The Berkshire area was at one time home to more than 50 paper mills, 26 of which were in the town of Lee.
Paper Town Projects was established as a 401 c (3) in 2008 to document the work of remaining six Lee mills at a time when it seemed they might all close. The two companies that owned them closed all but one, and put the last remaining mill, the oldest, up for sale.
The immediate goal of Paper Town Projects was to document paper making in all types of jobs within the paper mills.
The project had early support from Housatonic Heritage, Mass Humanities, the High Meadow Foundation, and individuals. Paper Town conducted more than 30 interviews with paper makers, townspeople, and others in businesses related to paper. PTP also went into schools in Lee, to include students in the process of gathering archival photos and hand paper making.
A pause in the project gave us time to consider its future, its purpose, and how the stories might be told and preserved…
Now, in 2022, the entire project will move to the Housatonic Heritage Oral History Center, where the digitally recorded interviews will be cared for and archived (with the University of Massachusetts), and where stewardship, research, and interviewing will continue.
In 2023-2024, the Berkshire Museum will curate a show with parts of interviews and related materials, including paper itself.
Several stories will be told, including those of the Schweitzer Mauduit plant, which closed in 2008, and the newer stories of Onyx Specialty Papers in South Lee, where two employees bought and now operate the mills owned by Mead Westvaco.
Paper has a rich history in this region, where former R&D director for Schweitzer Mauduit Bill Selke said its manufacture represents “the height of the art and science of paper.”
(Photo above, Walter Defreest of Lee created a model of the Eagle Mill building for us, and here you see his hand as he began to draw. Judith Monachina)