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Editor’s Note: This is the first of a series of articles about the history of the Camas Mill.

Camas, WA — The Camas Mill has undergone many name changes, renovations, additions, and has a history filled with fascinating stories dating back to the 1880s.

Longtime mill employees Anna Fry and Caroline Mercury (who recently retired after 36 years) spent considerable time gathering the history (artifacts, logs, books, photos, tools, etc.) and have created a Mill Interpretive Center, or museum, that gives visitors a comprehensive look at what turned Camas into a town, and why we’re called the Papermakers.

The Interpretive Center is open on First Fridays, near the mill’s main entrance on Adams Street (with the black canopy) and provides visitors with an excellent 10-minute movie that provides a light overview of the mill’s history, the people who built it — and those who continue to work there today.

Even if you’re not a history buff, spending 30 minutes at the center will open your eyes to its history — and it may even surprise you.

One of the first things Mercury presented was the mill handle pattern, which is made of wood. It served as a pattern for the 20,000+ steel handles manufactured throughout the mill over the generations.

“It was handcrafted with great precision,” said Mercury. “And we’ve preserved it here for history.”

Mill

This wooden gear served as the pattern for more than 20,000 steel handles that operated at the Camas Mill.

She said the mill sits on 650 acres, of which 200 acres is on the main land, 425 acres is on Lady Island, and 17 acres is north of 6th Avenue.

They happily showed off manager book reports dating back to the 1920s, detailing every expenditure, including the cost of meals. They pulled out dozens of photos dating back to the first mill, which burned down. We looked at photos of the brand-new manager’s house, which was built in 1923 and still stands today on 6th Avenue and Garfield. They shared stories like when the mill was converted into a machine shop to make ship parts during World War II.

”We built rudders and great cleats,” said Fry. “Those (the cleats) are the things that hold the ship at the dock.”

During the Depression, said Mercury, they never laid anyone off, and kept people working part-time.

”The mill made sure that families had milk and bread during those lean years,” said Mercury.

And, did you know that currently the mill produces 50,000 tons of paper a year?

 

Mill

This flume carried wood from a sawmill by Lacamas Lake.

Key Historical Points

The mill’s history dates back to 1883 when Henry Pittock, who owned The Oregonian newspaper, formed a company called the Lacamas Colony Company. Under Pittock’s leadership, the business purchased 2,600 acres of land and began construction of a paper mill that would supply newsprint for The Oregonian. The purchased land included property north of Lacamas Lake.

Crews began clearing land, building dams, and constructing a saw mill. Thirty Chinese laborers began work on the mill ditch, which is an aqueduct that continues to supply the Camas Mill with water today.  During that same year, the town site of Lacamas was laid out and platted, and the town’s first store was opened for business.

  • In 1884, Pittock, J.K. Gill, and William Lewthwaite formed the Columbia River Paper Company and filed letters of incorporation in the county clerk’s office.
  • In 1885, the plant produced the first wood pulp manufactured in the northwest, and it was reported to be of excellent quality.
  • On November 6, 1886, a fire destroyed the original facility, with damages estimated at $100,000. The cause of the fire was never determined.
  • By 1888, the plant was rebuilt to include two paper machines, a ground wood mill, a sulfite mill with two digesters, and a sulfur burner. The plant employed 65 people.
  • In 1889, Washington became a state, and in 1904, the No. 4 paper machine started making newsprint.
  • In 1906, the bag factory was built, and was equipped with 14 machines. Camas would make bags until 1981.
  • In 1907, sulfite production increased from 10 to 38 tons per day. The steam plant was expanded, and the No. 5 paper machine started up.
  • In 1910, The Crown Columbia Paper Company double the plant’s capacity, producing four million pounds per year.
  • In 1911, with seven paper machines in operation, they employed 450 people and paid out $300,000 per year in wages.
  • In 1913, the mill converted to electric power, the No. 8 paper machine was installed, and 16 new bag machines were added, which would produce 500,000 bags per day.
  • In 1914, Crown Columbia merged with Willamette Paper to form Crown Willamette, which became the second largest paper maker in the world.

The next article will look at growth in the 20s, 30s, 40s and 50s, and the numerous changes that ensued.

Camas, WA — I’ve been bothered by a trend over the past few years to shorten the Camas High School mascot name from Papermakers to “Makers” so I’ve spent some time researching its root cause.

There are three scenarios in play:

1) Design: It’s easier to design a uniform, practice jersey or sports memorabilia because it requires fewer letters. As a designer, writer and someone with the last name “Geigenmilller” I get that, but I would never shorten my name to “Miller” as 1) that disrespects my history — Geigenmiller means Violinmaker or “one who owns or operates a mill” in German; 2) Doing so dishonors my family; and 3) Shortening to “Miller” or “Maker” takes away the history. Maker of what? Some suggest that using the term “maker” implies an inherent authority. Plus, it feels like part of history is being erased, and it’s not a good idea to erase history. The history of the mill in Camas isn’t perfect, but it’s the history. We can certainly discuss the environmental concerns the mill brings, but that doesn’t mean we re-write the past. Being a “Papermaker” isn’t political. Even though the mill will likely close in a few years, we are still a mill town. It’s OK to say that. Solution: If you want to shorten the jersey name, then just imprint “Camas.” Pretty simple.

