The short life and long legacy of the Oregon City Paper Manufacturing Company

In 1951 the American Pulp and Paper Mill Superintendents' Association unveiled near the site of the Pioneer Paper Mill a memorial plaque, which declared: "Near this spot on the east bank of the Willamette River during the early part of 1867, W.W. Buck and Associates placed into operation the first paper mill in the State of Oregon."

PHOTO COURTESY: CLACKAMAS COUNTY HISTORICAL SOCIETY - In the late summer or fall of 1867 Carleton Watkins left us the only picture of the Pioneer Paper Mill, just after its closure.One hopes that Buck was even allowed to attend this inaugural papermaking of the Pacific Northwest, on Jan. 10, 1867. In the roughly 30 days leading up to that date, Buck had taken a hard fall. Having borne the major responsibility for the purchase of a used, inadequate paper machine, as well as for its deficient installation, Buck lost his position of construction superintendent on Dec. 6, 1866, and his presidency of the Oregon City Paper Manufacturing Co. (OCPMC) on Jan. 3, 1867, a mere week before the celebratory manufacturing event. (See, "The mythic machine of W.W. Buck," Oregon City News, July 19, 2017.)

Records from the era emit a sense of mutiny on the part of stockholders and directors frustrated with months of problems and delays that had beset the company since the hopeful Dedication Ball held Oct. 11, 1866. And, despite J.R. Ralston's nominal succession to the presidency of the firm, it was in fact the steamboat captain J.D. Miller, secretary and treasurer, who emerged as the true power and moving force of the enterprise. In sending courtesy samples of the first batch of paper to various newspaper editors, Miller made clear that he, not PHOTO COURTESY: LEWIS & DRYDEN - J.D. Miller: Supervised the Pacific Northwest's first paper production.   W.W. Buck, was in charge. "We received a letter yesterday from Capt. James D. Miller, Secretary of the Paper Mill Company at Oregon City," wrote the Oregon Daily Herald on Jan. 13, "accompanying which was a half ream of straw paper, manufactured under his supervision."

Celebration masks trouble

The broad public likely knew little of the OCPMC's internal dissension, but clearly papermaking was taking longer than expected to start. So, when it did, the bottled up anticipation, uncorked, exploded in excitement. "We have at last paper of Oregon manufacture!" the Oregon City Enterprise, finally, could exclaim on Jan. 12. "The works of the company were started on Thursday, and turned out as good quality of wrapping paper as can be made of the same material anywhere." Likewise, Oregon City citizens let loose in celebration, reported the Oregonian – tongue firmly in cheek:

"Paper on the Brain.—Since the paper mill at Oregon City actually commenced operations, the good people of that little burg have, apparently, all gone wild on the paper question. It is said they talk about paper, dream about paper, write letters on Oregon City paper, use it for table spreads and counterpanes, paint signs on it—in short; have paper on the brain. [T]he day the first was made…will be hereafter, we suppose, a grand gold anniversary day with all true Tum Water tillicums."

Behind the façade of celebration, however, was a troubled operation. Two Oregonian reports revealed that even at the mill's inauguration the paper machinery was as yet inadequate to generate a fully-finished sheet of paper. On Jan. 12: "The paper has not been submitted to pressure and is, consequently, rough in surface…" On the 14th:

"Oregon City Paper.—We are indebted to Capt. J.D. Miller, Secretary of the [OCPMC], for a bundle of the paper made at the mills…accompanied [by] the following note — 'I send you half a ream of wrapping paper, the first made at Oregon City. We have not yet got fairly under way. No press or trimming knife ready; so you will please excuse the clumsy appearance of the paper. Yours, etc…' The paper sent, if pressed and trimmed, would be very superior in appearance as well as in texture."

Judge Matthew P. Deady, also a correspondent for the San Francisco Bulletin, wrote, "There is now lying before me a sheet of straw paper, a sample of the first effort…It still lacks some part of the finishing process for the want of proper machinery." He wryly commented, "As some of our strong spoken rustics would say, 'it is tremenjous strong stuff,' and if well sized and oiled would make good wagon covers or tents."

