Thursday, November 12, 2015

The Riegel Paper Mill

This massive paper mill was built along the banks of the Delaware River in what was then Holland Township. The area was mostly farmland, next to which new Riegel Paper Mill seemed a monolith. Sitting on the better part of 70 acres of land, the mill was quite beneficial for the township.


Completed in 1907, the mill would immediately become the largest supplier of jobs for the small town. The complex consisted of the main production facility, a power plant, a "coating" facility, several dozen houses built for the workers of the mill and a 35 acre aeration pond in nearby Alexandria.


In 1911, the section of Holland Township where the mill sat was renamed Milford. It wasn't named for the Riegel Mill however, but rather a gristmill further into town.


Though the mill started out with dozens of nearby houses for its 75 employees, varying in size and architectural style, a few of them would be demolished over the years. This started in the early 1960's, when several houses along Delaware avenue were demolished to create parking.


As the years progressed, so did the Riegel Company. The coating facility, rumored to be the oldest buildings on site, focused on specialized compounded resins used for certain types of paper products. The main mill area would focus on food based applications for paper. It would go on to be operated by the Riegel Paper Corporation well into the 1970's. At its peak, the mill employed around 700 people.


In 1976, the Riegel Paper Corporation was acquired by the James River Paper Corporation, and in 1978 the Riegel family officially sold the last of their stock in the company. James River Papers was buying up paper manufacturing properties left and right. Half a decade later, they would be declared the largest paper corporation in the world. You may recognize the company for such products as Brawny paper towels and Dixie cups.


Sometime between the late 1980's and the early 1990's, several more houses along Delaware avenue were removed. This wave of demolition left only one brick Victorian house on that particular stretch of road.


The James River corporation continued to operate the Milford Mill under its main brand name until 1995. At this time, a new division of the company was crated to focus specifically on the company's printing and writing contracts, as well as the specialty papers the mill was always known for.


An economic downturn in Asia caused the entire paper market to begin to dwindle. By 1998, the company had been experiencing significantly diminishing profits for three consecutive years. To supplement this, imported paper was being imported for far cheaper than the costs of manufacturing it in the United States.


Three additional years later, Crown Vantage went bankrupt and sold the mill to the Curtis Paper company.


The Curtis Paper company would be the last group to occupy the massive structure, manufacturing specialty paper for several different companies and applications. They wound up leaving the building entirely in 2003, they having gone bankrupt like Crown Vantage before them. Though the mill was once the largest employer in the town, it was now leaving 213 employees without jobs.


The building was sold to International Papers & Georgia Pacific, who wanted some of the machinery and manufacturing equipment. Everything the company didn't want would eventually be auctioned off, leaving the massive building mostly empty.


The EPA investigations at the site mostly began in 2007, when the group installed a large fence and hired a security guard to watch the massive site. By 2008 the group announced plans to designate the property a "superfund site".


In 2009, the mill was added to the federal list of most polluted properties in the United States. Numerous chemical spills occurred at the site, and the heavy machinery on site meant that there were tons of polychlorinated biphenyls present. Its location right on the banks of the Delaware River meant that the site was a major priority for cleanup.


Thankfully, by 2012, the EPA announced a statement that cleanup at the site was more than three quarters of the way complete. This included demolition of the historic Coating facility, which was completed by 2013, and soil and asbestos remediation. However, the main mill buildings would go on to only be partially gutted, and not torn down.


Who knows what the future will hold for the former Riegel paper mill. Now that the main building has been completely remediated, it could be demolished at any time. As with many other cases, we will just have to wait and see.


18 comments:

  1. Grew up in one of the mill houses and still live in one was a great place to grow up

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  2. This is an amazing scar on our area. Why is it that the paper mill in Kintnersville on the PA side of the river was remediated and cleaned up within a year or two, and this mess has been staining the Jersey community for decades? Shame on the criminals who left it like this. Shame on the town for not pushing more to get rid of the eyesore and cleaning up the pollutants.

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    1. Not to worry, sooner or later some developer will come along and built luxury riverside condos there. As an attorney for one NJ builder put it "In NJ, we build on polluted land all the time!"

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  3. Thank you Riegel Paper Co. for giving Joe Chavar and I a great 71 year career between us.
    Between the two of us we worked at all four mills (Milford, Riegelsville, Hughesville, and Warren).
    The paper mills were bought and sold nine times before they eventually split the upper mills away.
    It is a shame that the area has to put up with such an eyesore in Milford, Hughesville and Warren Glen.

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  4. My dad was Lester Kunsman. He started at the Warren Glen mill. I was fortunate to have the experience of being a child to live in one of those mill houses. This brought back such wonderful memories. Much latter in his career dad transferred to the Milford plant. He was force to take an early retirement due to a heart condition. Thank you for this story.

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    1. where in warren glen did you live?my family all work there.my grandfather was plant manager..its a shame hat Holland township counsil does use the warren glen mill as a museum like Bethlehem steel.

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  5. Some corrections to information, International Paper & Georgia Pacific are two of the largest paper companies in the world and competitors. They jointly bought the mill due to pressure from the EPA. As mentioned, during the hundred years of mill operation the facility was sold several times and those companies were merged or sold and somehow both IP and GP became involved and therefore liable. To their credit they did agree to buy the facility and it is there money, estimated to be up to $20 million, that is being spent to clean it up. The good news for Milford is that the pollution wasn't nearly as bad as originally estimated and most of it was localized at the northern end by the coatings plant. After several years of extensive work there the EPA is very close to finalizing the clean up plan. This hundred acres of property, which currently looks so bad, has the potential of being one of the most beautiful spots on the Delaware River and the town is working toward redeveloping that area.

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  6. Not fair to criticize Milford officials. The Borough council has struggled for decades to get the place cleaned up and recoup the unpaid property taxes. Blame federal policies and greedy corporations that sent those jobs to Asia in the first place.

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    1. With most projects like this the local, state and federal government were slow to react. That being said, they have worked hard to get the clean up going, completed soon and a reuse there. As a result of IP & GP purchasing the property all property taxes are paid. The assessed value and, therefore, property taxes are only a fraction of what they use to be. The federal government through the EPA is in charge of the clean up. The mill made special paper used for things like food wrapping and that equipment was sold and moved to South America. The same papers are now made on the same machines but now in a location that has little if any environmental concerns.

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  7. Worked at milford for 33 years. Riegel supported my grandfather's family, my dad's family, and my family. My daughter worked there for 1 year b4 it closed. 4 generations!! It was a great place to work!

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    1. My father worked for Riegel in NYC for many years and would occasionally take me out to the mill. I thought it was awesome.

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    2. My father worked for Riegel in NYC for many years and would occasionally take me out to the mill. I thought it was awesome.

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  8. What is the status of the take down of the structure? Is there any talk of that being planned or in the works? Milford is a beautiful river town with one major eyesore and I believe a hindrance to its revitalization, the paper mill.

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  9. I know of a wrist watch with an inscription on the back of it. It has the Riegel Paper Corp., the year 1970 and a persons name also. Does anyone know of the history of this or similar watches given away by the company?

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  10. They used to give you a watch when you retired. My great grandfather was boss machine tender and lived in the big house. My grandmother would bring him lunch when she was young. She passed a few years ago after her 100th birthday. I worked there for ten years.

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