2) Language: It’s just easier to say. I’ve heard announcers tell me it’s easier to say “Makers” over “Papermakers.” This is simply nonsense. “Roll Papermakers” requires two more syllables. Solution: Let’s just say “Papermakers” or “Papermaker Pride.” #PapermakerPride is a good hashtag. It honors the history and the moment.

3) Attitude: There is a concerted movement to erase the history. Yes, this is true. There are many newer residents that love Camas, its beauty, its schools, its people — but they’re embarrassed that it’s a mill town. I think for some it’s concern about the environmental issues associated with the mill, or for others it’s simply an attitude. Why? Are you ashamed thousands of workers made their living at the mill since the late 1800s? These thousands of people provided a good living for their families. Did they live in the elegant houses so many of us live in (myself included). No. But, they spent money at Runyan Jewelers (which still stands), paid a few cents to watch a movie at the Liberty Theater (which we all love) and swam at Sandy Swimming Hole (a favorite contemporary summer fun place). Those who argue in favor of the shortened name say it still implies mill work, but again I ask “maker of what?” You can’t erase the history. If you’re making a political statement given the environmental issues at the mill, spare us. We all know that. In time, those issues will be fixed. Solution: We’re a mill town, and that’s OK. Let’s celebrate it. Use Papermakers.

Basketball

Isaiah Sampson led the Papermakers with 18 points. The boys basketball jerseys simply say “Camas.”

History of the Papermakers

Let’s take a quick look at local history.

In 1883, LaCamas Colony Company selected the current townsite for their new paper mill. Mr. Henry L. Pittock, the owner of the Oregonian newspaper of Portland needed plenty of water to power paper-making machines for his newspaper and found it in the lakes behind the LaCamas region. The name “LaCamas” originated from the “camas roots used by the Indians for food.”

  • 1883: Aeneas MacMaster opens the first store in town.
  • 1884: First school and post office was established in town.
  • 1906: Camas was incorporated as a town.
  • 1907: Northbank Highway opened from Vancouver, through Camas and Washougal, to Stevenson.
  • 1908: The LaCamas Post, forerunner of the Post-Record newspaper, was created.
  • 1928: The Crown Willamette Paper Company merged with the San Francisco-based Zellerbach Paper Mill Company forming Crown-Zellerbach Corporation.
  • In WWII the Camas plant produced ship rudders in the machine shop. The rudders were being installed on the Liberty ships under construction in Vancouver and Portland. After the war, the plant’s management became more interested in technical and research problems.
  • 1960: Crown Zellerbach Corporations changes ownership and name several times – currently being merged, but known as James River Corporation. It is now known as Georgia Pacific.
  • 2006: The city celebrated its 100th year as an incorporated city.
Papermakers

The mill in the 1950s.

Source: www.cityofcamas.us

Also see: Camas History

That’s a tiny piece of history. Today, we create our own story, our own history. And, I love being at all these events to record your history.

Papermakers

From www.opb.com, who did an in-depth documentary about the history of Camas.

Conclusion

Camas is progressing, and that’s OK, too. When the mill finally closes, there will surely be environmental cleanup tasks. And, we’ll get those done. It’s good to build a new pool, build new schools, and upgrade our parks, but it’s not cool to alter the history by changing the mascot name. I ask you to keep saying “Papermaker” and say it with pride. It’s part of who your kids are. My oldest son is a Papermaker graduate, and we have two middle sons who are current Papermakers. They’re not makers.

Our name is unique. We’re don’t have generic names like Panthers (no offense, Washougal), or Tigers, or Falcons, or Beavers.

As the city progresses, longtime residents are losing the things most dear to them (open spaces, Crown Park Pool, and likely the closure of the mill). We have to respect their time here. They’re losing things precious to them. Please don’t disrespect them by taking away or shortening their name.

As we drive around with our overpriced SUVs and BMWs (I’m guilty of that, too) take a moment and walk down 4th Avenue, look at the smokestacks at the mill, and talk to someone who’s lived here their whole life. They have pride in their work. Listen to their story. Buy them a pastry at Caffe Piccolo. I think you’d enjoy it, and learn a few things.

I’d love to hear your feedback.

Sincerely,

Ernie Geigenmiller

 

Papermakers

Liberty Theater.

Papermakers

Straub’s Funeral Home, as pictured in the 1940s. Wilmer Swank opened Swank’s Funeral Home in 1911. It was eventually renamed Camas Funeral Chapel, and then Straub’s.

Since today is Election Day, we dug up some old history and fun facts, and learned that Charles Farrell was the first registered voter in Camas. This is a photo, courtesy of Images of America, of the 1915 Farrell House, which was built by John Roffler for Charles Farrell and his wife, Ursula “Rose” Roffler. Charles was the fist registered voter in Camas, and served on the Camas City Council for many years.

The Farrell House still stands today, and has been very well maintained over the generations. Locals know it well.

Initially, the Charles and Rose ran a general store in downtown Camas, as well as a home millinery business. Their business evolved to become the Farrell and Eddy Department store, which was the go-to department store for local residents.

Today, the building still exits, and houses the Camas Antiques store, which is an attraction from miles around. It’s truly a destination for many people.

So, now you know.

For more information, visit Camas Public Library via the Internet, or stop by the historical building, which had a major renovation in 2003. They have a section that allows you to view and copy old materials, which help one gain a sense of local history.