Butte Mill Ditch

Butte Mill Ditch

Established: March 1, 1865

Priority Number: 22

Acres under ditch: 1200 originally

Water Source: Boulder Creek

The Butte Mill Ditch is actually called “The Butte Irrigating and Milling Company”, and was originally built to power a grist mill, which ground wheat into flour. John DeBacker, a Belgian millwright, dug the ditch and began construction of the mill on the north side of the road about three-quarters of a mile east of the town of Valmont. He ran out of money in 1865, and Judge Peter Housel went into partnership with him.

Housel traveled to Omaha and purchased the milling equipment while DeBacker finished building the mill. In 3 months, Housel returned with the machinery, which they installed. The mill was a success. Farmers came from as far away as Fort Collins with their wheat. Twenty-two feet of water from the ditch powered a 24-inch double turbine wheel which drove the burrs. Judge Housel bought out DeBacker and then sold the mill and ditch to George Sawhill. Like most of Boulder’s early mills, it burned down, but the millstones, made of Valmont basalt are still at the Sawhill home.

23 year old Peter Housel came from Pennsylvania to Colorado in 1859. For three years he worked at the Horsfal Lode, Gold Hill’s richest diggings, and then settled in the Boulder Valley. He was elected Boulder's first county judge in 1862, re-elected in 1864 and eventually served as a trustee for the Denver and Boulder Valley Railroad. He served as custodian of the land upon which the city of Boulder was built.

The Jones & Donnelly Ditch and the Butte Mill Ditch are “sister” ditches. Jones & Donnelly dumps water into the Butte Mill, which carries its water out to farmers further east. The 2 ditches also have overlapping boards of directors, and many of the same shareholders. Butte Mill generally follows Valmont Road out to 75th, where the tail water flows down through a neighboring farm and back to Boulder Creek.

Judge Peter Housel, 1889.

Stock certificate and map courtesy of City of Boulder Open Space and Mountain Parks.

Portrait of Housel courtesy of Carnegie Branch Library for Local History.

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