This massive paper mill was built along the banks of the Delaware River in what was then Holland Township. The area was mostly farmland, next to which new Riegel Paper Mill seemed a monolith. Sitting on the better part of 70 acres of land, the mill was quite beneficial for the township.
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Completed in 1907, the mill would immediately become the largest supplier of jobs for the small town. The complex consisted of the main production facility, a power plant, a “coating” facility, several dozen houses built for the workers of the mill and a 35 acre aeration pond in nearby Alexandria.
In 1911, the section of Holland Township where the mill sat was renamed Milford. It wasn’t named for the Riegel Mill however, but rather a gristmill further into town.
Though the mill started out with dozens of nearby houses for its 75 employees, varying in size and architectural style, a few of them would be demolished over the years. This started in the early 1960’s, when several houses along Delaware avenue were demolished to create parking.
As the years progressed, so did the Riegel Company. The coating facility, rumored to be the oldest buildings on site, focused on specialized compounded resins used for certain types of paper products. The main mill area would focus on food based applications for paper. It would go on to be operated by the Riegel Paper Corporation well into the 1970’s. At its peak, the mill employed around 700 people.
In 1976, the Riegel Paper Corporation was acquired by the James River Paper Corporation, and in 1978 the Riegel family officially sold the last of their stock in the company. James River Papers was buying up paper manufacturing properties left and right. Half a decade later, they would be declared the largest paper corporation in the world. You may recognize the company for such products as Brawny paper towels and Dixie cups.
Sometime between the late 1980’s and the early 1990’s, several more houses along Delaware avenue were removed. This wave of demolition left only one brick Victorian house on that particular stretch of road.
The James River corporation continued to operate the Milford Mill under its main brand name until 1995. At this time, a new division of the company was crated to focus specifically on the company’s printing and writing contracts, as well as the specialty papers the mill was always known for.
An economic downturn in Asia caused the entire paper market to begin to dwindle. By 1998, the company had been experiencing significantly diminishing profits for three consecutive years. To supplement this, imported paper was being imported for far cheaper than the costs of manufacturing it in the United States.
Three additional years later, Crown Vantage went bankrupt and sold the mill to the Curtis Paper company.
The Curtis Paper company would be the last group to occupy the massive structure, manufacturing specialty paper for several different companies and applications. They wound up leaving the building entirely in 2003, they having gone bankrupt like Crown Vantage before them. Though the mill was once the largest employer in the town, it was now leaving 213 employees without jobs.
The building was sold to International Papers & Georgia Pacific, who wanted some of the machinery and manufacturing equipment. Everything the company didn’t want would eventually be auctioned off, leaving the massive building mostly empty.
The EPA investigations at the site mostly began in 2007, when the group installed a large fence and hired a security guard to watch the massive site. By 2008 the group announced plans to designate the property a “superfund site”.
In 2009, the mill was added to the federal list of most polluted properties in the United States. Numerous chemical spills occurred at the site, and the heavy machinery on site meant that there were tons of polychlorinated biphenyls present. Its location right on the banks of the Delaware River meant that the site was a major priority for cleanup.
Thankfully, by 2012, the EPA announced a statement that cleanup at the site was more than three quarters of the way complete. This included demolition of the historic Coating facility, which was completed by 2013, and soil and asbestos remediation. However, the main mill buildings would go on to only be partially gutted, and not torn down.
After years of being picked apart and selectively demolished, the site was empty by the end of 2019. The land will probably be developed as housing, and over time the old Riegel mill will slowly be forgotten.
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