Paper making has been the economic backbone of Lee, Massachusetts, as well as other parts of the Western Massachusetts Berkshire area, for about 200 years. At one time, there were 25 paper mills in this town. The first successful paper from wood pulp happened here, as did many other firsts. In 2008, Schweitzer Mauduit, the largest local employer of paper makers, closed the doors of its four local paper mills, and Mead Westvaco closed one, leaving only one mill running. It is still running: two employees bought the two mill buildings, keeping the Willow mill, the oldest mill in town, running. They renamed the business Onyx. We interviewed owners Pat Begrowicz and Chris Matthews about their decision to buy it and their plans for the business.
This documentary will be a look at how a small town with a deep history of paper
making envisions its future, and it will give the community a way to look at its past.
The documentary tells the story of this paper making tradition, and the Paper Mills Documentary Project includes students from the Lee Middle School in the process. Students learned the paper making heritage of their town as teachers found ways to incorporate local history and paper making into the curriculum. Middle school students in Joshua Hall’s history class selected some of the still photos for this site and the documentary.
These photos: Ricki Cowell held a day-long paper making workshop at her gallery in Tyringham, and Paper Town Projects sponsored the participation of a middle school student.
To date, this project has been supported by Housatonic Heritage, Mass Humanities, High Meadow Foundation, and generous individuals.