KLASEY: Local mills made paper from straw | Local news
In an ancient German fairy tale, an imp named Rumpelstiltskin had the ability to turn straw into gold.
In the mid-1800s, operators of two water mills along the Kankakee River also used straw as a raw material, but their end product was paper rather than gold. The older of the two mills, located in Aroma (now Aroma Park), entered production in 1865. The other, located in an imposing stone building at the southern end of the Kankakee Dam, opened. in 1873.
The two factories made two types of materials used in packaging: wrapping paper and a thicker stiff sheet (similar to today’s cardboard) called a straw board. The papermaking process uses a pulp formed by mixing crushed fibers (in this case, straw, then wood) with water. The pulp is then introduced through a movable metal screen, which allows a large part of the water to flow out. The material then passes between rollers which remove most of the remaining water. Additional rollers are used to adjust the thickness of the product (paper or cardboard). After passing through the drying section of the paper machine, the paper is wound into large rolls, while the panels are cut to the desired size.
Interestingly, straw was also the raw material for another type of product made by a factory in Kankakee in the 1860s. While paper mills used straw from wheat, oats or barley, the Home Flax Company transformed the straw from the flax plant into flax yarn and canvas. The company’s factory was located at the northeast corner of Fourth Avenue and River Street.
The Aroma Paper Mill was part of one of the first “industrial parks” on a man-made island on the north side of the Kankakee River. The island had formed in the mid-1850s, when a reach was dug to provide hydraulic power to the ER Beardsley flour mill. In addition to the flour and paper mills, the island was home to a grain elevator, a sawmill, and a wagon-building workshop.
A disaster struck the Aroma paper mill (then known as the Waldron paper mill) on the evening of September 26, 1891. Destroyed, ”the Kankakee Gazette reported. “The fire would have taken from the torch carried by the boy who was oiling the machines, while the hands were at supper. The total loss is $ 30,000. … Fire [also] destroyed eight cars of coal, five empty cars belonging to the Big Four, and about one car of wrapping paper.
“The machines were in good condition and of improved model,” continued the Gazette report. “A year ago, the company was offered $ 24,000 for the mill by the Paper Trust, but refused to sell at that figure. Lately, the mill has operated somewhat erratically, said to be due to dissension among shareholders. It is also reported that the plant has not made any money over the past two years, but the outlook for this fall was encouraging and the owners were looking forward to a more prosperous season.
The newspaper noted: “… the paper mill has been a very important industry in this section. In addition to the $ 5,000 paid annually to farmers for straw, the weekly payroll was $ 200. It is unlikely that the mill will be rebuilt. (The mill was actually rebuilt. It started producing paper and strawboard again in September 1893.)
At the time of the fire, the Waldron factory was owned by a group of three men from Cincinnati, Ohio, and local resident George Blake. They bought it from Kankakee businessman William G. Swannell, who had owned it for several years. Although several sources claim that the mill opened in 1865, the Gazette article stated that it was “established in 1870 by Geo.” W. Moseley for the manufacture of straw panels. In 1872 John Maxwell entered the business and the wrapping paper factory was started.
Just two weeks after the paper mill fire, another local industry suffered a major fire. The large ice house of the Crystal Ice Company (building storing ice taken from the river the previous winter) was completely consumed by the flames. The building was on the north side of the river, a short distance upstream from the Big Four Railroad Bridge. The fire was reported by the bridge guard around 3 a.m.
“The house belonged to Lafayette parties,” the Gazette reported, “and was the last of two erected fifteen years ago. The other was burned a year ago, around the same time of night. There was no doubt that both houses were set on fire, but by whom for what purpose in sight, no one can tell. The present house employed three men permanently, and during the ice harvest, more than 100.
Today there is no visible sign of the cooler or either of the paper mills. The Crystal Ice Company site is now a residential area, while the Kankakee paper mill has been replaced by a power plant. The island where the Waldron paper mill once stood is no longer an island – the mill canal was filled in many years ago; two parks, a residence and a fire station replaced the industrial buildings that had been there for many years.