Four tall smokestacks, the final remnants of the Curtis Speciality Paper Mill, were demolished in October 2019, opening the site up for potential new developments.
For many residents, it was a bittersweet moment since, at one point, the Curtis Paper Mill was the biggest employer in the area. Records from 1961 indicate that 1,250 people worked there.
The mill was originally established in 1907 by the Riegel Paper Corporation when it was known as the Milford Mill. The factory was constructed on the Frenchtown Road in the Borough of Milford, New Jersey. It consisted of a production facility, power plant, coating facility, and several dozen houses for the workers.
Facilities at the site were divided into four distinct areas. The Main Mill Area was where paper was produced from pulp. This was also where the offices, power plant, and loading/unloading areas were situated. This area included four tall smokestacks, built of brick and ranging from 120 to 125 feet high.
Between 1935 and 1988, workers would make and mix solvent-based resins to apply to the paper in the Coatings Facility Area, a small site adjacent to the Main Mill Area.
In the late 1940s or early 1950s, the Wastewater Treatment Plant area was constructed. Two clarifier basins, a settling tank, and other structures processed both wastewater from the mill and stormwater.
The fourth area contained the huge stockpile of coal needed to run the mill. From the 1990s, there was also an Aeration Basin Area, a large pond that assisted in the treatment of the wastewater.
The Curtis Paper Mill specialized in making food-grade papers and other niche paper products for over 90 years. It made the waxed paper used by Kellogg to keep cereal fresh, greaseproof paper, and the white inner wrapper used in Hershey’s chocolate bars.
During its lifetime, the Curtis Paper Mill changed hands many times. When it was shut down in 2003, the owner was Curtis Paper Incorporated, but that company went bankrupt, leaving a question mark over the ownership of the land.
The owners left in a hurry, taking what they could and stirring up toxic elements in the soil and debris, including asbestos. Due to the manufacturing processes used by the paper mill, there was over 10,500 cubic yards of contaminated soil.
After closure, the site was declared a Superfund site by the United States Environmental Protection Agency (the EPA). A chain-link fenced was erected around the area to keep children away from the land and its potentially harmful elements.
With the original company bankrupt, ownership of the site was decided by a “last man standing” approach. The EPA conducted an investigation and settled on International Paper (IP) and Georgia-Pacific Consumer Products (GP) as being the companies most likely to be responsible for the area.
Although neither IP nor GP had ever actually owned the site, they were deemed to be the only two companies still active which had once owned companies that had been associated with the Curtis Paper Mill. They purchased the mill site as well as the nearby Crown Vantage Landfill site in 2008.
Borough Councilman Bob White was full of praise for the companies when he spoke to a local paper in 2019. He said that instead of fighting the EPA’s decision or taking the matter to court and costing everyone a fortune, the two companies just worked together and got the job done.
The paper mill stretched across 73 acres in the Borough of Milford and the Alexandra Township. The land surrounding the mill is a flood zone, meaning that the old mill buildings had to come down to enable redevelopment projects to take place.
IP and GP developed a plan that would ensure the buildings were demolished and the site cleared ready for redevelopment by 2020. By 2015, 12 of the 70 buildings had been demolished, which included garages and other structures. Six wells were also dismantled.
The four tall smokestacks were demolished on October 4, 2019. Nearby residents were instructed to keep doors and windows shut to keep out the significant amount of dust that would be created by the demolition process. However, the demolition teams hoped to keep dust to a minimum with the use of high-powered hoses.
For those wishing to watch the demolition in safety, the Milford Fire Department offered a live stream with refreshments. The live stream was also broadcast to Milford Elementary School.
A sizeable crowd gathered to witness the demise of this last part of the mill. By then, about 80% of the property had been demolished. Seventy buildings had been destroyed and only ten were left.
The mayor of Milford, Henri Schepens, stated that the demolition of the four stacks was of great local interest since many residents had either worked at the mill themselves or had family members who had been employees. He added: “This town was built with that paper mill.”
Currently, there are no firm plans as to what to do with the site, but the Borough has filed redevelopment plans which would see the redevelopment of 21 acres of the site begin in the next five years or so. Potential projects would include a mix of housing and light industry such as medical offices or a long-term care facility.
The fascinating photos of the Curtis Paper Mill were taken by the blog Vacant New Jersey before the property was demolished. You should definitely check more of their work on VacantNewJersey.com where you can find photographs combined with original narratives.
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