Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Housatonic Heritage Kicks off The Paper Trail

I'm presently very excited and very nervous about this coming Thursday. The Third Thursday celebration in downtown Pittsfield, Mass., will serve as both the culmination of almost three years of work (if you can call it that) as well as the springboard to future celebrations of the legacy of papermaking in the Upper Housatonic National Heritage Area.

Art exhibits, portraits of local papermakers, historical artifacts and even a paper plane guru (you remember Howard) will help launch the Housatonic Paper Trail on Thursday, September 16, in Pittsfield. The multi-site celebration of the history and impact of the paper industry in the Upper Housatonic River region is a program of the Upper Housatonic Valley National Heritage Area in partnership with the Pittsfield Office of Cultural Development, Berkshire Museum and Crane & Co.

Mills along the Upper Housatonic River at one time produced much of the paper and paper products used in the nation. The region's contribution to the industry spans more than 200 years: from 1801, when Zenas Crane built his first mill in Dalton; through the 1860s, when the Upper Housatonic powered 65 mills; to the present day, in which two local companies - Crane & Co. and Onyx Specialty Papers, whose roots extend to 1806, continue the legacy.

"We hope the Housatonic Paper Trail will help local residents and visitors understand the immense cultural, economic and historical impact that the paper mills have had on this region and the nation as a whole," said Dan Bolognani, executive director of Housatonic Heritage. "Our vision is to build up a wealth of information and artifacts that preserves and builds on this heritage "

The Housatonic Paper Trail will be launched as part of Pittsfield's 3rd Thursday. The official kick-off, which is open to the public, will be held at the Lichtenstein Center for the Arts from 5 to 7 p.m. The Center will host a group show of contemporary regional artists who work on or with paper; clips from "Paper Town," a new documentary film by Judith Monachina and Erica Spizz about the paper mills of Lee, Mass.; and an animated video by Alice, Anna and John Myers.

Crane historian Peter Hopkins will be on hand to give a brief overview of the industry's economical and cultural impact on the region.

"We're thrilled to bring attention to the region's extraordinary papermaking history through the work of local contemporary artists, filmmakers, photographers and animators," said Megan Whilden, director of Pittsfield's Office of Cultural Development. "What better way to celebrate our heritage of industrial innovation than through the continuing creativity of the region?"

Other events and exhibits will take place throughout downtown Pittsfield. Photographic portraits by Bill Wright of men and women who work in the paper industry will be on display at the Storefront Artist Project.

The Berkshire Museum will house an installation by Henry Klimowicz, constructed of discarded cardboard, and historical artifacts from the Berkshire Museum and the Crane Museum of Papermaking.

On North Street, which will be closed to traffic, Howard Fink will demonstrate how to fold extraordinary paper airplanes and judge the best planes made by children and adults.

All events are free and open to the public.

Elevated to a national heritage area by the U.S. Congress in 2006, Upper Housatonic Valley National Heritage Area works to build awareness and appreciation of the offerings and history of the 29 towns that straddle the Upper Housatonic River from Kent, Connecticut to Lanesboro, Massachusetts. Housatonic Heritage partners with local organizations and individuals to ensure that the region remains a vibrant place to live, work and visit in years to come.

Programs include annual Heritage Walks; the African American Heritage Trail; the Upper Housatonic Valley Experience, a teachers' immersion program in the region's history, culture, environment and economy; the Performing Arts Heritage Trail, which includes a wealth of arts venues and heritage sites; and the Iron Heritage Trail, which includes sites relating to iron manufacturing, one of the area’s most important industries from the 18th century through the early 1920s.

Housatonic Heritage is one of 49 national heritage areas designated by Congress in partnership with the National Park Service. Each has distinctive natural, cultural, historic, and scenic resources that tell a unique story about our country. More information is available at HousatonicHeritage.org.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Eagle Mill Developers Share Ideas

Developers of the Eagle Mill in Lee envision new housing being crucial to re-using the former papermaking factory along the Housatonic River.

Representatives of Eagle Mill Enterprise based in Saratoga Springs, N.Y., recently outlined "preliminary development ideas" which included a new five-story residential apartment building.

