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The History of Simpson Lee Paper Company

tim moore
Tim Moore with one of the original drawings of the Lee Paper Company when it was a thriving producer of high quality writing papers in the 1920s.

Tim Moore, former Simpson Lee Paper Company purchasing manager, will tell some tales from behind the scenes of making paper at the now-abandoned mill on July 21.

Moore will discuss paper processing, specialty products made only in Vicksburg, and the value of Vicksburg’s water to the mill’s success. His presentation is part of a series of programs offered by the Vicksburg Historical Society on the third Tuesday of the month during the summer. He will hold forth at 7 p.m., at the Community Center. The public is urged to attend.

There were many colorful characters who made their living tending the paper machines, working in the “beater” room, packaging, doing research and development, he will point out. During the days the mill thrived, it produced top quality paper for specialty printing jobs as well as photographic paper. Lee Paper and before that, Simpson Lee, was the chief employer in the Vicksburg area, whose many residents saw paper-making as their life work.

The mill, opened in 1905, has been closed since 1997 and has gone through a succession of owners. Bob Thompson was the initial buyer of the building and grounds in 2002. He salvaged much of the interior paper machines, selling the parts world-wide. He was bought out by two Chicago developers who saw an opportunity to market this large set of buildings to area manufacturers. That didn’t work to their advantage and soon the mill structure began to deteriorate. A section of the roof even collapsed during a heavy snowfall in 2013. It has been allowed to deteriorate. Water has damaged several parts of the structure.

The mill has been acquired through a tax sale by the Kalamazoo County Land Bank. Its charge is to clean up the site contamination and return it to the tax rolls through a sale to a responsible developer. An environmental study is underway as well as a grant application to the Environmental Protection Agency for cleanup of coal ash on the site considered a health hazard.

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