Ypsilanti Citizen Opinions Ypsilanti Cycle

Thank you Ypsilanti
By Dan DuChene & Christine Laughren
Jun. 23, 2010   ·   5:07 p.m.

Christine Laughren and Dan DuChene, co-owners of the Ypsilanti Citizen, pose in front of their company's banner at Frenchie's during the Citizen's one-year anniversary party.

The Ypsilanti Citizen was launched in November 2008 to inform the Ypsilanti community about the news and events that were happening in their area.

Since our launch,...read more

Crossroads Summer Festival; rockin’ ladies night
By Dave Heikkinen and Frank Wright
Jun. 23, 2010   ·   4:37 p.m.

Barbara Payton and the Big Boss Trio rock Washington Street.

A special Ladies Night was held Friday at the 2010 Ypsilanti Crossroads Summer Festival in conjunction with the American Cancer Society’s Relay for Life.

Just...read more

Crossroads to hold Ladies Night for Relay for Life
By Dave Heikkinen and Frank Wright
Jun. 16, 2010   ·   9:13 a.m.

On June 11, the 2010 Ypsilanti Crossroads Summer Festival featured a rousing opening set from roots and blue grass band Dragon Wagon.

Dragon Wagon was joined on...read more

Electric rail pollution leads to dirty laundry
By Laura Bien
Jun. 15, 2010   ·   11:42 a.m.

From the approximate vantage point of the present-day Materials Unlimited, the interurban car barn and powerhouse on Michigan Avenue loomed large.

Maggie Smith was not looking forward to a forenoon of sewing pleats.

She put down her newest customer’s summer dress. Downstairs, she offered to get potatoes...read more

EMU students in wartime
By Laura Bien
Jun. 1, 2010   ·   10:32 a.m.

The 1942 Aurora yearbook, the 50th
anniversary edition, included images that contrasted modern and
old-time students.

Leroy Grindle was an Ypsilantian soldier who lost his life in WWII. He was a member of the Michigan Normal (EMU) class of ’41, and is memorialized with a black...read more

From rags to riches: Ypsilanti’s first paper mill

The cross-shaped building of Cornwell's paper mill, seen here in an 1874 map, stood just south of the present-day Waterworks Park. Image courtesy of Ypsilanti Archives. Photo by Ypsilanti Archives

The cross-shaped building of Cornwell's paper mill, seen here in an 1874 map, stood just south of the present-day Waterworks Park. Image courtesy of Ypsilanti Archives.
Bombadill's

To the Archives

By Laura Bien
Dec. 1, 2009    ·    8:17 a.m.


In the summer of 1865, a reporter from the Ypsilanti Commercial visited Cornelius Cornwell’s 9-year-old paper mill.

The resulting Commercial story appeared next to descriptions of summer excursions by the Presbyterian and Baptist Sunday schools, train schedules for the numerous daily trains and a notice that Civil War soldier Edwin Cotton had finally returned home from service with the 24th Michigan Infantry, and was “about to enter into the nursery business again at the old place north of Peck’s [near Highland Cemetery].”

The Commercial reporter accompanied Cornwell’s partner L. A. Barnes from the paper company’s offices in Depot Town’s Follett block south along the riverbank to the mill. The enormous and dangerous machinery inside it was run solely on Huron River hydropower. Not until 1876 did Cornwell add a 30-horsepower steam engine, which weighed eight tons and had a flywheel 22 feet and six inches wide. The factory consumed great quantities of old rags to produce paper. Wood-pulp paper would not dominate the paper-making industry until around 1880.

“We presume very few of our readers have ever visited a paper mill,” noted the Aug. 26, 1865 Commercial. “The rags including mostly cotton remnants in many a household all over the land, are gradually accumulated, sold to the rag peddler, and by this important personage transferred to rag warehouses.”

Cornwell’s paper company employed “from twelve to thirteen women sorting the rags. Cordage and paper as well as cotton rags appear. Some choice specimens get into the rag bags.”

