For Holyoke, paper brought prosperity

Published Wednesday, May 31, 2006 in the Holyoke Plus section in The Republican.Go to www.masslive.com for more interesting stories.

Paper. Oh, that wonderful pliable commodity. Not the principle source of income for the citizens of Holyoke in the mid- to late 1800s, but certainly one of the most important. For centuries paper was handmade, which was a time consuming and cumbersome endeavor until clever industrialists capitalized on the ability to use paper-making machines and the ample waterpower supplied by a dam that fed multiple canals. They also benefited from having a massive labor force from Ireland, Canada, Italy and Poland to manufacture some of the most beautiful paper in the world. It was estimated that 90 percent of the country bought their paper from Holyoke at this time.

They made the paper by separating fibres in wood or cotton, then rearranged them and compacted them into thin sheets. The technique was to suspend the fibres in water in a tank then dip out a little of the mixture with a shallow screen box. The water running out through the screen would leave the fibres deposited in a layer on the screen’s inner surface from which it could be lifted intact than pressed, dried, and perhaps coated.

Henry Fourdrinier of Britain in the early 1860s designed a paper-making machine that used a wheel to make paper faster and easier. The process of felting was achieved by passing an endless fine mesh screen belt over two rolls and permitting the mixture to pass through the screen between them. The wet sheet thus formed was then picked up on a moving belt and carried to rollers where the water was removed. The paper came off the rolls in an endless belt. The Fourdrinier machine modernized papermaking worldwide, according to Wyatt Harper’s 1948 book, "The Story of Holyoke."

By 1866, paper mills were a force with which to be reckoned. Its no wonder that Holyoke has been called the "The Paper City." By 1873, 14 mills would be producing 40 tons of paper a day. By 1890, there were 25 paper mills, employing 3,500 people. The mills were estimated to have earned $11 million dollars in that year alone.

Currently, two paper companies in Holyoke are still flourishing. Aaron Bagg, George Fowler and Joseph Parsons founded the Hampden Glazed Paper and Card Co. in 1880. The same Joseph Parsons who founded Parsons Paper Co. 27 years earlier.

In 1973, the company became known as Hamden Paper Co. The Fowler family bought out most of the stock over the years. Today it’s still going strong with sales of $30 million, employs 155 full time employees and it services over 80 distinct products globally.

Another successful paper company that still resides in Holyoke is the Hazen Paper Co., established in 1925 by John N. Hazen and his wife Maria (weis).

Today it specializes in paper-decorating techniques such as laminating holographic films to paper and paperboard as well as gravure printing and coating and decorative embossing. Hazens papers are used in packaging such as cosmetics, golf balls and DVD's. They also manufacture scratch lottery tickets.

In 1853, Joseph C. Parsons, and Aaron Bagg founded Parsons Paper Co. Things did not go well at first when they tried to purchase waterpower from the Hadley Falls Co. They were told they did not care to fund an industry that could not succeed. Holyoke at the time was mostly textile mills. Parsons collaborated with a gristmill owner allowing his paper mill to be built and water supplied. Obviously, the Hadley Falls Co. miscalculated the importance of manufacturing paper at the time, according to Harper’s work.

Parsons Paper closed its doors in 2004 after 153 years. Holyoke resident, Kathleen Mangan who worked at the Parsons Paper Co. in the finishing room for 38 years, remembers Dr. Baggs, a descendant of the original owners being exceptionally kind to the employees. She also remembers how dangerous the work could be on the floor of the factory. She says she witnessed a fellow employee almost losing his arm; luckily one of his fellow workers pulled his arm out of a massive paper-rolling machine before he was severely injured.

The paper industry was an extraordinary force that changed not only the landscape of Holyoke but also the lives of so many famished immigrants. The mills allowed them to prosper and grow in a country they had only dreamed about. There lives were extremely hard at times, but their rewards were tangible as Holyoke assured these hardworking people that they would survive—survive and excel in the great city of Holyoke.

In the next issue, read about the many paper companies and their incredible founders that made Holyoke prosper.

© 2006 The Republican. All rights reserved. Used with permission