Ballston Spa Life
History Lesson: Saratoga County Paper Mills
Ballston Spa Life
BALLSTON SPA — The presence of seemingly endless acres of forests in the Adirondacks and direct links to New York City via railroad and canal made Saratoga County, and particularly the town of Milton, one of the premier paper-making regions in the country during the mid-1800s.
Paper-making in the United States was not an established industry until before the Civil War. By 1854 there were 750 paper mills in the country producing 250 million pounds of paper at an average of ten cents a pound. Almost all paper was made from cotton rags, as converting wood to paper had not yet been perfected. This severely limited the number of paper mills that could exist, since most rags were imported from Europe and had to be shipped from far-away harbors.
Throughout the early 1800s most paper was produced by hand. The solution to the problem of making paper from cheap raw materials was finally solved in 1840 by the introduction of the ground wood process of pulp making, used by several local pulp mills, and ten years later the first use of a chemical pulp process, to be used by the Glen Sulphite Mill outside Ballston Spa.
The nature of the pulp determines the type of paper that is produced. For example, the use of straw created a suitable paper for newspapers, as was provided by Kilmer’s Mill of Rock City Falls. Cotton rags were used to produce paper collars and cuffs, which gave them more strength and durability. Both the Eagle Mill and the Glen Paper Collar Company used cotton rags for the production of collars until they went out of style and the supply of cotton was cut off in the Civil War. Most of the paper mills of George West used leaves from the plantain family to create manila paper for the production of paper bags.
Once the techniques of making paper from wood and straw had advanced enough to become profitable and mills could gather their own raw materials (chiefly by cutting down trees), paper mills in Saratoga County began to flourish. Several were established along the Kayaderosseras before 1850. One of the first paper mills in Saratoga County was built in Middle Grove by John James in 1836. Chauncey Kilmer built the second paper mill in 1840 on the site later occupied by Empire Mill in Rock City Falls. About six years later he constructed another mill a short distance to the east that became known as the Stone Mill, only the second in the country to produce paper from straw. Lindley Crane purchased the mill above Factory Village in 1845 which would later become known as Eagle Mill. Cady Hollister also built a paper mill around this time on the site that would become best known as National Mill. The establishment of all of these paper mills at such an early date illustrates the ideal conditions for these enterprises along the Kayaderosseras, and paved the way for entrepreneurs like George West to establish his operations there.
By 1865 there were seven paper mills in or near Ballston Spa – four devoted to printing paper and three to wrapping, paper collars, and tissue paper. The number of paper mills concentrated in such a small area was unusual because the practice of paper-making from wood products was still relatively new. Only a few sections of the country, such as parts of Massachusetts, had a greater concentration of paper mills than the town of Milton.
At an 1878 paper trade convention held
in Saratoga Springs, a report was made of the capacity of the paper mills for
the country. For writing paper, Holyoke, Massachusetts led with seven mills
producing 55 tons per day. For news printing paper, Saratoga County had the lead
with 14˝ tons per day, more than double that of any other county. In the
production of manila paper, the mills of George West were producing nine tons
per day, about one-third of the total daily production of the entire nation.
Excerpted from the book “Lost Industries of the Kaydeross Valley,” available only at the Brookside Museum on Charlton Street, Ballston Spa. For more information, call 885-4000 or see www.HistoryOfSaratoga.com.