One Hundred Years of Paper Work
How International Paper—the biggest in the business—got its start right here in the Adirondacks
by Joan Potter
INTERNATIONAL PAPER, THE BIGGEST private landowner in the Adirondacks and at times the most controversial, celebrates its hundredth birthday this year. Managers of its two regional paper mills—in Corinth and Ticonderoga—have been busy planning events, exhibits and tours. In recent years the company has updated its plants and improved its papermaking processes. But IP is also plagued by stringent environmental regulations and high New York State and local taxes. Will the company—with its huge impact on the Adirondack economy—be around for another hundred years?
“We will make that decision together between the International Paper Company and the communities of the Adirondacks,” says the firm’s chairman and chief executive, John Dillon, who was born and reared in Newcomb and studied forestry at Paul Smith’s College. “I personally have as deep a commitment as anyone to the Adirondacks,” Dillon says. “It’s where I grew up. My family still lives there.”
IN JANUARY 1898 International Paper Company established headquarters in Glens Falls, arising from a merger of sixteen paper companies with twenty paper mills located in New York and New England. From day one International Paper has been the biggest paper company in the world. Today it employs more than 80,000 people and owns factories in thirty-one countries.
IP prides itself on being the largest private landowner in the United States, managing more than six million acres of forest land. It is also New York State’s largest private landowner, overseeing about 327,000 acres. Three hundred thousand acres of that timberland are in the Adirondack Park, spread out over forty-eight towns in eight counties.
When IP was formed its mills manufactured mostly newsprint, but this product was gradually transferred to Canadian mills, with the United States plants moving into the manufacture of specialty grades of printing and writing paper. The Hudson River mill in Corinth—the only one remaining from the original merger—pioneered new technology to produce these papers.
Today that facility, spread over 250 acres on the banks of the Hudson at Palmer Falls, produces coated paper for magazines, catalogs and other print materials that require a smooth, glossy surface. Few structures remain from the original 1869 mill, but the thick stone walls and vast, dark rooms of the plant give it an ancient feeling. And the view up the river from above the power plant, over the hundred-foot falls, looks just as it must have centuries ago.
The site was home to a sawmill in 1804; it later powered a gristmill, woolen mill and edge-tool factory. In 1869 the Hudson River Pulp and Paper Company bought the property. Company president Albrecht Pagenstecher had come to America from Germany, bringing with him a process for pulverizing wood to make pulp for paper. He installed the first American-made wood-pulp grinder in the Corinth mill, and, using spruce and poplar logs, it became one of the first in the country to manufacture paper from wood.
Since 1898, when the mill became part of International Paper, new machinery has been added, along with a new room where bark is stripped from logs and a de-inking facility to remove laser ink from computer paper, which is then recycled into pulp. The Hudson River mill, with six hundred employees, now contains three giant machines that produce about 200,000 tons of coated paper a year.
International Paper added to its Adirondack holdings in 1925 when it acquired two Ticonderoga Pulp and Paper Company mills, on the upper and lower falls of the LaChute River, in the heart of the village of Ticonderoga. The LaChute carries water from Lake George to Lake Champlain, dropping more than 230 feet and producing water power that had driven mills since the 1700s. For the four decades prior to the sale, the mills manufactured book and writing papers from soda pulp, made from softwood, and rags.
International Paper gradually introduced new processes for making pulp from hardwoods and for producing a variety of offset, text and other high-quality papers. By the 1960s the Ticonderoga complex had expanded to fill all the usable space along the LaChute River, and in 1967 the company announced it would build a new $76 million facility on its current Lake Champlain site, four miles north of town.
Earlier, rumors had proliferated that the company was considering a move to Vermont, so the decision to stay created great relief among Ticonderogans, whose jobs and economy depended on IP’s presence. As one employee, James O’Bryan, says, “This International Paper has fed a lot of people from around this district.”
But two years later, after the last paper machine was shut down in the old mill, workers and residents had mixed feelings. “When the plant moved, it had a dramatic effect on the town,” recalls Ticonderoga town supervisor Michael Connery, who worked for three years as a security chief at the new mill. “It used to be when the noon whistle blew, stores, restaurants and banks would fill up. In the old days, IP was the community. Then they moved. But thank God they stayed in Essex County.”
