Thursday, October 29, 2009

The Rising Paper Mill of Housatonic

Earlier this week, I had the opportunity to climb in the pickup and take a field trip to a beautiful little village in the Housatonic valley. The destination that day was the Ramsdell Public Library in lovely downtown Housatonic. Built in 1908, the first floor houses the library collection and the second floor the theater. The theater room also houses the collections of the Great Barrington Historical Society. And within that collection are the archives from the former Rising Paper Mill.

My host for the visit was Gary Leveille, vice president of the Historical Society. He and local historian Bernard Drew have been working away at organizing and cataloging the Rising archives, which are contained in 20 boxes. As much as I wanted to ruffle through each and every box of payroll records, paper samples, photographs and marketing materials dating from 1899, I had to hold myself in check until a later date.

And that's just as well, because Gary was kind enough to show me the most treasured part of the collection - a painting of the Rising Paper Mill complex by Yvonne Twining Humber. It is a magnificent painting and is far superior and much more interesting than any photo I could have taken to present to you today.

Here is a link to an article about her very distinguished career.

The Rising mill today is owned and operated by the Hazen Paper Company of Holyoke, Mass., which specializes in film and foil laminations, gravure printing, specialty coating, and rotary embossings. Hazen products enjoy wide acceptance for use in luxury packaging, bookbinding, lottery and other security tickets, tags and labels as well as for photo and fine art mounting.

We'll have an opportunity to dive deeper into the history of the Rising Paper Mill and the hamlet of Housatonic at a later date. Next up: Dard Hunter and the Lime Rock Mill.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Some Good News Along the Paper Trail

We learned from the Berkshire Eagle yesterday that two senior managers at the MeadWestvaco plant in Lee are negotiating to purchase the facility from its parent company and keep it running as it does now with its 122-member work force.

According to the Eagle, "MeadWestvaco General Manager Patricia Begrowicz and Vice President of Sales and Business Development Christopher Mathews confirmed Friday that they are presently in negotiations with the parent company to buy the the Willow Mill, the former Laurel Mill building and the finished goods warehouse, all located in South Lee, from MeadWestvaco Corp."

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Here's a link to the full story.

The First Stop Along the Housatonic Paper Trail

The Housatonic Heritage Paper Trail explores the rich history and social legacy of the paper industry which has relied on the waters of the Housatonic for more than two centuries. As one of the lead researchers, I will keep you up-to-date on what we find along the way.
Peter Hopkins

Last week, I attended an "Out & About" gathering of members of the Connecticut League of History Organizations and the Upper Housatonic Valley National Heritage Area at Herman Melville's Arrowhead home in Pittsfield, Mass. We were treated to an informative presentation by Betsy Sherman, director of the Berkshire County Historical Society, which is housed at Arrowhead, and a lively tour of the house and the history associated with it.

So one might ask, "All well and good, Peter, but what's this got to do with paper?"

In 1855, Melville penned The Paradise of Bachelors and the Tartarus of Maids. The Tartarus focuses on a fictional visit to Devil's Dungeon paper mill by a seedsman in need of paper. The story is a very dark accounting of Melville's feelings about factories and the working conditions therein, especially for women.

"Suddenly a whirling, humming sound broke upon
my ear. I looked, and there, like an arrested
avalanche, lay the large whitewashed factory.
It was subordinately surrounded by a cluster of
other and smaller buildings, some of which, from
their cheap, blank air, great length, gregarious
windows, and comfortless expression, no doubt
were boarding-houses of the operatives."

And, it's pretty much downhill from there.

We surmise that Melville based his view of paper mills on those in Dalton, as history records that in February of 1851 he wrote to his friend Evert A. Duyckinck, on paper watermarked "Carson's Dalton MS" that he had just made a sojourn to the mill to pick up "a sleigh-load of paper. A great neighborhood for authors, you see, is Pittsfield."

Several other famous 19th-century authors made the Berskshires their home, including Nathaniel Hawthorne and Edith Wharton. As we explore further the relationship between paper and this beautiful valley, we'll see if there are Paper Trail connections with them as well.

The view from Herman Melville's writing desk
at Arrowhead. Mt. Greylock, the highest
point in Massachusetts, is in the distance.