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Western Maine Foothills Region

For The Love Of Paper

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Text by Elliott E. “Bud” Burns, David Gawtry, and Nghia Ha
Images provided by The Greater Rumford Area Historical Society

Hugh J. Chisholm, Rumford, ca. 1920
Hugh J. Chisholm, Rumford, ca. 1920

Item Contributed by
Greater Rumford Area Historical Society

Rumford “Falls” Maine, as seen today, is the result of the entrepreneurship and foresight of a young man thrust into supporting his mother and siblings at the early age of thirteen, upon the accidental death of his father. Hugh J. Chisholm developed his love for paper when he sold newspapers on the expanding railroad lines. Within only a few years, Hugh and his brother, the “Chisholm Brothers”, had contracts to provide exclusive distribution rights of newspapers, tourist guides and souvenir books of travel over 5,000 miles of rail and steamship lines. They had over 200 uniformed employees covering the rails from Chicago, Illinois, to Portland, Maine, and east to Halifax, Nova Scotia, with steamboat lines which also included the major lines on the St. Lawrence River. While others looked toward the West and the new horizons, Hugh set sights on the East and the vast natural resources that would expand his “love for paper” through its manufacture.


Hugh's first venture in Maine and the paper industry, at the age of 25, was the manufacturing of wood fiber tableware which was lost to fire. His next was to establish the Umbagog Pulp Company at Livermore Falls. This, however, did not satisfy his vision of high quality papers that would be in much demand for this growing nation. Hugh heard of the great water falls of the Androscoggin River located in Rumford, Maine and made venture to see for himself. His visions of the falls, the valley, and the surrounding natural resources made him realize it was all here and could be developed into his ultimate dream. The year of 1882 was to be an eventful one in the life of Hugh J. Chisholm and the future of the wilderness town of Rumford.

Rumford Falls Looking South, 1916
Rumford Falls Looking South, 1916

Item Contributed by
Greater Rumford Area Historical Society

It took eight years to quietly negotiate the purchase of lands surrounding the falls, upriver lands and the valley lands below the falls, totaling some 1400 acres, in a manner not to inflate their present rural value. This was accomplished by a local confidante, farmer Waldo Pettengill, while Hugh was working on the design of the manufacturing facilities and the layout of the residential town. In 1890, the master dream of Hugh J. Chisholm became reality with canals being dug and dams being built to harness the water power. The waters were diverted to canals to service the paper making facilities along the canal banks. Railroad service was also extended by Hugh J. Chisholm to Rumford, thus supplying a way for the much needed construction materials and manufacturing equipment and, in time, the means of getting the finished paper to market. The history of Rumford as a great paper making center began on July 12, 1893, when The Rumford Falls Paper Company manufactured its first paper. Its capacity was 60 tons of newsprint per day.

NEW VENTURES

Sluice along the dam at Rumford Falls, 1906
Sluice along the dam at Rumford Falls, 1906

Item Contributed by
Greater Rumford Area Historical Society

Hugh J. Chisholm joined together with his associates, in 1898, to form a new company, International Paper, combining 20 pulp and paper manufacturing plants in Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Vermont, and Northern New York, which included the Rumford Falls Paper Company. This amounted to about 60 percent of the newsprint manufactured in the United States.

All during the 1890's Hugh could see the growth of the country needing many more tons of fine quality papers and set his sights on providing just that in his industrial town of Rumford. Thus was born his great Oxford Paper Company on December 7, 1899 and ratified by the State Attorney General the next day. A Board of Directors met a week later, with Waldo Pettengill elected as president. Hugh Chisholm could not hold this office as he was then President of IP. However, Mr. Chisholm was so organized that all the plans were in place such that before the end of December all of the major contracts were proposed and considered for all phases of the construction. In 1900, contracts were awarded for the actual construction. As the construction started, Mr. Chisholm was making a detailed survey of the markets for quality papers, and it became apparent that two additional paper machines would be needed to meet the demand. On September 6, it was decided to double the design capacity of the new Rumford Mill.

First Two Machines at Oxford Mill, Rumford, ca. 1901
First Two Machines at Oxford Mill, Rumford, ca. 1901

Item Contributed by
Greater Rumford Area Historical Society

Production at the new mill began on November 9, 1901 with the first cook of soda pulp and on November, 17 for the sulphite pulp. The first paper machine went into production on December 21, 1901. By February, 1902, all four paper machines were in operation and producing about 44 tons of paper a day. Shortly after the startup of these four paper machines, the Oxford Paper Company secured what was then considered one of the most valuable contracts in the paper industry. This was to manufacture all the postal cards used by the United States Post Office. The Oxford was producing these cards at a rate of 3,000,000 per day. This contract was extended and enlarged for an additional four years on Dec 13, 1905. Numbers 5 and 6 paper machines were installed in 1905 and 1906 respectively in order to keep up production for the publishing business.

Mechanics Institute of Rumford, ca. 1911
Mechanics Institute of Rumford, ca. 1911

Item Contributed by
Greater Rumford Area Historical Society

Hugh J Chisholm was very proud of the achievements through the years, with his quality paper production meeting the demands of the customers and the ability of his fellow workers to meet all challenges. He was a very hard worker, demanding of himself and others, yet was concerned for the welfare of others, such as in adequate housing and education. It might be said that he was born with visions of tomorrow in his eyes. It was like that throughout his entire life. He was proud of his Industrial Town of Rumford that he carved out and transformed from a slow moving agricultural land to a thriving town known across the land. His concern and feelings for all were demonstrated by his efforts to provide adequate and suitable housing and build the Mechanics Institute, now known as the Community Center, a recreation and educational center for the people of the community.