Arizona have their disasters already, tragically with the loss of 19 hotshot wildfire fighters.  How horrible that was and now we’re coming into the celebration season here in Utah (4th of July and Pioneer Day, July 24) and folks leave their common sense somewhere on the trail and we’ll have new fires to add to the several minor ones that are already burning.

We can only hope the rains subside in the east and the heat wave will come to an end sooner rather than later.  I think tomorrow is the last day of triple-digit temps, but 97 feels pretty much like 1oo.  This heat is a killer….

Published in: on July 3, 2013 at 2:31 pm  Leave a Comment