Today that mill, on its 2,169-acre site, employs about nine hundred people and turns out 850 tons of uncoated white papers a day. To make this product, the mill is provided with wood chips from sawmills and softwood and hardwood logs from suppliers and company-owned land. About fifty percent of all wood cut on International Paper’s Adirondack acreage is used to supply the two local paper mills, with most going to Ticonderoga, according to Joseph Hanley, who manages the company land-and-timber operation. Some forty percent of the wood cut on IP acreage is sold to sawmills and veneer mills, and the remainder is sold as pulpwood for other customers and for firewood.
But timber cut on company land provides only a portion of the wood fiber required by the Ticonderoga and Hudson River mills. International Paper’s logging and fiber-supply division, managed by James Campopiano, is responsible for making up the difference by purchasing round-wood fiber from more than ninety independent logging contractors and chips from about seventy-five sawmills.
About a third of IP’s Adirondack property dates back to the company’s founding, including its showcase 18,000-acre tree farm in Speculator that has been in active timber management for a century, and, says Hanley, “still looks good.” Another third has been bought in bits and pieces over time, and the rest was purchased in the 1970s, including 9,000 acres from Republic Steel, to supply the new Ticonderoga mill.
International Paper spokespeople and publications emphasize the corporation’s commitment to responsible land stewardship. The company bases its practices on the “Sustainable Forestry Initiative” of the American Forest & Paper Association, which is dedicated to integrating “the reforestation, managing, growing, nurturing and harvesting of trees for useful products with the conservation of soil, air and water quality, wildlife and fish habitat, and aesthetics.” International Paper stresses that it requires both logging contractors and suppliers to abide by these guidelines.
Hanley’s land-and-timber department employs fifteen foresters, whose duty it is, he says, to “manage the natural growth of the forest.” They must decide which trees to harvest and when to harvest them, while being careful not to make decisions that would be detrimental to wildlife or to soil and water quality. For example, loggers may not harvest or use machinery within twenty-five feet of stream banks, can only harvest trees that are beyond a hundred feet from roadsides, and must stay away from deer-wintering areas, eagle nests and other wildlife sites.
The foresters also supervise the individual logging companies that contract to cut trees on IP land. At any one time, says Hanley, ten to fifteen contractors are involved, providing jobs for sixty to a hundred people, including lumberjacks and truck drivers. At the same time, he adds, about 600 to 800 people are employed by the private landowners who supply wood to International Paper. As Peter Gucker, an International Paper logging contractor, says: “If the Ti mill closed, logging as we know it would cease.”
Considering the number of jobs it provides in mills and logging operations, and the amount of taxes it pays on industrial and forest property, the company clearly has an enormous influence on local economies. Michael Connery estimates that the Ticonderoga mill and related logging activities account for about 2,000 jobs, and the plant alone pays property taxes of approximately $2.5 million.
Like other landowners, International Paper has filed grievances for its assessments, both on industrial property and timberland. Large landowners like International Paper can take their grievances from the local board of assessment review to the state supreme court, usually reaching a settlement along the way. This was the case in 1991, says Connery, when the company objected to a reassessment of its mill at $96 million and finally agreed to a figure of $68 million for a six-year period.
THE RESPONSIBILITY FOR day-to-day management of International Paper’s timberland is shared by three unit foresters. Tim Sprague, a twenty-two-year employee, tends to 115,000 acres. Two other unit foresters, based in Tupper Lake and Speculator, oversee 100,000 to 120,000 acres apiece. Sprague’s duties include evaluating forest conditions, determining which trees to cut, working with logging contractors to assure that they adhere to their contracts, and generally taking care of the land.
On one wintry day, Sprague, bundled up in sweater, jacket and Greek fisherman’s cap, tramps through the woods as he explains how foresters make decisions about cutting trees. The age at which a tree is harvested, says Sprague, is known as the rotation age. “That rotation age is determined by the particular landowner’s objective,” he says. “Ours is to be profitable and responsible to our stockholders.”
Every ten to twenty years, Sprague and his fellow foresters visit a particular stand of trees—a stand ranges from ten to fifty acres—to make harvesting decisions. They harvest only mature trees—eighty to a hundred years old—leaving enough crop trees to reseed the land and also removing younger trees that are deformed or diseased.