In early February, an Oregonian reporter wrote of a visit to Oregon City, "We also visited the paper mill, but unfortunately some part of the machinery was out of repair and we did not see it in operation."

A company statement of accounts contained in court records reveals a stark, profound fact: Between Dec. 6, 1866 — the day the mill was originally supposed to open but which instead turned into a "fiasco" and led to Buck's loss of his construction superintendent position — and March 31, 1867, the OCPMC spent, in 1860s dollars, $3223.87 for "Repairing and Changing Machinery." This amount almost precisely matches a $3226.50 loan from Ladd & Tilton Bank, and repaid. The paper machine not only cost the OCMPC money: it also delayed the commencement of production that would have brought the firm income.

The Bloch, Miller & Co. bailout

J.D. Miller did his best to keep the ship afloat. On February 23, the OCPMC rendered a promissory note for $289.00 to an apparently-unrelated pair of Millers, George and Thomas, dba Miller Bros., San Francisco junk dealers who had been shipping primary materials like rags, rope, and ships sails to the OCPMC since as early as mid-November 1866. At some point both J.D. Miller and another original promoter, Jacob Wortman, extended personal funds to the OCPMC, for $2662.87 and $699.31, respectively. Most significantly, J.D. Miller secured a cash bailout from his younger brother Charles S. Miller, and Charles' business partner in The Dalles, Abraham I. Bloch.

ADVERTISEMENT FROM THE DALLES DAILY MOUNTAINEER OF NOV. 7, 1865 - This advertisement shows Bloch, Miller & Co. partners C.S. Miller, future co-owner of the Pioneer Paper Mill, Sigmund Schwabacher, future co-founder of the Crown Paper Co., and Isaac F. Bloch, whose youngest son Louis would consolidate most of the Pacific Northwest paper industry.C.S. Miller was a prodigy of the Pacific Northwest mining industry. In 1861 the Argus reported the 25 year-old Miller returning to Oregon City with $10,000 in gold dust from mines near Fort Colville, Washington Territory. In the late 1850s he had established in The Dalles, with partner John B. Price, the firm Price, Miller & Co., which engaged in both mining and merchandising – for example, outfitting miners' pack trains.

In 1860, C.S. Miller and J.B. Price associated with a remarkable constellation of pioneer Jewish merchants: brothers Aaron and Leon Cahn, from the Alsace region of France, brothers Isaac F. and Henry F. Bloch, from the town of Floss, Bavaria, and the aforementioned A.I. Bloch, unrelated to Isaac and Henry, but also from Floss. In 1861, I.F. Bloch bought out Price's interest, and the remaining six partners adopted the name Bloch, Miller & Co. A.I. Bloch soon thereafter left the partnership to form a mercantile house with his brother-in-law David Falk, and Isaac and Henry Bloch's three nephews Louis, Abraham, and Sigmund Schwabacher entered the Cahn-Bloch-Miller orbit.

The historian Fred Lockley interviewed a former employee, Colonel Henry Dosch, who described the Bloch, Miller & Co. of 1864 to be within a larger consortium, A. Cahn & Co., and recounted the latter's broad geographic reach:

"A. Cohn [sic: Cahn] & Company were operating seven stores…H.F. Bloch was the head of the firm…Their store in San Francisco was known as A. [Cahn] & Company. They also operated one in Portland under the same name…Their store in The Dalles was known as Bloch, Miller & Company. They operated one in Walla Walla under the name of Schwabacher Brothers and the name of their Boise store was Schwabacher Brothers & Frank. They also had a store in Placerville and one in Colville…In 1864, when I started to work for Bloch, Miller & Company, they had the only stone building in Oregon and also the largest store in the state. We handled general merchandise and miners' supplies and we also operated a warehouse for transferring goods by pack trains to the mines."

