WEST JORDAN — In 1853, when Archibald Gardner built his flour mill clear out in West Jordan, a lot of people thought he was crazy. In those times, it was a full-day's buggy ride from Salt Lake City, and who would come all that way for flour? Who would want to live that far away?
But others thought of him as a visionary, able to see that the natural progression of things would keep people moving south. His flour mill was soon surrounded by a mattress factory, broom factory, blacksmith shop, tannery and other enterprises and became an economic hub in that part of the valley.
Gardner replaced his mill with an even larger one in 1877. But building mills was nothing new to him. During the course of his life, he built and operated 36 grist, saw and flour mills.
Archibald was born in Scotland, where his father, Robert, operated a tavern and a mill. After Robert got into political trouble for opposing the queen of England, he decided to seek a new life in Canada, and in 1822 moved his family to North America. Archibald was 8 at the time.
He grew up to marry and own a grist and a saw mill and more than 200 acres of land. Then he met the Mormon missionaries and joined the LDS Church. Persecution drove the family to Winter Quarters, where they hooked up with pioneers moving west and arrived in the Salt Lake Valley in October 1847.
Archibald set out to do what he knew best, building several mills in the Cottonwood area before finding the place in what's now West Jordan.
As a faithful member of the church, Archibald practiced polygamy, eventually marrying 11 women (although some died before he married others) and having 48 children. When persecution for polygamy became severe, Archibald decided to sell his mill in West Jordan and move to Star Valley, Wyo. He returned to Utah at age 86 and died in 1902.
In 1979, when Nancy Long bought the old Gardner Mill, which had long outlived its usefulness as a mill, a lot of people thought she was crazy, says her son Joe.
"After being turned down by a lot of bankers, she finally found a place that would lend her $60,000 at 22 percent interest. After approving the loan, the guy came out the next day to see what she had bought, and he was sure he'd made a big mistake in giving her the loan."
But Nancy had her own vision of what this place could be. She thought about restoring the mill as a home, but shortly after its purchase, her marriage, which has been shaky for some time, came apart. She decided to start a country furniture store there. It opened in 1980.
In 1983, Nancy married Chris Christensen, "and it was his idea to have a restaurant," says Joe.
All that worked well for a decade, "but Mom had the idea that there should be a little village around the mill, just like when Archibald Gardner was there," says Angie Seeley, who, with her brother Joe, bought Gardner Village from their mother in 2002.
Nancy began finding old houses that were in danger of being lost and moving them to the site. "She originally thought about having them be craft houses for artists to work in, but she realized that retail shops would be better," says Angie, who now oversees most of the retail operations at the village.
Gardner Village has never looked back — but it has looked forward and still does.
Today, there are approximately 22 one-of-a-kind shops and boutiques, housed in historic buildings. There's a Gathering Place, which accommodates receptions, banquets, meetings, entertainment and other events. There's a day spa and a bakery. And there are plans for expansion, which might have been slowed by the economy but are still going strong.
"For a long time, we were landlocked by everything around us," says Joe. "There was no room to expand." But in 2005, they were able to purchase an additional 12 acres and have since added "the land that runs up to the hill," he says, "so we've gone from eight acres to 35 acres. Another great thing for our future is the TRAX line; the spur to the west end of the valley will have a Gardner Village stop that should be finished in 2011."
Those two factors open up new possibilities for the village. "Our goal is to become an entertainment-based retail complex," Joe says. They want to create a venue for concerts, add a small-scale convention and exposition space. They want to add a pizza place in the basement of the old mill and create a place for ice skating in the winter.
A good chunk of their additional land is wetlands, "and we want to keep that in its natural state but add a system of trails, so people can enjoy the wildlife," he says. Already, the ducks that come to the stream that winds through the village are popular with kids and adults alike.
Eventually, there may be some multi-family housing units on the hillside.
But, says Angie, "the mill is what lends this place a unique character, and that's what it's all about." They have recently remodeled the furniture store part of the mill to open up the upper story and showcase an old flour sifter that was still there. "It had been built around and hidden. But we think people will like to see this bit of history."
Their goal is to make the village an experience, not just a place to shop. "We want people to step back to a slower pace," she says. "We want visitors to have a people-to-people experience like in the old general store of yesterday. We get a lot of e-mails from visitors from all over the world who have been here, and 'experience' is the word we hear more often than not. We want to create an experience that is colorful, unique, fun, hip, stylish."
The village may have some important historical features, but "some of our shops are very trendy," she says. "This is our 30th anniversary, and we are calling it a colorful year of celebration."
She remembers how she used to spend her summers manning the furniture store back when that was all there was. "Mom would call and ask if anyone had come in. Quite often, I'd have to say no. So, it's big stuff to be in business for 30 years."
Both she and Joe are passionate about the village, passionate about working there, she says. "Mom used to say it was only work if you'd rather be doing something else. We love to come to work."
And she can't help but think that Archibald Gardner would be proud of his namesake. "His philosophy seemed to be that you can make any dream come true if you put one step in front on the other."
"We are just happy to preserve what he started," adds Joe. "We feel his spirit here."