#lookback: Gristmills and Sawmills

    A series where we take a #lookback at the stories and history of our community, brought to you by Mick Pryor, Financial Advisor with Edward Jones.

    Since the Wind River Valley was so far away from the railhead in the 1870s, every fledgling town needed two industries in order to become sustainable: a gristmill and a sawmill. These industries left many names on our landscape.

    In the 1880s, the towns of Lander and Milford were both about the same size.

    As its name suggests, Milford had the first gristmill in Fremont county. The gristmill was located next to the North Fork of the Popo Agie River, which is the southern boundary of the Shoshone Indian Agency. Milford’s flouring mill was built in 1878 and was powered by a waterwheel.

    Lander got its own flour mill in 1888 after Eugene Amoretti offered a $5000 incentive prize to whoever opened a flouring mill in Lander. It originally was powered by a waterwheel too, but because of ice in the winter soon the power source was switched to coal and oil. Soon, this mill was used to generate electricity when the mill was not grinding flour; electricity was sent down the power poles in the evenings to light Lander at night and on Tuesdays, so women could do their ironing.

    Lander was the second town in Wyoming to have electricity; Cheyenne was the first. The original mill building and grain elevator still sit on Main Street and now functions as a bed and breakfast and a bicycle shop. Together, they form the iconic skyline of Lander.

    One of the first sawmills in Lander was operated by Sam Fairfield in 1875. He originally cut wood on Table Mountain for his sawmill. In 1876 Sam Fairfield cut a rough road up through what was then known as Big Popo Agie Canyon and established a sawmill. Fairfield Hill just north of Bruce’s Bridge still bears his name. In the 1930s, the Big Popo Agie canyon’s name was changed, amid some controversy, to the name we use today, Sinks Canyon.

    John Bruce and Carl Warthen were two of the early forest rangers. Bruce’s Bridge and the picnic area were named for John Bruce. Worthen Meadows bear the name of Carl Warthen although the spelling is slightly different.

    Perry Townsend was another lumberman with a sawmill. Townsend Park, where the Fremont Youth camp sits today, and Townsend creek are named for him. Perry Townsend established a sawmill in the canyon about where the Popo Agie campground is located.

    Jake Frye was another lumberman who left his name on Frye Lake reservoir at the top of the Loop road. He later homesteaded where the Popo Agie Estates are located today and worked for the Experimental Farm which was located where the CWC field station is located today. One of the Experimental Farm’s missions was to develop cold-tolerant apples. Apple trees from the original orchard of the Experimental Farm still produce a crop today.

    Sawmills in the early days were somewhat ephemeral. They were designed to be moved when the timber was depleted, so virtually nothing is left of these original sawmills except the names of the men who earned their living harvesting timber and protecting the forest.

    Photo caption: A portable sawmill at work in the Wind River Mountains circa 1910.


    Next up for the Fremont County Museums

    August 17th, 1 pm at the Pioneer Museum, “Ed Young Apple Farm Trek”

    Wind River Visitors Council Adventure Trek Series

    August 20th, 9-4 pm at the Dubois Museum, “Mystery Sheep Trap Adventure Trek”

    Wind River Visitors Council Adventure Trek Series

    August 21st, 10 am at the Dubois Museum, “Forming Our Horizon”

    Bailey Tire/Pit Stop Children’s Discovery Series

    August 24th, 1-3 pm at the Pioneer Museum, “Children’s Ledger Art”

    Bailey Tire/Pit Stop Children’s Discovery Series

    August 24th, 9 am at the Riverton Museum, “Historic Downtown Walking Tour”

    Wind River Visitors Council Adventure Trek Series


    The Dubois Museum, the Pioneer Museum in Lander and the Riverton Museum need your financial support. In the current economic environment, the museums are more reliant than ever on donations from the private sector to continue to provide the quality programs, collections management, exhibits and services that have become their hallmark over the last four years. Please make your tax-deductible contribution to be used specifically for the benefit of the museum of your choosing by sending a check to Fremont County Museums 450 N 2nd Rm 320 or taking it directly to the museum you choose to support.


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