The consortium was structured through interlocking partnerships, with partners coming and going over time. For example, Aaron Cahn and I.F. Bloch were partners in Schwabacher Bros. An 1865 Bloch, Miller & Co. ad in The Dalles Daily Mountainer showed C.S. Miller, I.F. Bloch, and Sigmund Schwabacher as the remaining partners, and Miller managing an assay office, in which gold dust was melted into bars. (Schwabacher also served as Secretary of The Dalles & Owyhee Gold & Silver Quartz Mining Co., one of numerous mining companies Miller incorporated in 1864.) However, in 1866, the consortium dissolved. In April, I.F. Bloch and Aaron Cahn withdrew from Schwabacher Bros. In August, after the death of Leon Cahn, A. Cahn & Co. dissolved.

By the spring of 1867, when J.D. Miller reached out to his brother C.S. Miller for bailout cash for the Pioneer Paper Mill, I.F. Bloch and C.S. Miller were the only partners left in Bloch, Miller & Co. If C.S. Miller ever asked his partner to join in the bailout, I.F. Bloch's better business judgment likely led him to respond with the 1867 equivalent of "You're out of your %*[email protected] mind!"

But, their former partner Abraham I. Bloch appeared primed to take the leap from merchant to industrialist: in 1866 he and David Falk had been incorporators with Joseph Teal, a future promoter of the Willamette Falls Locks, of a failed first attempt to establish a woolen mills in The Dalles. Around March 1, 1867, C.S. Miller and A.I. Bloch purchased stock from existing OCPMC shareholders. That may have been the proverbial straw for I.F. Bloch: on April 11, 1867, there appeared in the Oregonian a small legal notice announcing that I.F. Bloch and C.S. Miller had dissolved Bloch, Miller & Co. on April 1. In the same column, a few spaces down, appeared a second legal notice announcing that A.I. Bloch and C.S. Miller had formed a new partnership by the exact same name, Bloch, Miller & Co., on April 2.

In addition to having purchased stock, C.S. Miller extended the firm $6373.30, with which it paid off existing debt for labor and materials. A.I. Bloch extended only $378.67 in cash; more consequentially — in a decision he likely soon regretted — he guaranteed the original 1866 $10,000 construction loan from the Bank of British Columbia. At a stockholders meeting on April 18, 1867, the OCPMC reduced its number of directors from five to three, and elected Bloch, and J.D. and C.S. Miller to these positions. The directors in turn elected J.D. Miller president, Bloch vice-president, and A.J. Apperson secretary.

A glimmer of success, then collapse

As the spring of 1867 progressed, the OCPMC began to give appearances of a going concern. By early March, it was employing "about 14 men and women." Its first advertisement appeared in the Enterprise on March 23. On March 27, just as it was completing the machinery upgrades, it shipped a first sample of 10 bales of paper to San Francisco on the steamer Ajax. The Bulletin wrote on April 2, "Samples of straw [wrapping paper], manufactured at the Oregon City Paper Mill, have been received; the quality is pronounced equal to any imported from the East."

The Oregonian published freight lists of steamboats arriving at Portland from Oregon City. As of Jan. 14, 1867 these included the number of bales of wrapping paper. In addition, the Oregonian published monthly cumulative statistics of various types of produce shipped to Portland from the Willamette Valley by steamboat. The charts show a steady increase in paper shipments through the spring: January, 35 bales; February, 56; March, 247; April, 319.

However, in May the OCPMC hit yet another rough patch, in trying to reach a milestone: production of a second type of paper. On May 13, the Oregonian wrote,

"Oregon Paper. – The paper mill at Oregon City is about to take a step forward. The machinery has been improved so much that 75 to 80 reams of wrapping paper per day are only an easy day's work and its rapid production has accumulated a pretty good stock beyond immediate requirements. Some time during the present week, the machinery will be started on Manila paper."

But the start on manila took another four weeks, and the Oregonian reported only 22 bales of wrapping paper shipped during the entire month. May's one bright spot: a shipment of a single sample bale of wrapping paper to Victoria, British Columbia.

By June, the creditors were circling again. On June 11 the OCPMC issued a promissory note in the amount of $721 to W.W. and Heman Buck.

