Kalamazoo is about an hour southeast of where we live. I always seem to be northbound so I don't get this direction often, this was the perfect excuse to do just that. I forgot my wonderful Michigan Recreational Atlas at home which has detailed topographic maps of each county. I love this atlas. I have always plotted out my back roads adventures using it. And I guess this adventure is the start of a revival of the back roads adventures I did last year. I have missed them and I am at a place where I am ready to do them again. Now seems such an impractical time with winter right around the corner, but we will get out as much as we can before the snow flies.
Without my atlas, I was relying completely on my Google Maps app to get me back to Glen at the appointed hour. I decided to pick a main road and start driving south. At first I was disappointed that there weren't many barns along this road, but then I saw this building and that made me happy.
Although Boat Storage made me laugh since there was no water in sight. Never the less I loved the dull sheen of the building and the magnificent lettering of BOAT STORAGE.
Inspired by my first find I continued on, driving in large squares so that I would find my starting point back each time and not get completely lost.
I drove into the town of Vicksburg and noticed an Art Sale going on at this building...
Honestly the building interested me more than the art sale. I even drove into the parking lot snapped this photo with my phone then got back in my car and drove off looking for more unique buildings.
In one of my large driving squares I spotted a cemetery.
Being the cemetery geek that I am this caused me to slow down and then I saw this...
Thankfully there was a wide shoulder to the road here so I pulled over, got out and set off to explore...
Since this was the day after Halloween there was a bit of a creepy feeling to the place, and who puts a school next to a cemetery?!
Leaving the cemetery and old school house behind, I circled back into Vicksburg again. This time gathering up my courage and curiosity, I stopped at the Art Sale at the Nursery Building. And oh boy am I glad I did.
As I walked into the building the first thing I noticed were lovely hand crafted pottery pieces. I love pottery! Then I noticed free hot spiced apple cider, free cookies and donut holes. Oh yum! I was starving and there had definitely been no Starbucks anywhere in Vicksburg. Hot cider and chocolate chip cookie in hand I began to wander, admiring all the beautiful pottery pieces. Then I noticed one lone photographer amongst the booths, naturally I gravitated that way. The first thing I noticed as I approached his booth were three matted and framed photographs of gloriously decaying wood doors.
I struck up a conversation with Dave, a hobby photographer who has been photographing for over twenty years. I asked how the transition from film to digital went for him. He still prefers film but is practical about needing to be digital. Then I asked him about those doors. He said they were taken at the abandoned paper mill just on the other side of town. "Oh really", I said. "Is this place easily accessible?" "Oh sure it is, just go through town and take a left, you will see it." After more conversation and admiring his work, we exchanged business cards and then I was excited to get out of there and go find this mill.
Sure enough, through town, a left turn and there is was. The front was unimpressive being a combination of bad 1960's and 1970's additions, but because I had seen those photographs I knew there was more. I was expecting NO TRESPASSING signs and fence barriers but there were none of those things, just some large cement pieces so you couldn't drive around the mill. I parked in a nearby parking lot, geared up, and set off.
There was an intentionally set fire here in August of 2012 that heavily damaged portions of the mill. A suspect was caught and tried for arson but found not guilty.
Here is an early photo of the mill...
Vicksburg's Lee Paper Company was originally built to fill a need for a rag-content paper mill in the Kalamazoo Valley paper producing region. Vicksburg was selected because it had a good supply of clean water, two railroads and was centrally located to possible paper markets.
When construction was completed in 1905, production was 35,000 pounds of paper per day. There were 205 employees whose wages ran from 20 cents per hour to 32-1/2 cents an hour. Girls earned 10 cents an hour sometimes working 50-60 hours a week.
Textiles in the form of worn-out clothing and other rags formed the material for rag-content paper. Women sorted the rags, removed buttons and foreign objects in the Rag Room. The cloth was shredded, cooked and processed into fine-quality writing papers.
In 1996 the mill was purchased by Fox River Paper Company, who then announced it's closing by March of 2001. The fate of its beautiful buildings, among the oldest manufacturing structures in the area, is unknown.
The windows and doors that peaked my interest in the first place...
Along with a few other fluttery feeling finds...
I am in a Facebook Group called The Monochrome Explorers so I converted this one to monochrome to post in the group...
Such a sad loss for the area in both jobs and the loss of history. I am so thankful the buildings are still standing today so I could photograph them, but for how much longer remains to be seen. I am thankful too that I followed my curiosity and ventured into that Art Sale and met Dave.
*Historical information taken from the Vicksburg, MI History page, click here to see more vintage photos from the mill.