This past Jan. 10 marked the sesquicentennial of the Pacific Northwest's first papermaking, at the Pioneer Paper Mill within what is now the Blue Heron site in Oregon City. The Willamette Falls Legacy Project might unearth the basalt foundation of this mill as part of its planned riverwalk.
In the 150-plus years since that day in 1867 when the first sheets of straw wrapping paper rolled off a cylinder-wire paper machine powered by Willamette Falls, some facts about the mill have remained persistently hidden, including its origins. As one source put it in 1947, "Details of the starting of the project are vague..." One reason for the obscurity: key events in the development of the enterprise occurred in the period from 1863 to 1866 when Oregon City did not have a newspaper. However, disparate strands of evidence provide a rough outline of those origins.
It turns out, as early as 1854 Oregon City had in its midst a highly trained papermaker: a young Quaker, Edwin Thatcher Garrett, who arrived overland in April of that year. Garrett, born in 1828, linked the Pacific Northwest's first paper mill to the very provenance of American papermaking, southeastern Pennsylvania. In 1691 an immigrant German papermaker, William Rittenhouse, established the country's first paper mill in Philadelphia. Through the middle of the nineteenth century, Pennsylvania led the nation in paper manufacturing, with about 60 mills in 1810, and nearly 90 in 1840. Within Pennsylvania, Chester County was the center of the industry.
Garrett's Quaker ancestor William Garat had set sail from England for Pennsylvania in 1684 — two years after William Penn himself — and settled in the countryside west of modern Philadelphia. Another descendent of William Garat — and E.T. Garrett's contemporary and not-too-distant cousin — was the great Underground Railroad abolitionist Thomas Garrett.
As described by historian John Nagy in his book "Acres of Quakers," Edwin Garrett was the eldest son of William and Eliza Sharpless Garrett. In 1840 William Garrett constructed the Garrett Paper Mill (see photo), on the family's farm property on Ridley Creek, in Willistown Township, just east of the city of West Chester, in Chester County. Edwin had four younger brothers — Casper, Harvey, William and Sylvester — and all five sons apprenticed in the family paper mill from a young age, then spent their careers in both paper manufacturing and marketing. Edwin was also well schooled, at local public schools, a Friends School and a boarding school. He grew up attending the Goshen Monthly Meeting of Friends, near Willistown, and married Alice Priest in Philadelphia in 1852.
Garrett heads to Oregon
Historians Gilbert Cope and Henry Graham Ashmead write of the 26 year-old E.T. Garrett, "In 1854 he determined to seek his fortune in the far west, and he was among the early ones who journeyed to Oregon when that region was unreached by railroads and travel was overland by wagon from the Missouri river." Another historian, Arthur James, writes that Garrett took "his wife and son to Oregon where he acquired cheap land and anticipated starting a paper mill." Tragically, just as Edwin arrived with wife Alice and infant son John, his father William was killed in a farming accident. Eliza Sharpless Garrett then ran the Garrett Paper Mill until her own retirement in 1863.
The land Edwin and Alice Garrett settled near Oregon City became the Edwin T. Garrett Donation Land Claim (DLC). A set of remarkable 1870s assessor's maps at the Clackamas County Historical Society archive shows the Garrett DLC in the then-remote Beavercreek Precinct (see map). Today, driving south on Beavercreek Road, beyond Oregon City High School and South Henrici Road, one crosses and bisects the Garrett DLC beginning at the corner of South Wilson Road.
Territorial and early statehood assessment records from Clackamas County show a modest, static family farming operation during Garrett's time in Oregon. For example, the 1860 assessment lists 320 acres, nine cattle, 17 sheep, five hogs and a wagon. The 1860 census lists Garrett as a "farmer," and lists Alice and son John, as well as sons William, Henry, Jesse and Edwin, Jr.
Garrett did not benefit from a local Quaker community. Although the Garretts were not the first Quaker family in Clackamas County — they were preceded, for example, in 1847 and 1850, respectively, by the renowned horticulturist Luelling brothers in Milwaukie, Henderson and Seth, the latter famously developing the Bing cherry — the first Society of Friends monthly meeting in Oregon would not be established until the late 1870s.
Youthful, isolated on a remote farmstead, and lacking a kindred religious community, Edwin Garrett's Oregon existence seems almost completely anonymous. This writer has been able to find only three references to "E.T. Garrett" in Oregon City newspapers from the era, in "letter lists" — that is, periodic advertisements by the postmaster listing community members who had letters waiting for them at the post office. The first mention, however, in the Oregon Spectator of Feb. 17, 1855, is significant, due to the identity of the postmaster who published the list: W.W. Buck.