Here's a link to the article in the Berkshire Eagle.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Making Fine Stationery from Crane Paper - 1926

A little while back, I posted a video of a film showing paper being made at Crane's Bay State Mill in 1926. Here is Part Two, which shows how Crane paper was made into Crane stationery.


Friday, February 5, 2010

Vintage Film Shows Rag Papermaking in 1926

Quite a while ago, I came across a reel of really old film in a mill basement at Crane. Being the curious type, I wanted desperately to find out what might be shown. And I figured that whatever was on the film was worth preserving. I took it to the photo shop where I had done business (film) for many years and they were kind enough to transfer the film to VHS - oh yeah - cutting edge - that's me.

Little did I know that the advance of technology would be so fast-paced. Last week, I came across the VHS in a box in the archives and figured I needed to get current again. I was able to dust off our old VCR and, after many false starts, bit the bullet and got a machine to convert the tape to 1s and 0s.

So, to make a short story long, I hope you enjoy this film. It's about 10 minutes long. It's a little rough, but heck, it's old. It really is a fascinating look at how rag paper was made in the day at Crane's Bay State Mill. Much has changed in the intervening years, but those of us who know the company well will recognize some machinery that's still being used. In a while, I'll post the rest of the film, which shows paper being made into stationery.

Enjoy, fellow paper-lovers.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Tiny Village Sprouts World-Changing Technology

There were probably only a handful of people who truly understood what was happening in the tiny hamlet of Curtisville in 1866. Not far downstream from today's Stockbridge Bowl, a dam and race were being built and a mill was taking shape. That in itself was certainly no big deal. Hundreds of such structures adorned scores of streams and rivers up and down the Housatonic Valley.

The mill race from the dam upstream delivered horsepower to the mill downstream.

But if anyone had seen Friederich Wurtzbach, a newcomer from Germany, installing the machinery inside, it would have left spectators shaking their heads. They didn't know the world of papermaking was about to change forever.

Until just after the Civil War, paper in America was made primarily from rags - cotton and linen - with some other sources of cellulose such as hemp and straw mixed in. With the arrival of peace between the North and the South, the demand for paper skyrocketed. But the supply of raw materials could not keep pace. Papermakers were desperate for  pulp.

The German paper industry had already solved this problem by making paper out of trees. That technology was now on its way to the United States.

From "The Jones Story," here is a remembrance by Carl Wurtzbach of Lee, son of Friederich Wurtzbach. Friederich was an expert papermaker employed by the Pagenstecher brothers, emigrants from Germany.

Alberto Pagenstecher had made some money in railroad construction work in South America and he wrote his nephew Albrecht in this country, asking advice on possible good investments in United States businesses. Albrecht and his brother Rudolph, had just heard about the Voelker (wood pulp) process and its success in Germany. So Albrecht, a shrewd investor, advised that they purchase patent rights to the Voelker process and build a mill in America to manufacture groundwood pulp.

Alfredo came to America and joined his nephews, imported machines from Germany, sought and found the right site, erected a small, wooden mill, bringing from Germany Friederich Wurtzbach to supervise construction and the wood-grinding process. Wurtzbach was a skilled woodworker and before leaving Germany acquainted himself thoroughly with the Voelker process.

After a short period of experimentation, on March 5, 1867, Wurtzbach successfully turned out the first batch of wood pulp ground from native Berkshire poplar.

Wurtzbach never intended to remain in America, but following the success of his pioneer work at Curtisville, he was induced to stay and sent for his wife and three children. He made his home in Lee and lived out a long and useful life as a papermaker.

The great discovery that paper could be made from the nation's plentiful trees was not met with enthusiasm, despite the shortage of traditional raw materials.

Again, from The Jones Story"And neither was it too enthusiastically received in this country, at first. For at this time, introduction of 'foreign matter' into paper made from rags was, more or less, considered shameful adulteration. However, it was tried out; although it is more a matter of local legend if not of history, that the first wagonloads of new pulp which were to be processed in Crow Hollow mill at Lee, were hauled from Curtisville by a roundabout route at night, to keep it from being known that the stuff was used in papermaking.

