(Abbreviated) History of the Paper industry in the Upper Housatonic River Valley


The upper Housatonic Valley is a singular geographical and cultural region that has made significant national contributions through its literary, artistic, musical, and architectural achievements, its iron, paper, and electrical equipment industries, and its scenic beautification and environmental conservation efforts.

The Pittsfield region was the first area in the nation to make paper for markets other than its own. By the end of the Civil War there were at least 28 paper mills in Berkshire County alone.

By 1850, most towns had small factories along the upper Housatonic’s banks, using the river as both a source of water for their manufacturing or milling processes and a dumping ground for their waste products.

Papermaking began in 1801 with the founding of Crane & Company in Dalton. Crane & Company still manufactures paper used for U.S. currency. By the 1840s, the southern Berkshires was the center of the country’s paper industry. Although America’s first wood pulp paper operations started in Curtisville and Lee, the region has been best known as the home of fine stationery paper. Dard Hunter’s artisanal papermaking enterprise at Lime Rock in the late 1920s and 1930s helped inspire the rebirth of the craft of making paper by hand in this country.

The oldest active paper company in the country is Crane and Company, which still makes the paper for U.S. currency. Crane’s Old Stone Mill Rag Room, Dalton, is a papermaking museum that is a national historic landmark. There are many other paper mills and paper industry sites in the region that could become elements of a Paper Industry Heritage Trail.


The artist Nat White portrays young Zenas Crane as he tests the waters of the upper Housatonic River in Dalton in 1799. The Housatonic provided clean water to wash rags and to make paper and provided the horsepower to drive machinery in Crane’s original 1801 mill.

The first commercially viable paper from wood pulp was made at this Columbia Mill in Lee, in 1867.  100 years later, this Columbia Mill would have the record for the thinnest paper made.


The way the river fell and the quality of the water made the Housatonic River an ideal site for paper making.


A parade features employees from the Mountain Mill in Lee.


A carton of paper for United States currency gets boxed up for its trip to Washington D.C. from Crane’s Government Mill in this photo from the late 1800s. Crane still makes U.S. currency paper, and that of many foreign currencies as well.


Papermaking at Lime Rock


Eaton Crane and Pike newpaper ad


The Pittsfield Sun; Date: 10-22-1868


Onyx Specialty Papers
In 2009, Pat Begrowicz and Chris Mathews bought this Willow Mill from their employer, Mead Westvaco, thus carrying paper making heritage into the future in Lee.    In 2008,  Schweitzer Mauduit closed four local paper mills, and Mead Westvaco closed one, leaving this Willow Mill,  the only operating paper mill in town. The two employees also bought the closed Laurel Mill from Mead Westvaco.