Yes, that W.W. Buck, whom history identifies as the entrepreneur behind the Pioneer Paper Mill and the Pacific Northwest's first paper production.
Perhaps the future will yield documents from attics and hidden archives to detail when and how E.T. Garrett and W.W. Buck first formed their partnership. In the mind's eye, though, one can imagine a 20-something Garrett walking into the post office to retrieve his mail and striking up a conversation about his paper-mill aspirations with the 50-something Buck, and Buck in turn affirming the acute need for paper on the growing frontier; for his tenure as postmaster was not the only experience that had provided Buck with a keen interest in paper.
The civic impresario
William Wentworth Buck, born in 1804 in Cayuga County, New York, arrived in Oregon on a wagon train in 1845, and in Oregon City in 1849. He might accurately be described as a "civic impresario." Perhaps no other historical figure in Oregon City, other than John McLoughlin himself, had such a sense of and instinct for constructing a Euro-American immigrant civilization on the Oregon frontier, both as a builder of edifices and of institutions. As Buck himself said in an interview with the historian Hubert Howe Bancroft, "I have been in almost everything that looked toward developing the place."
To give some examples: as a contractor and entrepreneur, Buck, with his son Heman, owned a sawmill on what would become the H.S. Buck DLC, about where the Union Pacific tracks today cross on the Clackamas River near Park Place. He built Clackamas County's first courthouse on the block immediately east of today's Carnegie Library; co-founded and helped erect the Oregon City Female Seminary; and was an original incorporator of the Oregon City Woolen Mills. As a public citizen, in his long career Buck served in positions such as council member, mayor, and treasurer of Oregon City; Clackamas County public administrator and justice of the peace; and president of the Temperance Society. Most significantly, on June 6, 1849, shortly after his own arrival in Oregon City, Buck was elected to the very first Territorial Legislature, as the Clackamas County representative to the upper chamber, known as the Council.
In the first legislative session of 1849-50, the Legislative Assembly elected Buck and Gen. Asa Lovejoy as "Commissioners to let the printing of the laws and journals." After advertising for sealed proposals, they contracted with the owners of the Oregon Spectator to print the session laws. The effort however proved a bit of a fiasco for a number of reasons, including a paper shortage in 1850 that delayed the Spectator from obtaining even its own newsprint from its New York supplier; the Spectator issued smaller "half-sheet" issues at least three times that year, and did not complete printing the session laws until the first week of October. The Assembly requested and received from a special Joint Committee a report on the problems that had been encountered.
The embarrassment did not prevent Buck from being elected president of the Council for the second session in 1850-51, however it must have impressed upon him deeply the need for a reliable local paper supply by which to build a frontier civilization. And it may have inspired Buck later to use his numerous financial and political connections to assist a young papermaker in his paper-mill aspirations.
The Oregon Paper Manufacturing Company
Early reports from November 1856 by two Portland newspapers of a paper mill effort left unknown the identity of those involved. "We learned...that a company at Oregon City are about constructing a mill for the manufacture of paper," the Democratic Standard wrote. "We hope they will be encouraged in this enterprise." E.T. Garrett at least may well have been involved, if only due to the odds against there being at the time more than one highly trained papermaker on the sparsely settled frontier. Nothing happened, however.
In fact, a decade would pass before the realization of a paper mill. In 1863, there are scattered pieces of evidence that may or may not be related to Garrett's mill effort. Back in Pennsylvania, Garrett's brother Casper's own paper-milling business began to develop rapidly beginning in 1861, and in 1863 he and brother Harvey bought out the interests of Eliza Sharpless Garrett and the other brothers, including Edwin, in the family paper mill in Willistown Township. This was effectuated through a trust deed, which gave Edwin a steady payment of funds he might hypothetically use, for example, to contribute to his own Oregon paper-mill effort. In Oregon City the Argus, seemingly giving voice to local anticipation, opined in favor of a "much needed" paper mill. And, a group that included Garrett's neighbor, the well-known steamboat man George Marshall, who had settled a DLC immediately north of Garrett's (see map), purchased Abernethy Island in Willamette Falls, including its water rights, from Lovejoy; Marshall's group would in 1866 sell the Pioneer Paper Mill its water rights for power, as well as a factory site.