Otherwise, in retrospect the OCPMC in June seems like a star dying in a supernova. The Oregonian reported a record 468 bales of paper shipped by steamboat from Oregon City to Portland. The firm sent three separate shipments of paper to San Francisco, and it was reaching markets in "all parts of Oregon and Idaho." Production was so intense that the firm began to run out of primary materials. Court records contain three letters from June in which J.D. Miller urgently requested rope and burlap shipments from the Portland agent of San Francisco's Miller Bros. The last, dated June 18, reads:

"Dear Sir, If you have not telegraphed already for stock to be sent by the coming steamer please telegraph for Miller Bros. to send all they can by the steamer if you think they will get your dispatch in time to ship before she sails. I do not know when she leaves Frisco. You can perhaps find out by their agent in Portland. Yours Respectfully, J.D. Miller for O.C. P. Mfg. Co."

And then — again — the paper machine…

The Oregonian reported on June 25: "Stopped.—The paper mill at Oregon City has ceased work for the present to repair machinery."

One can almost hear the POP!clankclankclank…clank…clank……clank……clank………clank………………clank, followed by the wild shrieks of a crazed J.D. Miller as he smashed the accursed paper machine with a sledgehammer.


That didn't actually happen. It was not a sledgehammer but a judge's gavel that came down on the operations of the Pioneer Paper Mill. On July 2, 1867, the Bank of British Columbia filed suit against the OCPMC and A.I. Bloch to foreclose on its loan. This suit set off a frenzy of debt collection litigation by the OCPMC's other creditors: the Bucks, C.S. Miller, A.I. Bloch, the San Francisco Miller Bros., and the blacksmith John W. Lewis, the paper mill building's main contractor.

It took well into 1868 to sort out claim priorities and hold sheriff sales to try to satisfy these claims. A.I. Bloch paid off his obligation to the bank by buying the paper mill building at auction for $14,000 on Sept. 7, 1867. After three postponements due a lack of any bidders, Sheriff Burns on Jan. 2, 1868 finally sold the ill-fated paper machine at auction to the sole bidders, the San Francisco Miller Bros., for $50.00. The evidentiary trail on the paper machine's ultimate fate thereafter grows cold, but its sale to junk dealers might be a clue.

A different lawsuit was papered with heavy irony. W.W. Buck, whose early choice of machinery, and his installation of it, had sown the seeds of the company's failure, assembled a faction of stockholders to sue A.I. Bloch, and J.D. and C.S. Miller, for fraud and mismanagement. The case languished until finally dismissed in 1872.


The Pioneer Paper Mill, first in the Pacific Northwest, might more importantly be considered the parent of the region's dominant papermaking firms of the 20th century, via three lines of descent.

The first and most well-known line leads to the Columbia River Paper Co. On June 18, 1867, even before the first mill's closure, W.W. and Heman Buck – while still stockholders of the OCPMC – formed the partnership H.L. Pittock & Co. with the Oregonian publisher. Buck enlisted Pioneer Paper Mill alumni such as millwright A.M. Harding and carpenter W.H. Smith for a new mill built on the site of the Bucks' sawmill on a mill race that cut through Heman's Donation Land Claim along the Clackamas River. It was W.W. Buck's third paper mill effort in three years, after the Oregon Paper Manufacturing Co. in 1865 with the Pennsylvanian E.T. Garrett (see, "The Quaker Papermaker," OC News, May 26, 2017), and the OCPMC in 1866.

Buck learned from past mistakes. Instead of a used paper machine, H.L. Pittock & Co. bought a new one capable of producing a variety of paper types, including newsprint, from Rice, Barton & Co. of Worcester, Massachusetts. The firm hired an "experienced papermaker in charge," William Lewthwaite, superintendent of the 1856 Taylor Mill in California, first on the West Coast. In 1871 Lewthwaite and others formed the Clackamas Paper Manufacturing Co. and leased the mill; Smith became the principal machine tender. In 1875, management dissension again reared its head: Heman Buck fell out with Pittock, and sued to have H.L. Pittock & Co. dissolved. In 1884 Pittock, Lewthwaite, and the Portland bookseller J.K. Gill organized the Columbia River Paper Co. Lewthwaite and Smith moved up to La Camas, Washington for the 1885 opening of a new mill. The day after the Clackamas mill closed on November 5, 1886, its replacement in La Camas burned down. So, Pittock's company continued to operate the Clackamas mill well into 1887 while it rebuilt the La Camas mill. The firm moved the Clackamas mill machinery to La Camas to supplement the new machinery. The La Camas mill expanded over the decades, and still operates – now under the ownership of Georgia Pacific Co.