“We make a continuous forest inventory,” continues Sprague. “We measure what we’re growing. We know what we’ve got in the bank, how much we’re growing each year. It’s like interest on a tree account. We evaluate stand conditions, quality, maturity, disease. We look at the seedlings. Once the stand is cruised, we use scientific data that tell us how much mature stock we need and how many seedlings. Then we make a decision on whether or what to harvest. We pick out the defective and the mature and try to leave enough of the other.”
The acreage Sprague was inspecting that day—part of a 26,000-acre tract reaching across the towns of Moriah, Westport and Elizabethtown—held a great variety of species, including oak, ash, birch, maple, basswood, cherry, aspen, beech, red and white pine, hemlock and butternut. Of the fifty percent that is sold to sawmills and veneer mills, he says, softwoods go for dimension lumber, while hardwoods are used for furniture and veneer.
The logging companies that work on International Paper land vary widely in size. “They range from father-and-son operations and Mom does the book work,” says Sprague, “to big operations.”
Peter Gucker, the contractor working on the site, is, according to Sprague, “a working foreman,” who is there every day with the fifteen men involved in the logging job. “The resource is limited,” says Sprague. “They have to do a good job on it or use it up.”
Gucker has a big investment in his equipment: a feller-buncher, which saws a tree, picks it up and places it in a predetermined spot; skidders that pull logs to a landing; slasher-loaders that cut the logs into specified lengths and pile them into decks, which are sorted according to each customer’s requirements; and log trucks.
Few of these logs are delivered to the Hudson River mill, which makes paper mostly from huge bales of preprocessed wood. The logs that it does use are dropped by a crane into an outdoor flume and carried along the water into the mill, where they enter the debarker, which tumbles them until all the bark is removed. The peeled logs are then ground into pulp. The papermaking machines also use pulp made from recycled paper supplied by catalog companies and bulk sources, which is chopped up, mixed with water and filtered to remove ink particles as well as paper clips and staples.
Most of the pulp used at the mill, though, is obtained from the preprocessed wood, which is mixed with water and restored to a liquid state for use in one of the three papermaking machines. To produce glossy papers, reels of paper are given a coating that is heated and dried and then run through a machine called a supercalender, which creates the smooth, shiny surface.
Compared to the Hudson River mill, the buildings at the Ticonderoga mill are considerably more modern and airy, and its papermaking processes are more sophisticated, relying heavily on computer technology. The Ti mill holds two machines, the newest of which is longer than a football field, as wide as a three-lane highway and produces 306-inch-wicle paper at a rate of 2,700 feet a minute.
This high-tech environment came as a shock to many workers who were transferred there from the old mill. One who found it hard to adjust to the new surroundings was Ida Morette, of Ticonderoga, who was among the first women to be hired at the old mill. Morette’s career with International Paper began one October day in 1939, she recalls. As she was helping her mother with the laundry, a man she knew came to their door and told her she was wanted at the mill, where her father was employed.
“Someone knew I would like a job to help my parents out,” Morette says. “I was one of seven girls hired at the mill. I was thrilled to think I got the job. I made forty-nine cents an hour. I counted and sorted paper, I worked in the finishing room and worked on the cutters. And I went to the scale room.”
Morette loved her years at the old mill where “the men were polite and kind,” she says. “They pitched in and helped each other out. The bosses too.” The women workers usually wore slacks, she adds, “but you didn’t have to … I was careful how I sat and bent over.”
Then Morette was transferred to the new mill, where she worked for seven years before she retired. The old mill had been “a joy,” she says. “I loved every minute there. At the new mill, we were not as close. It was more automated. I was away from my friends.”
Morette’s nephew, James O’Bryan, the safety supervisor at the Ticonderoga mill, is the third generation of his family to work for International Paper. The old mill “was closer to the community because it was in the community,” he says. “My grandfather lived at the edge of the wood yard. As a little boy I would step out my doorway and watch them feed the chipper. I would go into the mill and bring my father his lunch.”
O’Bryan praises the company as a good place to work, but among the employees now “there is more of a removed feeling,” he says. “The close-knit relationship is gone.”
