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Lincoln mill quietly fading into history

The conceptual design for the planned resort in Lincoln, on the site of the old Franconia Paper Company. Courtesy photo. (click for larger version)
November 11, 2009
LINCOLN - The machines that once turned out paper in the sturdy brick buildings that provided a livelihood for generations have long been quiet and after 30 years of silent solitude, the mills are coming down.

The soaring, 7-story bleaching mill, built in the 1960s to mitigate environmental issues along the East Branch, is a steel skeleton now and demolition crews, outfitted in hazmat suits, balance on the roof of the old machine room, like spacemen on a desolate planet.

"It's sad in a way, but it's progress," said Roger Harrington, who went to work in the mill in 1957 and remained through the years, when part of the mill was redeveloped into retail shops and some 30 outbuildings were torn down. "It's not going to come back."

Harrington, local historian Rick Russuck and retired U.S. Forest Service archeologist Karl Roenke paid a visit to the mill, watching and remembering, as those crews bagged materials that contained asbestos.

They alternately commented on the progress, marveled at what had been built here in 1893 and reflected the quiet passing of what was a way of life.

Timber baron J.E. Henry arrived in Lincoln in 1892, a wilderness outpost miles from anywhere. The population was 100 and where the men stood on this morning, it was all forest.

In that first year, Henry rented an existing sawmill in town and sent the loggers up into the mountain wilderness. He began to develop a town, building houses for the workers he would need and extending the rail line from a mile away in North Woodstock.

Within a year, he started building a mill and developed miles of logging roads and railroad tracks into the forest. Henry built a company town.

"My father and my brothers worked there," Harrington said. "This was home."

As a boy, he used to bring lunch pails to the mill workers, in exchange for a quarter, which would buy him a ticket to the movies and some popcorn, with a few cents left over.

After Henry died in 1912, the mill had a couple of owners, notably Parker Young, which bought it in 1917. When it went bankrupt in 1946, Marcalus Manufacturing took over and ran it until it, too, went bankrupt in 1950 and the assets were purchased by the Franconia Paper Company.

The first of several lawsuits over water quality was filed in 1962, which prompted construction in 1967 of the huge bleaching plant that rose seven stories over the town to help meet regulations. Franconia Paper went bankrupt in 1972 and despite attempts over the next eight years to get it back on track, the last paper was produced on June 11, 1980.

"We knew it was coming to an end,'" Harrington said. "We had to accept it."

Within the next few years, the old mill site will turn into RiverWalk at Loon Mountain, which will feature 170 luxury units, a 400-seat theatre, a four-season swimming pool and retail shops. Developer Dennis Ducharme, who built the Pollard Brook timeshare resort in the 1990s, envisions a modern-day grand hotel, incorporating the best of that era, such as the signature red roof of the Mount Washington Hotel.

Tourism and papermaking co-existed for years in Lincoln, beginning in the mid-1960s, when Loon Mountain opened to skiers. It was, Russuck said, the fallback for the hundreds of workers who lost their jobs when Franconia Paper closed in June 1980.

"Loon was here, there was a construction boom that started and Burndys came along," he said.

In 1987, the Millfront Marketplace, built out of one of the mill buildings, opened and as construction of Interstate 93 pushed northward, it brought skiers in the winter and vacationers in the summer, turning the region into a recreation destination.

The men on this morning talked of change and its inevitability, but also of the importance of remembering the past and in the case of Lincoln, from which it came.

Ducharme plans to include a museum in his development and there are still some reminders of the mill throughout town, such as the kiln United Shoe Machinery built in 1927, which is now a part of the marketplace and every day at noon, the lunch hour is marked with a piercing siren, just as it was in the mill era.

Martin Lord and Osman
Salmon Press
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