The Family Tree

One paper mill does not justify the nickname “Paper City.” It would take the establishment of many more mills in the region before Kalamazoo earned that distinction. This would occur in the late 19th and early 20th century as new mills sprung up throughout the Kalamazoo valley. Many of these were founded by individuals who were, at some point, associated with the Kalamazoo Paper Company. If a family tree of the region’s paper mills was drafted, the Kalamazoo Paper Company would be at the root.

Thus Kalamazoo Paper Company served as an incubator for what would become the Kalamazoo region’s next great resource for attracting paper mills, people. A number of executives and other workers at the Kalamazoo Paper Company would, after learning the trade at the old mill, set off on their own to establish new mills in the area. In 1872 Benjamin Lyon, who was one of the co-founders of the Kalamazoo Paper Company established a new mill in Plainwell. In 1885 George Bardeen, a relative of a Kalamazoo Paper Company executive, established a mill in Otsego. Ten years later three of Bardeen’s associates left to found the Bryant Paper Company. The trend continued until, by 1939, there were fourteen paper companies operating in the region. As the number of mills increased, so did the number of people skilled in the industry, thus attracting additional mill investment.

Other mills of note to appear during this period were the Lee Paper Company, founded in 1903 in Vicksburg. The Mac Sim Bar Paper Company was established in Otsego in 1906. In 1909, what would become one of the regions largest and most famous mills, the Kalamazoo Vegetable Parchment Company, was established just outside of Kalamazoo. In the following decades it would establish a model company town to house its workers, the city of Parchment.

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