WASHINGTON COUNTY HISTORICAL SOCIETY (Washington County, Utah)
BARBEE & WALKER MILL
Silver Reef, Utah
LOCATIONSilver Reef, Utah
37° 15' 13" North Latitude, 113° 22' 14" West Longitude
HISTORYThe Barbee & Walker Mill was built in 1878 by William Tecumseh BarbeWilliam Tecumseh Barbee for the purpose of milling ore from the Barbee & Walker Mine. Prior to the completion of this mill, Barbee was shipping ore from the mine to Pioche, Nevada, Salt Lake City, and the Book Cliff Mill (later renamed the Stormont Mill) but was tiring of the high shipping prices. As the mill was being constructed, Barbee sent ore to the nearby Leeds Mill; this stopped on March 20, 1878, when the mill was officially completed.
By March 20 of the next year, the mill had processed $125,811.20 worth of silver, and 73 bullion bars had been produced. Newspapers of the day frequently commented on the great status of the mill, expecting it to last for decades to come. All that changed on June 23, 1879, when a fire was started in the mill that resulted in its complete destruction. The fire started in the furnace room and quickly spread throughout the mill. The millers on duty barely had time to escape as the mill literally fell apart around them. Several smaller fires were started in the brush near the mill, but a wind blowing northwest spared the nearby town of Silver Reef from damage by fire.
The fire caused $20,000 in damages, and even though plans were almost immediately made to rebuild the mill, replacement machinery was thousands of miles away. The mine couldn't operate without a mill, so it became idle and some of its miners became discouraged and moved away. Within a few months, however, the contract to rebuild the mill was awarded by George Chaler, and the new mill was completed on February 12, 1880. During this time, a New York organization consolidated the mill and mine under the Barbee & Walker Milling and Mining Company and made many improvements to the mill, including the addition of a telephone between the hoisting works and the main levels of the mill.
The mill experienced a setback in February 1881, when the Barbee & Walker Milling and Mining Company decided to lower their employee's wages from $4 a day to $3.50 a day. Rather than give them notice, they told the miners about this change before they entered the mine, and told them to either accept the wages or leave. Most of them left, and in mid-February the company discharged about half of its work force, including a lot of employees from the mill. In retaliation, the portion of the work force that had been laid off (who were all members of the Silver Reef Miners Union) met up with employees from the Stormont Mining Company (who had also been laid off) and took control of the Savage Mine on the White Reef.
The employees eventually decided to accept the wage change, but by then more than half of them had left the company, never to return. These men were replaced by less experienced locals; regardless, the company prospered throughout the rest of 1881 and most of 1882. By October 1882, though, the company was delaying paychecks because they couldn't afford to pay their employees. The company finally shut down their operations, including those at the Barbee & Walker Mill, in December of 1882, and the mill was sold at a county auction the next month.
For the next couple decades, the mill was worked by a few different mining companies. Probably the most significant company to run the mill following its sale in January of 1883 was the Brundage Mining & Development Company, which bought the mill in 1902 and spent $10,000 to modernize it. The company took ore from the Barbee & Walker Mine and processed some of the mill's old tailings, which typically assayed between 15 to 20 ounces of silver to the ton. Nevertheless, low mining prices combined with hefty renovation prices forced the Brundage Company to pull out in 1908. Finally, in 1916, Alexander Colbath, superintendent of the Silver Reef Consolidated Mining Company, demolished the mill, hoping to build a new, much better one. This never happened.
Today, all that remain of the mill are some foundation stones and the chimney of the blacksmith shop, visible on the White Reef near some attractive new houses in Silver Reef. Although the mill itself is gone, its history will never be forgotten.
The Barbee & Walker Mine and Mill: A History
Proctor, Paul Dean; Shirts, Morris A.
Silver, Sinners and Saints: A History of Old Silver Reef, Utah
Paulmar Publishers, Inc., 1991
Carr, Stephen L.
The Historical Guide to Utah Ghost Towns
Western Epics, 1986
Beal, Wilma C.
My Story of Silver Reef
Heritage Press, 1987
Oral history of Silver Reef
(personal interview by Jon Alvey)
Utah Supreme Court
Reports of cases decided in the Supreme Court of the state of Utah
Engineering & Mining Journal
Volume 41, page 75