Along with the move out of town, something else was lost forever—the black smoke that hung over the village and the waste that was dumped into the LaChute River. As late as the mid-1960s, remembers Mick Charboneau, a Ticonderoga native who worked in the old mill, “you used to be able to know what color dye we were using by the color of the LaChute River.”
“The river was a disaster,” echoes town supervisor Connery. “Now you can swim and fish in it.”
In the old days, along with pollution, the safety of the mill workers was not a major concern. John Williams, who retired from the company after forty-two years, worked in the beater room of the old mill, where pulp was prepared. “We worked with chemicals, dyes,” he recalls. “We didn’t worry about that stuff. It’s a wonder we’re still alive. We’d go down inside these big tanks with agitators inside, go down inside the pulpers that could chew you up in five minutes. We didn’t think about it, we just did it.”
Then he moved to the new mill, Williams says, “and the safety things came along.” Workers who once worked bare-chested to keep cool were now required to wear shirts with sleeves at least four inches long. “We had to use earplugs, safety shoes, safety glasses,” he says. “It was very annoying for people who used to work in the old mill.” Those risky days have long been a thing of the past; safety is now a major priority, with safety committees, safety-information programs and careful tracking of job-related injuries.
International Paper has also made great strides in solving environmental problems. The mill at Corinth can boast that its waste-water treatment process is so effective that the city of Glens Falls, about eight miles downstream, takes its drinking water from the Hudson River. In Ticonderoga, the approximately 18 million gallons of Lake Champlain water drawn into the mill daily for use in the papermaking process is piped to a tertiary waste-water treatment plant, where it passes through three separate cleaning processes before being returned to the lake.
At the Ti mill, railroad tankers of chlorine gas once sat around the yard, risking disastrous spills. The Lake Champlain Committee, an environmental organization based in Burlington, Vermont, became involved with International Paper in the early 1990s. Concerned about toxic discharges into the lake, the organization urged the company to commit to making the Ticonderoga mill chlorine-free, recalls committee director Lori Fisher. The mill no longer uses elemental chlorine in its bleaching process, depending instead on a combination of safer chemicals. For this effort, the mill won an award from Governor George Pataki in 1997.
Another environmental group, the Adirondack Nature Conservancy, has cooperated with International Paper on a bat-protection program in Hague, where IP and the ANC worked together to protect abandoned graphite mines in which bats hibernate. “We have a wonderful working relationship with them,” says Kathy Regan of the Nature Conservancy. “They want to cut timber and we want them outside of the bat area. We hope to do more projects with them.”
Local communities where paper mills are located reap benefits from the International Paper Company Foundation, which funds programs in education, arts, health, environment and social services. Its EDCORE (Education and Community Resources) program is a partnership of business and education aimed at improving public schooling for students in kindergarten through twelfth grade.
AS INTERNATIONAL PAPER’S first century—marked by technological advances, higher costs, labor unrest, increasing competition in global markets—draws to a close, employees of the company and the communities whose economies depend on its existence celebrate the anniversary. But one question remains: What about the future?
Chairman John Dillon is proud of the company’s Adirondack history, but offers no guarantees for the years ahead. “We’re citizens of the Adirondacks,” he says. “Our land is as important to us as it is to anybody. We feel we’re a member of the community, but the community has to recognize that there is a need to remain competitive.”
To succeed, he says, “there is a dual responsibility between the company and the community.” The community must contribute “an invigorated work force,” he comments. Workers must recognize that “there is no God-given right to have jobs. They must be committed to doing their jobs very well.”
New York State also has a responsibility, he continues, to “recognize balance in environmental considerations. It can’t go overboard.” New York “is one of the highest-cost states of anywhere we do business,” says Dillon, adding: “The governor understands that.” In fact, International Paper has been helped by Governor Pataki’s elimination of a fifteen-percent surcharge that had been added to the state corporate tax under legislation passed during the Cuomo administration.
“It is obviously my objective to do everything I can to ensure that International Paper and the Adirondacks are positioned for the next hundred years,” says Dillon. “But it’s not entirely within our control.
“I understand the Adirondacks very well. I understand the people,” he concludes. “The region has unique quali ties and also a set of competitive dis advantages. Success comes from being able to take advantage of the unique qualities and somehow neutralize the disadvantages. We’ve been there one hundred years. The reason is because we remain competitive.”