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Brainerd paper mill started with Mississippi River dam

The Northwest Paper Co.’s beginnings date back to 1898 with the construction of a groundwood mill and a one-machine newsprint mill in Cloquet. That led to the construction of a two-grinder pulp mill in 1903 at the west end of the Mississippi River dam that was built in 1888 near Brainerd.

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In order to connect the Northwest Paper Co.'s pulp mill with their sidetrack on the hill, a high tower was built and a covered bridge was put in from the tower to the hill as shown in this image circa 1903. Contributed / Crow Wing County Historical Society

Minnesota’s waterways were the transportation routes for shipping and commerce before the construction of roads and airports.

The Land of 10,000 Lakes’ abundance of natural resources almost ensured the paper milling industry would figure early on in the state’s history.

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The Northwest Paper Co.’s beginnings date back to 1898 with the construction of a groundwood mill and a one-machine newsprint mill in Cloquet. That led to the construction of a two-grinder pulp mill in 1903 at the west end of the Crow Wing Boom Co. dam, built in 1888 near Brainerd.

“The supply of wood for a mill on the upper river tributary to Brainerd is very large and it is easy of access,” according to the Oct. 24, 1902, edition of the Brainerd Daily Dispatch.

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In order to connect with a train sidetrack on the hill, a high tower was built and a covered bridge was erected from the tower to the hill. The sheets of pulp were transported from the rollers to the elevator, hoisted to the top of the tower and trucked to the cars and loaded.

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The dam and pulp mill in Brainerd as it appeared in 1905.

“This is an unusually busy season of the year at the Brainerd pulp mill of the Northwestern Paper company, and they are running night and day, Sundays not excepted,” according to the Jan. 8, 1904, edition of the Dispatch.

The mill produced about 40 tons of pulp daily, or about 15 tons when dried, according to accounts at the time.

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“The company finds it very profitable to keep the mill running, as the pulp wood is very plentiful and the capacity of this mill is such that a large amount of the product is turned out each week at a minimal cost,” according to the Dispatch.

According to the Jan. 16, 1908, edition of the publication, about 35 men were employed during the summer, divided into two shifts, and a crew of about 50 to 60 men was employed during the winter months.

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The Northwest Paper Co. construction project of a paper and pulp mill with a 70-ton capacity at a projected cost between $300,000 and $400,000 at the company’s site in northeast Brainerd was revealed by the Dispatch in 1915.

“This industry will do much to rejuvenate Northeast Brainerd, to improve property values and to stimulate business in that section, which will also have a beneficial effect on the city as a whole,” according to the Sept. 25, 1912, edition of the Dispatch.

Construction began in 1915 on an integrated pulp and newsprint mill at the mill site on the east side of the river. It was the first convertible mill of the kind in the United States with its capability to shift from print paper-making to manufacturing book paper, employing 150 men.

“The industry means much to Brainerd, as it utilizes Mississippi River water power, which previously for years had been allowed to run to waste over the dam. In its construction work, the company surmounted many difficulties including quicksand and the loss of a section of the dam,” according to the April 18, 1917, edition of the Dispatch.

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Only spruce pulpwood was used until 1929 for grinding. At that time, a small percentage of jackpine also began to be used. The jackpine was trucked to the mill from local areas. This operation continued until the groundwood mill was closed.

“The Dispatch today points with pride to the fact that the Daily Dispatch is printed on paper made in Brainerd by the Northwest Paper Co. and that the roll from which this paper comes is among the first turned out by this great local industry,” according to the April 20, 1917, edition.

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Northwest Paper Co. operated the Brainerd paper mill until 1964, when it was sold to Potlatch Forests Inc. Later owners of the paper mill included Missota Paper Co. from 2003 to 2004 and Wausau Paper from 2004 to 2013, when the mill ceased operations.

FRANK LEE may be reached at 218-855-5863 or at frank.lee@brainerddispatch.com . Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/DispatchFL .

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