"Whether this was from a desire to keep it as a possibly valuable industrial secret, or because it was feared it might put a blot on the rag escutcheon of the manufacturer, it is not known. This pulp was processed at the Columbia Mill in Crow Hollow, Lee, under supervision of Wellington Smith. So here on March 18, 1867, was manufactured the first newsprint from wood pulp in America."

After Smith's success became widely known, the Pagenstechers were rushed with orders. They built a second mill in Luzerne, New York, but abandoned it soon afterward for the greater water power to be obtained at Palmer's Falls.

This mill was to become the foundation for the International Paper Co., and it sprouted from a tiny little mill in a tiny little hamlet on The Paper Trail.

Today, a small stone monument, with an original grinding stone and commemorative plaque, mark the site of the original mill. 

To learn more about the Wurtzbachs, the Pagenstechers, Curtisville and the advent of wood pulp in American, you are invited to visit The Stockbridge Library Association Historical Collection, located at 46 Main Street in downtown Stockbridge, Mass., just a couple of doors down from the historic Red Lion Inn. I have spent a couple of very informative sessions there with Curator Barbara Allen. The Library Association has a modest but important collection of materials and artifacts, including a scale model of the first pulp mill.

The Association is also home to the Field family papers. Cyrus Field, a local boy, laid the Transatlantic Cable, and this great innovation is closely tied to The Paper Trail. We'll get to that story later.

If you would like to visit the Association, Barbara is in attendance Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. To view specific collections, please call in advance: (413) 298-5501.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Penmanship and Letter Writing by a Papermaker

I was digging around the Crane archives the other day with Jane Bower from the Wenham (Mass.) Museum. The Museum is hosting an exhibition: Paper Capers: Adventures in Paper Art from Feb. 9 to May 5. I was happy to loan them some really fun items, so put it on your calendar as a must-see.

One of the items lent is a letter written by Zenas Marshall Crane to his future bride Caroline Laflin of nearby Lee, Mass., which was to become the nation's leading papermaking town later in the 19th century. The Laflins were a prominent family in Lee, first as gunpowder manufacturers, then the more reasonable papermaking.

I have long contested that "awkward" penmanship should not be an excuse to avoid putting pen to paper. And I've long advocated being responsible with the amount of paper we use, especially because we tend to print everything that appears on our computer screen.

So, with that as context, here is one of scores of letters from Zenas Marshall Crane to Caroline Laflin during their two-year courtship on paper.

Monday, December 14, 2009

More Machinery and a Paper Industry Mystery

A few years ago, I had a call out of the blue from the caretaker of the mansion in Lenox, Mass., of the late Milos Krofta. Fred had found out that I was interested in papermaking and paper history and suggested he had something that might fit both categories.

He sure did. First, a bit of history. Milos Krofta was a brilliant engineer and entrepreneur originally from Yugoslavia. He became involved in the paper industry there and was in charge of three mills as a young man. With the outbreak of World War II, his mills were confiscated by the Italians and Germans. In 1945, the remaining mill was again confiscated, this time by Communist Russia. When he learned that he was to be arrested as a capitalist enemy of the people, he fled to Trieste and freedom.

For six years, Krofta operated successfully as a consultant in Switzerland and Italy. In 1951, when the war in Korea erupted and the Italian Communist Party made great political gains, the Kroftas immigrated to the United States.

OK, back to Lenox. In Krofta's basement, there was a papermaker's dream: a complete mini paper mill. There was (sorry while I fall into paper-speak) a Voith cycle beater, an automated headbox pulp delivery system, a hydraulically assisted vat, a 100-ton hydraulic press, a pilot plant calender and a drying system that used hot oil - yikes! This stuff was so large, that it had to have been assembled in-place. It was marvelously over-engineered.

I made all sorts of calls to see if I could get anyone to take these machines out of the basement to save them, but alas, they were too big. They are now scrap.

But I did save one thing, and I could use your help solving a bit of a mystery. Here's the machine:

Here's some of its insides:

Here's the identifying label:

So, I know it's a micro paper machine. I sort of guessed that before seeing the label, as there are some recognizable elements inside the machine, albeit quite a bit smaller.

So, what's its history? Did it every work? Are there any others in existence?

So many questions, but one thing is certain: I will get this thing making paper. I'm sure it won't be any time soon, but it will make paper. I could sure use some help.