The second line of descent, less direct, runs through flour mills to the Hawley Pulp & Paper Co. In 1868, A.I. Bloch sold the Pioneer Paper Mill building – soon to be known as the "Brick Mill" — to his OCPMC partner J.D. Miller, who with George Marshall and Charles P. Church converted it into a flour mill known as the Oregon City Mills. This mill's flour won a medal at the 1876 Centennial celebration in Philadelphia, after which Miller bought out first Marshall then Church; the latter formed the firm Sibson & Church, grain dealers. Miller then took on his son-in-law James S. Cochran as partner in J.D. Miller & Co., but Miller experienced a very painful déjà vu when in 1879 Judge Deady's gavel fell on the Oregon City Mills in the loan foreclosure suit by its main creditor, the British Bank of North America: stricken badly, Miller was reported "lying ill at his residence in Oregon City." Cochran and his father John W. — the first steamboat captain to have ascended the Willamette River to Eugene, in 1857 — bought the mill in 1880 for a nominal $5,000 and continued milling flour.

In 1882, J.S. Cochran, Sibson & Church, William M. Ladd (son of banker William S. Ladd) and others formed the Oregon City Flouring Mills Co. to purchase and run the Brick Mill. Just after also buying the Imperial Mills, the OCFM (and Sibson & Church) collapsed in the panic of 1884, then was absorbed into its sister firm, the Portland Flouring Mills Co. The latter evolved into a global empire, due to the talents of Theodore B. Wilcox. (See "OC's birth to an empire: The Portland Flouring Mills," OC News, Jan. 8, 2014). Wilcox and W.M. Ladd used its accumulated capital to finance and co-own Willard Hawley's 1908 Hawley Pulp & Paper Co., and contributed the Imperial and Brick Mills to the effort; Hawley converted the Brick Mill back into a paper mill — No. 2 Paper Machine — in 1910. After decades of growth, Hawley Pulp & Paper sold out to Publishers Paper in 1948. (See "The Beginning of Blue Heron: Mr. Hawley's Mill," OC News, Feb. 5, 2014.) Publishers became Smurfit Newsprint Corp. in 1986, which in turn became Blue Heron Paper Co. in 2000. Blue Heron closed in 2011.

The third line of descent — the most attenuated — also runs through flour, to the Crown Paper Co. C.S. Miller's former Bloch, Miller & Co. partner, Sigmund Schwabacher, was the most dynamic of the Schwabacher Bros. The latter firm built a Walla Walla granary in 1869, became a major grain dealer after 1870, and likely sold wheat to J.D. Miller's Oregon City Mills. In fact, Schwabacher Bros. and an early chief miller of the Oregon City Mills, James Welsh, established the Eureka flour mill in Walla Walla in 1878. In 1881, they sold this mill to a group that included, of all people, C.P. Church of Sibson & Church and…J.D. Miller! Miller sold his interest in 1883 and purchased a half-interest in the North West Flouring Mills, which in 1884, by Miller's own account, "closed up on account of failure of Sibson, Church and Company, our agents in Portland." J.D. Miller had a spectacular career, as a steamboat captain.

