Ballston Spa Life
Paper mill in Rock City Falls has long history
Ballston Spa Life
The Cottrell Paper Company in Rock City Falls is the last functioning paper mill in the town of Milton. The Cottrell family purchased the mill over 80 years ago, but some of the buildings date back to 1859 that have been in nearly continuous use.
The mill, located at the intersection of Route 29 and Rock City Road, was originally built as a gristmill in 1845 by Isaac Rowland Jr., who then sold it to Buchanan & Kilmer in 1852. It was then known as the Big Falls Mill, and later called Kilmer’s Stone Mill, named after Chauncey Kilmer. He remodeled the gristmill after parts of it were destroyed by fire and greatly enlarged its capacity.
Kilmer and his partner Coe Buchanan became interested in using straw to produce paper, which at the time was a new technology. After many discouraging experiments, Kilmer finally succeeded in producing a quantity of straw paper which was used to print the Saratoga Whig. The success of his experiments spread, and soon he was contacted by the New York Sun to supply its newsprint. The successful newspaper required three and a half tons of paper daily, amounting to $125,000 per year.
In time, Kilmer took his grandson Clarence Kilmer into partnership with him, and the mill continued its great success. For many years the mill kept 60 men employed and four teams of horses busy making the trip to Ballston Spa. The elder Kilmer spent summers in New York City to manage some interests there, leaving his grandson to run the mill as well as a 150 acre farm.
Although the mill had run successfully for many years, advances in technology left it behind. The new sulphite process was coming into use by 1890, which required much larger machines. In 1897 it was purchased by the American Pergament Company and fitted with new machinery to manufacture waterproof paper. The company was not able to run the mill profitably and decided to sell it, a decision helped by a fire that burned down several buildings on the mill property in January 1900.
In 1901 the mill was purchased by the Union Waxed & Parchment Paper Company to make wax paper. This company lasted only a few years. In 1910 the mill was leased to the Moran-Chalfant Paper Company which operated under the name Big Falls Paper Company. The plant was used to manufacture boxboard for the Leggett Box Company of Troy, New York.
A fire that started in the boiler room threatened to destroy the historic mill in September 1918. The pumping plant was one of the first buildings to be put out of commission, so the workmen were helpless to fight the fire. Chief Bush and 20 members of the Union Fire Company responded at once, arriving from Ballston Spa on a special trolley of the Kaydeross Railroad with 1,000 feet of hose. Chief Shadwick arrived from Saratoga Springs with the combination engine. The combined fire companies were able to bring the flames under control, limiting the destruction to the boiler room and a storage room to the rear.
After World War I the mill came into the hands of the Hercules Paper Company, and became known for several years as the Hercules Paper Mill. The company did not long survive a fire in its boiler room in October 1920. Within months of Hercules shutting down it was taken over by Kaydeross Paper, but the company couldn’t sustain a profitable operation. In 1926 the site came under its final owner, the Cottrell Paper Company, which continues to operate it to the present.
Excerpts from this article were taken from Tim Starr’s 2007 book “Lost Industries of the Kaydeross Valley,” which is available at the Brookside Museum. For more information, please visit www.historyofsaratoga.com.