L.F. sends me a simple blue woolen blanket with pink and white stripes, made in those days when we all slept in single beds.
There’s an old, tattered label hanging by a thread that reads “Baron Woolen Mills, Brigham City Utah,” and I notice that the “T” in the word “UTAH” has a crescent-shaped top, which is also echoed in a rising sun. The crescent shape is emitting lines or rays. This rising sun is stitched in pink yarn against the blue of the blanket.
A history of the Woolen mills uncovers a wonderful story, as well as a date for F.L.’s blanket of the 1930s. I notice that the label bears the shape of the roofline of the mill in silhouette, which is an indicator of the 1930s date.
The blanket is connected with the most famous of all Utah celebrities. Back in 1853, Brigham Young sent his colleague Lorenzo Snow to a place called “Box Elder.”
Snow, a budding Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints leader, had the idea to form a merchant co-op in Box Elder, the little town that Snow soon renamed Brigham City. The co-op was called the Brigham City Mercantile Manufacturing Association. Snow became the church President in 1898, as well as a major stockholder in the BCM&MA.
The woolen mill from whence this sweet blanket comes was the flagship of the BCM&MA, because the making of the mill cost an enormous amount ($34,000) in 1871; a 44- x 48-foot stone structure with adobe second story and 40-foot deep shaft to run the water wheel of the mill. The business plan was to buy directly from local sheep farmers, make blankets and fabric, and retail them. And the co-op was successful, making back what the co-op spent on the building in two years’ time.
Sadly, six years after christening the mill, it burned down completely in 1871. The history of the mill is fraught with fire. In its 149 years it burned down four times.
The devastation was so severe that Snow faded from management, leaving a worker, the enterprising James Baron, to take over and rebuild.
But times and technology were changing, and the city of Hyrum had that newfangled thing called electric power, and Baron moved operations to take advantage of that. Meanwhile in Brigham City, Anthony A. Jenson reformed the mill company as a private enterprise, taking over in 1889, during which time Brigham City used the water wheel at the mil to try to generate the City’s first power system.
Then the mill burned down again in 1907.
Meanwhile in Hyrum, James Baron’s son Thomas despaired of the abandoned Brigham City mill and moved his family back to Brigham City to rebuild the mill. The Baron family name stood behind the mill till 1988, when Dale and Duke Baron sold the mill.
Imagine his shock then in 2014 when Dale Baron, whose family house faced the mill, witnessed a massive fire there as Dale and his grandson Kristopher Baron were spending time together. So many Barons had worked there that a newspaper report from Brigham City at the time says that Kristopher had a tear in his young eye when interviewed about his eyewitness account.
I searched for people who collect Baron Woolen Mills blankets, and like the Hudson Bay striped blankets which are famous for their red, green, and white striped design, the Baron Woolen Mills blankets do have a following. That’s mainly because the blankets are so pretty and soft, made in natural dyed shades of almost pastel colors.
I found a gorgeous orange with black stripe affair selling for around $200.
I love vintage blankets, not because we need wool blankets in Santa Barbara, but I own a Hudson Bay blanket, and I did purchase that Baron orange affair. (Thanks, L.F., for turning it in onto Baron blankets!) During the pandemic, I have been restoring an old family residence on Lake Arrowhead every other weekend, where the blankets will eventually be ensconced in the pine paneled cabin there.
My son’s family comes when I am not there, and everyone loves the old place except the short-haired dachshund, who has sunk in the snow repeatedly, to his horror.
It has been a relief during the pandemic for me to have had something constructive to do, on my own, like the refinishing of the 1930s pine paneling!
Once the wood dust clears, my Baron blanket will be making the trip with me, F.L. Yours is worth $250, I would think, because that rising sun motif is collectible amongst blanket aficionados.
Dr. Elizabeth Stewart’s “Ask the Gold Digger” column appears Mondays in the News-Press Life section.
Written after her father’s COVID-19 diagnosis, Dr. Stewart’s book “My Darlin’ Quarantine: Intimate Connections Created in Chaos” is a humorous collection of five “what-if” short stories that end in personal triumphs over present-day constrictions. It’s available at Chaucer’s in Santa Barbara.