Sigmund Schwabacher and Welsh moved to California. In 1882 Schwabacher Bros., Welsh, and the San Francisco-based Balfour, Guthrie & Co. grain dealers, founded the Stockton Milling Co., which built the Crown Flour Mills in 1883. (Balfour, Guthrie & Co. in 1910 built the Crown Flour Mills in Portland, which in 1948 became the Centennial Mills.) In 1889, Sigmund Schwabacher used the same name in co-founding in San Francisco the Crown Paper Co., which built its paper mill in what is now West Linn. It is likely that Schwabacher knew well the advantages of the water power at Willamette Falls from his acquaintance with C.S. and J.D. Miller, their operating the Pioneer Paper Mill, and J.D.'s running the Oregon City Mills. Schwabacher's son Frank would later write, "My father…thought Oregon City was a good site for a paper mill." Crown Paper Co., and its contemporary west-side neighbor Willamette Pulp & Paper Co. each took advantage of the aggressive promotion of 10 years of free water power by Edward L. Eastham's Willamette Transportation & Locks Co., a campaign that finally realized John McLoughlin's original vision of maximizing industrial development around Willamette Falls by exploiting the latter's tremendous water power. (See, "An Unexcelled Water Power," OC News, Feb. 19, 2014.)

Finally, Sigmund Schwabacher's much younger first cousin Louis Bloch tied together two of the three Pioneer Paper Mill lines of descent described above. Amazingly, Louis was the youngest son of C.S. Miller and Sigmund Schwabacher's other partner in Bloch, Miller & Co.: Sigmund's uncle Isaac F. Bloch. Louis began working at Crown in 1894 and rose quickly through the ranks. In 1905 he negotiated the merger of Crown with Pittock's Columbia River Paper Co. to form Crown-Columbia Paper Co.

That was only the beginning. He next negotiated the merger of Crown-Columbia with Willamette Pulp & Paper Co. in 1914; and the merger of the resulting Crown-Willamette Paper Co. with San Francisco-based Zellerbach Paper Co. in 1928 to form the Crown-Zellerbach Paper Co., thereby earning a place in papermaking history by consolidating most of the Pacific Northwest paper industry. He was serving as chairman of the board of Crown-Zellerbach when he died in 1951. In 1985 Crown-Zellerbach became part of James River Corp., which sold the West Linn facility in 1990 to Simpson Paper Co., and in 1997 the plant became the West Linn Paper Co.

On Monday, Oct. 16, 2017, the latter company announced that it would soon be ceasing operations. Barring the appearance of a miracle purchaser who continues papermaking, the closure of the West Linn Paper Co. will mark the end of paper manufacturing at Willamette Falls. The great industrial powerhouse that once hummed noisily with production, on both sides of the falls, will fall dormant and comatose while its future sorts itself out.

Closing the circle

So, it might be appropriate to close the circle and end this story where it began: Pennsylvania. Upon his return, E.T. Garrett had a successful papermaking career as the owner of the Darby Mills in Landsdowne. His career was modest, however, compared two his two brothers, Caspar and Sylvester, who assisted him in bringing a paper machine out West. Caspar became one of the great Eastern papermakers, and owned mills in three states. Sylvester co-owned the paper-trade firm Garrett-Buchanan Co., and invented a type of paraffin wax paper. Both earned laudatory obituaries in the Paper Trade Journal, and have ornate stone monuments in elite suburban Philadelphia cemeteries.

E.T. Garrett, on the other hand, earned no similar posthumous recognition. And when this writer visited the small, austere Darby Friends Cemetery in June 2016 with Robert Seeley, member and genealogist of the extended Garrett family (and who plays E.T. Garrett's cousin, the abolitionist Thomas Garrett, at living history events, much in the same way that former Oregon City mayor Doug Neeley plays John McLoughin), we could not even find E.T. Garrett's gravestone: it had either been vandalized, or acidic eastern rainfall had dissolved to the point of illegibility the lettering on the small white marble tab headstone, as it had on many of the remaining identical little headstones.

But, if E.T. Garrett and his crude paper machine were in fact the little snowball that began rolling downhill and, after bumpy starts, gathered in size and momentum, to the point of creating not only the great papermaking enterprise on both sides of Willamette Falls – which manufactured paper for 150 years, except for the single year 1888 – but also the greater part of the entire Pacific Northwest paper industry, that would be no small legacy.

Historian James Nicita lives in Oregon City.

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