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Warren County Local History by Dallas Bogan

Christian Waldschmidt's Paper Mill

Dallas Bogan on 10 August 2004
original article by Dallas Bogan
Return to Index to see a list of other articles by Dallas Bogan

Along the Little Miami River, in Clermont County, once existed possibly the first paper mill in the entire Northwest Territory. (Another source says that the first paper making facility was started in 1806 in Fawcettstown, now East Liverpool, Ohio.) The mill was situated on 1,060 2/3 acres just above the mouth of the East Fork in the area of Camp Dennison on Rt. 126. Though never actually seeing it, George Washington was the first white man to own this land, one of four tracts he had purchased in the Little Miami River valley.
This particular acreage was purchased by Christian Waldschmidt from Joseph Kerr just previous to March 25, 1811. Waldschmidt built and operated a mill on an island of the Little Miami just above Milford. The historic watermark of the mill was "Miami-W. & Co."
Waldschmidt had a pioneer spirit about him whereas in modern times he would have been called an entrepreneur.
Already pursuing the trade of a master craftsman in the papermaking profession, he immigrated to western Pennsylvania in 1786 as the head of a group of German, Swiss, French and Dutch Pietists who sought religious freedom.
Hearing affirmative tales of the Miami Country, he set out in 1794 on horseback with several members of his party to inspect this newly discovered land beyond the mountains.
Like so many other pioneers, Waldschmidt envisioned a land where saw mills for cutting logs for homes, grist mills in which to grind the corn and wheat, and quite importantly, mills that would manufacture the means for paper products. A paper mill could produce ledgers, legal papers, and most certainly, the newspapers.
Thomas Fitzwater gave an account of the immigration of his family and the Waldschmidt's from Pennsylvania, and the pioneer events following their settlement. He wrote:
"C. Waldschmidt, our own family, and four other families started to this State [Ohio] on or near the 1st of May, 1796. I have little recollection of the journey to Juniata, but I recollect that place.
"The next place I recollect seeing was Bedford Springs, then nothing more until we came to Redstone [Pennsylvania]. Here we were detained near three weeks waiting for our flatboats.
"At Pittsburgh we met Gen. Wayne's regular army. I have a distinct recollection of seeing the soldiers firing the cannon; then the drum would beat and the fife would play a short time.
"The Ohio River was low, and the three flat-boats had great difficulty in getting along. They only traveled in the day-time, always tying up to the shore at night. At the mouth of Bracken River two families left and went into Kentucky.
"After being on the river seven weeks we landed at Columbia.
The [Little] Miami was pouring out muddy water and driftwood. This was the first sight I got of that river.
"Not far above the mouth of the Miami the boat which contained Waldschmidt's family ran aground. The four men and a boy tried to get it afloat that afternoon and into the night, but did not succeed. The next morning another boat came along, when they hailed the inmates for assistance; this boat landed close to ours, and I recollect seeing three or four go to the boat which was aground; in two or three hours the boat was afloat.
"Waldschmidt was so pleased to get his boat afloat that he told them he would give them ten gallons of whisky for their services. They bought a keg which held three gallons, and he filled that.
"It was about the middle of July when we landed at Columbia. In fifteen or eighteen days, after the Miami got low, we arrived at our journey's end. Waldschmidt went vigorously to work building a mill. Sometime in the summer of 1797 I saw the frame of his gristmill put up. That same fall he started one run of stones and also two copper stills for making whisky."
Columbia, a rather small settlement at the mouth of the Little Miami, showed some promise of growth, but Waldschmidt needed room for expansion for his proposed paper mill. He needed a strong current of clear water, a river large enough for transportation, and trees for lumber.
An excellent site in the wilderness he found. This location was on a bend on the Little Miami just above Milford. He purchased this site at $1.00 per acre and immediately began building three blockhouses.
Shortly thereafter, he and a companion traveled back to Pennsylvania and returned the following year with 20 families to the Miami Valley. At the new location they began building a gristmill and a sawmill.
He quickly became acquainted with Cincinnati as an important trade center. A new road was built, called the Wooster Pike, which allowed Waldschmidt to direct his droves of corn-fed hogs to the slaughterhouses in the city. Flour and corn meal were also sent from Waldschmidt's site by flat boat to Cincinnati and on to New Orleans. Waldschmidt, through his trade expertise, became a member of the early Miami Exporting Company.
The land in this area was once a busy place. Here great droves of hogs were fattened on Miami Valley corn and many a local farmer gained wealth. A steady flow of heavily loaded wagons brought corn and wheat into the mills, later named the Kugler Mills after Waldschmidt's son-on-law.
Logs were sawed and processed for new homes from this location, which included Milford, Round Bottom, Indian Hill, Plainville and Columbia. Later the white oaks were cut for ties for the Little Miami Railroad.
Nothing remains of the grand enterprise today except the family homestead. The great barns and cattle pens, the small community church, all have since disappeared.
The first newspaper produced from Waldschmidt's paper mill was that of the Western Spy, an important newspaper of the Northwest Territory. The old paper mill was a blessing to the editors who were unceasingly delayed by paper shipments sent down the Ohio from the East. Many times this old river would be frozen which would delay the flat boats for an undetermined period.
Waldschmidt's newspaper enterprise was growing by leaps and bounds. He sent out a call for apprentices, girls as well as boys. Girls were employed as rag sorters, they being more familiar with the quality of linen.
These rags were bought for three and four cents a pound. The rags were then manufactured into paper with the mill's production reaching 100 to 150 pounds a day. In contrast, today's Miami Valley mills increasingly produce 100 to 150 tons per day.
His offer of board, $100, a new suit of clothes and nine months of night schooling, far exceeded other industries in those days. As time passed he increased the span of his paper mill and offered the highest prices for linen rags, which was the only source of paper in early times.
A more common grayish paper was standardized at other mills at that time. However, the "Miami" watermarked, hand-made paper was of the best quality and of a cloudless color. It seems that the clear water of the Little Miami tended to wash the pulp free of impurities.
Waldschmidt, born in 1755, along with some members of his family, succumbed in the spring of 1814 to the epidemic called the "cold plague." However, his able son-in-law, Mathias Kugler, and his grandson, John Kugler, carried on the work.
The DAR has restored the old Waldschmidt house, which was in quite a deplorable state. The old dwelling was given to the DAR by Mr. and Mrs. Chester Kroger of Cincinnati who also contributed $5000 toward its reconditioning.

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This page created 10 August 2004 and last updated 28 September, 2008
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