The paper said that Cornwell and Barnes planned to build a centralized rag warehouse at the Depot, measuring 100 by 33 feet and standing three stories tall.

“Usually in visiting machinery we begin at the bottom and go up,” continued the paper. “Not so in cotton factories, not so in paper mills. We proceed to the third floor and here we find the sorted rags. They are thrown into a rag cutter; machine shears we should say.”

The rags were undergoing the first of a 10-step process that would transform them into fine paper.

After rough shredding in the rag cutter, the rags “go into a rotary boiler on the second floor though thrown in from the third floor. This boiler holds 8,000 lbs. The rags together with chemicals to take out the various colors being placed in this slowly revolving boiler come out all white . . .” After the chemical boiler, the rags were “ready for the washing engines, two of them, oblong circular in form. They are hurled and swept around in a constant eddy for about five hours in the pure river water pumped up for this purpose.”

The powerful machinery and swirling water likely made the mill, like modern paper mills, a noisy and humid place.

Next the rags were bleached for several hours in chloride of lime. “Thoroughly bleached and tired of their repose they aspire to a higher position once more, and by means of elevators ascend to the third floor, like many silly aspiring geniuses, little dreaming of the terrible fate which awaits them.”

The shredded and cleaned remnants were then reduced to a fine sludge. “Pell mell they rush into beating or grinding engines. Their nerves all torn to flitters, and in a pulpy foam, they descend again down on to the first floor into a cylindrical tub called a stuff chest. A force suction pump lifts the crushed mass out of this chest, and by a tube carries it into a vat where a stream of water pours out to greet it, and mingled with this element, its ever-constant companion, it comes to resemble gruel made out of flour, or rather, like well-watered milk, only not as blue.”

The rag gruel now headed for the most sophisticated machine in the factory, the enormous Fourdrinier machine. This elaborate arrangement of rollers with fine mesh screens began the process of removing the great amount of water in the pulp and turning it into a flat layer. The rag sludge “proudly moves along and falls onto a revolving brass wire, very fine and made of copper, sixty-two inches wide and thirty-three feet long. A delicate ingenious piece of mechanism. Here the water begs to bid good bye and the pulp more nearly resembles paste.”

The moist paste now entered a series of rollers that pressed it progressively flatter, and then a series of dryers “comprising four rollers about three feet in diameter heated up by steam.”

Almost paper, the sheet entered one more press, another dryer, and then a series of “calendars,” which were highly polished rollers that gave the sheet an even, smooth surface. Finally, a cutter cut the finished paper to the desired length.

“It is then received by two good looking young ladies, and by them delivered over to our joking, industrious friend, Mr. J. P. White. Mr. W. counts, folds, and ties up a ton of paper per day, being the finisher for the Institution, about 40,000 sheets. We don’t believe any of our little readers could count half as fast on their fingers.

“Being folded and tied up in bundles strongly wrapped and corded, two reams each, nine hundred and sixty sheets—the printers’ thousand—it is sold to the printers and publishers, made into newspapers and books and scattered bread-like all over the land, and we may safely say all over the world.”

Cornwell’s mill supplied paper for the Commercial, the Detroit Daily Advertiser and Tribune, and several other Michigan papers. Later his pioneering mill would be joined by the Peninsular Paper Mill, the Ypsilanti Paper Company Mill, and a wood pulp mill in Geddes.

In 1887, the city purchased the mill and converted it to the city water works and gas plant. In 1923, Henry Ford purchased the water works in order to obtain Cornwell’s enormous steam engine, still inside. Ford’s wrecking crew dismantled the engine and moved it to Dearborn to add to Ford’s growing museum, now Greenfield Village—the last remaining vestige of the first city paper mill.

Laura Bien is the author of “Tales from the Ypsilanti Archives,” to be published this winter. She also writes the historical blog "Dusty Diary" and may be contacted at ypsidixit@gmail.com.



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