Building the Paper City

Why did Kalamazoo become the Paper City? What unique characteristics of the city or what course of events lead to the establishment of so many paper mills in the region? Ultimately there are two basic answers to this question. At the heart of each is that manufacturers were drawn by Kalamazoo’s resources. First they were drawn by the natural resources of its landscape and finally the people of the region became a draw as well.

The region’s first mill, the Kalamazoo Paper Company, was established in 1866 This first mill was located on Cork Street, the outskirts of the village of Kalamazoo at the time. Why did the mill get built at this location? The reasons had everything to do with the environment. Southwest Michigan put the mill near needed natural resources, such as wood. But more importantly, mill operators were drawn to the region’s waterways such as the Kalamazoo River and Portage Creek.

The 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. The Bryant Paper Company, founded in 18, was one such example.

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