Were the latter two originally intended for Garrett's mill? The timing is interesting. In March of 1865, Marshall's group bought the parcel that became the factory site, Lot 5 of Block 2, on Third Street, just west of Main Street in Oregon City. Shortly thereafter, the Salem Statesman on April 24, 1865, reported what seemed to be the imminent fulfillment of E.T. Garrett's longstanding Oregon paper mill dream:
"A Paper Mill — Mr. Garrett of Clackamas will soon erect a Paper Mill at Oregon City. The machinery is already purchased in the East and on the way here. The Mill will cost between six and seven thousand dollars. Mr. Garrett is a practical paper maker, and we wish him great success."
Articles of incorporation of the Oregon Paper Manufacturing Company (OPMC) dated May 1, 1865, bear the signatures of E.T. Garrett and two other incorporators: W.W. Buck and William Barlow, the proprietor of the Barlow House, and the son of Barlow Road trailblazer Samuel K. Barlow (see copy of articles.)
The Statesman's news spread nationwide: Portland (April 26), Walla Walla (May 5), Sacramento (May 11), and... Philadelphia, although the one-sentence mention in the Inquirer on May 8 mentioned neither E.T. Garrett by name, nor the "hometown boy" angle on the story.
However, it appears the project then promptly fell apart. Exactly two weeks after the date of the articles of incorporation, and one week after the Inquirer mention, the Oregonian reported on May 15, 1865: "Not long since a paper mill was talked of for Oregon City, by some of our capitalists, but we have heard nothing of late about it, and understand the principal reason for abandoning the project was the scarcity of raw material from which to manufacture the article." This explanation seems wholly unsatisfying, as Garrett had a decade to assess the state of raw material supplies for a paper mill. Nevertheless, by autumn Garrett and his family had moved back to Pennsylvania.
But the story does not end there, for the OPMC was the embryonic precursor to the company that would construct the Pioneer Paper Mill the following year, in two regards.
First, in regards to the paper machine "purchased in the East" and shipped out West. Here, Garrett's youngest brother Sylvester comes into the picture. "In 1865 he went to Oregon, where his eldest brother, Edwin Thatcher Garrett, had been living for ten years," Cope and Ashmead write of Sylvester Garrett. "During his sojourn with his brother, he assisted in establishing and equipping the first paper mill erected in that state."
This assertion must be qualified, as the first paper mill in Oregon was the Pioneer Paper Mill, erected in 1866 after both Garretts had returned to Pennsylvania. It seems that the only way Sylvester could assist in "equipping" the first paper mill in Oregon would have been to bring out with him the paper machine mentioned in the Statesman article, and then transfer it to Buck and others after his brother Edwin's project did not get off the ground. Perhaps the OPMC project collapse occurred during shipment, for the machine only reached San Francisco, and was stored in a warehouse.
The manufacturer of the paper machine may remain forever a mystery, because the machine was used. Perhaps it came from one of Casper Garrett's mills: tantalizingly, he had taken out a classified ad in the Inquirer in March 1865 for a used cylinder-wire paper machine, the type similar to the kind of paper machine installed in 1866 in the Pioneer Paper Mill:
"PAPER MACHINERY FOR SALE — ONE 42 inch Paper Machine, with five copper dryers, 28-inch face; 2 Rag Engines, 30-inch bars; 2 Patent Cylinder Washers, 50-inch face, good as new; also, 1 Mortise Wheel, 12 feet in diameter, 6-inch face, with shaft complete. One Iron Shaft for water wheel, 16 feet long, 14 inches diameter, with flanges for arms, all in good order. Apply to C.S. GARRETT, No. 12 DECATUR Street."
As for "establishing" the first paper mill in Oregon, perhaps Edwin and Sylvester Garrett spent the remainder of their time in Oregon assisting Buck and others in preparations for launching what the following year would become the Pioneer Paper Mill. Edwin and Alice Garrett, their seven children, and Sylvester Garrett appear on the passenger list of the S.S. "New York," arriving in New York Harbor on Sept. 23, 1865.
W.W. Buck and William Barlow together constitute the second link by which the OPMC was the precursor to the firm that built the Pioneer Paper Mill in 1866. They decided to continue moving forward, with others, on a paper-mill project — without a trained paper maker, and with a used paper machine, stored in a San Francisco warehouse, that they may not have even ever seen. The fateful consequences of this decision will be explored in the next installment.
Historian James Nicita lives in Oregon City. The author wishes to thank for their assistance with this article Robert Seeley, Garrett Family genealogist; Pamela Powell, Chester County Historical Society; and Faith McCarrick, Historic Sugartown.