Friday, November 20, 2009

Paper Town: Lee, Mass., on The Paper Trail

Papermaking has been the economic backbone of Lee, Massachusetts, as well as other towns along the Housatonic River, for more than 200 years. At one time, there were 25 paper mills in Lee. The first successful American paper from wood pulp was made here, along with many other industry firsts. In 2008, Schweitzer Mauduit, the largest local employer of paper makers, closed the doors of its four Lee mills, and Mead Westvaco closed one, leaving only one mill running. It is still running.

The Eagle Mill on the Housatonic River in Lee, Mass. The mill closed in 2008, after making paper for more than 200 years.

The history of this great industry in this small New England town is being documented on film by Judith Monachina, a Lee native, and whose family worked in the Lee mills.

"This documentary will be a look at how a small town with a deep history of papermaking envisions its future, and it will give the community a way to look at its past," said Judith.

The documentary tells the story of this papermaking tradition, and the Paper Mills Documentary Project includes students from the Lee Middle School in the process. Students are learning the papermaking heritage of their town as teachers find ways to incorporate local history and papermaking into the curriculum.

Employees of Lee's Columbia Mill in the 1870s.

To date, this project has been supported by Mass Humanities, Upper Housatonic Valley National Heritage Area, High Meadow Foundation, and generous individuals.

Be sure to visit the Paper Town website to learn much more.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Dard Hunter's Giant Footprint On The Paper Trail

The first paper along the Housatonic River was made by hand in 1801 by Zenas Crane in Dalton, Mass. After the introduction of papermaking machinery in the 1800s, the art of handmade paper quickly came to an end. There is no record of when and where the last handmade paper was made along The Paper Trail, but its return is well-known among paper historians and those involved with the paper and book arts. Actually, the only reason there are paper and book artists in the United States is because of the curiosity and tenacity of Dard Hunter.

I won't go into any great detail about Hunter - the story is long and rich, and I'll help you get to the best sources in a minute. Suffice it to say that Dard Hunter (1883-1966) was an American Renaissance man. He was not only a designer in the Arts & Crafts Movement in the early decades of the 20th century, but also a private press printer, paper historian and author, collector and museum director. His travels around the world helped uncover and pass along the indigenous traditions of papermaking throughout the world. He was bound and determined to reignite interest - artistically and commercially - in handmade paper in the United States.

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It was in Lime Rock, Conn., where he and his partners set up what they hoped would become the first commercial mill along the banks of the Salmon Fells Kill in an abandoned factory that once made railroad wheels. He brought not only all the equipment he would need from a handmade paper mill in England, but an entire English papermaking family as well.

Papermaking commenced in 1930, but the dream of a real mill never came to pass for Hunter. The mill languished for years, finally closing for good in 1950. The buildings were swept away by the flood of 1955, well-remembered by many residents of the area.

Hunter's career is well worth exploring. There is even an organization called The Friends of Dard Hunter. Here are some links to pursue the story.

Friends of Dard Hunter

Robert C. Williams American Museum of Papermaking

The Crane Insider Blog

Dard Hunter Studios

Ohio University Libraries

By His Own Labor, Biography of Dard Hunter

Following are photographs from the Lime Rock Mill. I am indebted, as always, to Cindy Bowden, director of the Robert C. Williams American Museum of Papermaking in Atlanta, for these photos.

Dard Hunter

The Lime Rock Mill

The papermaking Robertson family from England

Cotton rags being sorted for papermaking

This beater was used to turn rags into pulp; hence the term, beaten to a pulp!

Papermaking in progress

Our next installment will explore the connection between the first hand papermaker and the last, along The Paper Trail.