May 23, 2012
LIMA — Fire struck the Lima Paper Mill in 1893 — and all of Lima held its breath to see what would become of the business.The Lima Paper Mill, which began in 1870, operated along Hog Creek near the current Lima Senior High School. A historical marker notes its history as the first place oil was found, a well drilled by Benjamin C. Faurot, the original owner of the factory.The strawboard plant was a major contributor to the local economy. Faurot had sold it to the American Strawboard Co. on terms that it must stay open in Lima. The fire roared through the storehouse of straw and obliterated the central buildings on the property. The Lima Egg Case Co. was spared, a business that made egg shipment containers from strawboard.About a year passed until the good news was announced: The factory would restart.“The portion of the mills destroyed by fire last summer has been rebuilt and the damaged machinery replaced with new and modern pieces so that the mills are much better equipped for work now than previously,” according to a newspaper story from April 14, 1894. One hundred people were to be employed.“The company has paid out about $500 a week while the rebuilding and improvements have been going on, and now that the work has been completed the plant is one of the best and finest equipped in he country. Attention has been paid in refitting the mills, toward the reducing of the expense in the manufacture of strawboard to the minimum and in this matter it is thought board can be manufacted at the Lima mills as cheap, if not cheaper, than at any of the mills in the country. The resumption of the mills means the putting of a large sum of money into circulation in Lima,” the same story continued.The mill was profitable enough for leaders to look at Kenton as a possible location for expansion. By the end of 1894, that was in the works, and a story reported it would employ 50.“The boiler of the strawboard works at Kenton exploded yesterday afternoon, injuring several men and damaging the building to the probably extent of $1,000,” a Feb. 13, 1895, story reported, putting a damper on that expansion.And in Hardin County, as in Allen, the water was an issue. The commissioners and American Straw Board Co. were “having trouble” about the mill's dam across the Scioto, a July 16, 1895, story reported.“The fish commissioner has been notified, and he may look the matter up. Fish are dying by hundreds and the stench is terrible along the river,” according to that story.That same year, Lima citizens started grousing again about water quality.“Every day that the paper mills are in operation there is emptied into Hog Creek from that institution 1 million gallons of water and 100 bushels of lime and few disinfectants more generally used than lime. The creek above the paper mills has been dry throughout nearly the entire summer season, and but for the water pumped into it from the mill's fresh water wells there would be little or no water run through the disease-infected water course to carry off the outflow of the sewers which empty in the channel,” an Oct. 8, 1895, story reported. Doctors looked into the matter and said the lime water actually helped kill the disease in the sewer contents emptied into the river.The next year brought terrible flooding — flooding on such a scale that many railroad tracks were washed out. The smelly river issue was forgotten.Mill leader W.S. Lowe and refinery leader J.W. Van Dyke were raking in the profits. They went in together on a steam yacht, the Vulcan, purchased from a Port Huron gentleman. They refurbished it together for vacationing.Conditions were quite different for the laborers at the mill. A 20-foot-high straw pile collapsed onto George Cotner in December 1897, smothering him so his fellow workers had to dig him out. The straw forced him into an unnatural position, and he was left paralyzed below the waist. He would eventually sue for almost $2,000 damages.A terrible tornado hit Lima, and the mill, in September 1898. The egg case factory was damaged, and there was loss of life in town. (A 6-year-old boy was carried away and never found.)The following year, another fire.“The Lima Paper Mills were almost wiped from existence by fire at an early hour this morning and the probabilities are they will not be rebuilt,” a Jan. 6, 1899, story reported. Fires were frequent, with the straw stored there easily caught by cinders from passing locomotives. “There have been numerous conflagrations at this instituion but in no case have they proved to be very tedious.”But just days later, officials announced they would rebuild. The mill started work again in September 1899. The new and improved mill would need 225 men with an output of 9.350 tons of strawboard a year, an Oct. 24, 1899, story reported.By the early 1900s, the mill was idled by the strawboard trust — apparently an attempt to better control the market. The industry had also begun to attract negative attention from state legislators. By 1912, the Gramm-Bernstein Co. turned the old mill property into a site for its heavy truck production.