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Sunday, November 6, 2011

The Curtis Paper Mill -- The Meeteer Years

Curtis Paper Mill, c.1915
Way back, in one of the first posts on this site, we looked at the Meeteer House on Kirkwood Highway, just east of Newark. Now, we'll focus on the source of the Meeteer's wealth, briefly mentioned in the earlier post -- their paper mill. First built during the early years of our nation, rebuilt twice and upgraded numerous times over the years, high-quality paper was produced at this site almost continuously for over two hundred years. When production finally ceased here in 1997, the Curtis mill was the oldest operating paper mill in the country -- and that was the one built halfway through the site's history!

Although the final years of the mill are well-documented and remembered, the details of its beginnings are a bit hazier. What we do know is that in 1789, Thomas Meeteer of Birmingham Township, PA purchased land on the east and north sides of White Clay Creek from Samuel Painter, Jr. Though there are no direct references to a paper mill being present then, the deed does apparently reference "Edward Meter's mill dam". What Edward's relationship to Thomas was and kind of a mill he had are unclear.*[Update below] Assuming there was not one there already, Thomas Meeteer likely erected his paper mill very soon after acquiring the site, although the first known reference to it wasn't until 1798.

Update 12/10/12: Thanks to information submitted on the Facebook page by Gabrielle Anne, we now know that Francis Cooch was incorrect in what he wrote in his "Little Known History" book. That's where the "Edward Meter" name came from. The actual name on the deed, as seen below, was Edward Miles. And according to Scharf, Miles was for a time the owner of the millseat that would eventually be the Dean Woolen Mill, and later NVF. It's now used for office space and is located on Creek View Rd., the last road before you go over the bridge on Paper Mill Rd. coming out of Newark. This is the next seat downstream from Meeteer's, and the mill dam referenced may have been the one just west of the Paper Mill Rd. bridge.

Somewhere along the line, Thomas Meeteer was joined in the business by two of his sons, Samuel and William. It seems that at one point, the Meeteers may have been looking to leave the area, as the property was put up for sale in 1805. Included in the listing was 300 acres along White Clay Creek, the paper mill, a saw mill, a brick house, a large frame house, five tenements (three for the mill, two for the farm), and a log and frame barn. Either they couldn't sell it or they changed their minds, because the family did hold on to their property and their mill, then known as the Milford Mill. I don't know if it has anything to do with whatever was happening at the time, but in 1804 the mill was listed as being owned by "John Armstrong, Thomas Meeteer and Company". I've yet to find any other information about John Armstrong.

Soon after not selling the mill, in 1808 Thomas built a new storehouse a few hundred feet north of it. This storehouse, now used as a garage, is the only remaining structure on the site from the Meeteer period. Four years later, Thomas Meeteer died, leaving the business to Samuel and William (other son George B. may have been involved then, but later operated another mill producing flour, plaster, bark, and lumber). Whereas Joshua Gilpin's paper mill on the Brandywine sold primarily to Philadelphia, the Meeteer's focus was southward toward Baltimore, where they owned a bookstore and warehouse. After their father's death, William moved to Baltimore to run the store, while Samuel stayed here to oversee the mill.
William's response in the 1832 McLane Report
The Milford Paper Mill was a sizable operation for its day. In 1820, the mill employed 56 people -- 21 men, 28 women, and 7 children. By 1832, though, there were 34 employees, only 8 of which were men. Above is William's response included in the 1832 McLane Report, a nationwide survey of manufacturing in the US. The decrease in manpower is almost certainly the result of the addition of automated paper-making machinery, possibly one designed by Wilmington's Joshua Gilpin.

Samuel continued to run the paper mill until 1838, when he died. The family carried on for three more years before selling the property in 1841. It was sold to a man named Joseph E. Perry, about whom I can find no information. It's not even clear whether he even kept the mill operating or not. If he did, he didn't do a very good job of running or maintaining the mill. Perry soon found himself deep in debt, and in January 1848 the now dilapidated Milford Mill was purchased by a pair of brothers from Newton, MA -- Solomon and George Curtis. This would kick off the second era of paper-making at the site, which we will look at in part two of the post.

Additional Facts and Related Thoughts:
  • Again, we have a situation where there are multiple spellings of a name. "Meeteer" is also found as "Meteer" and "Meter" in various sources. Since "Meeteer" seems to be the spelling used in the oldest sources, that's the one I've chosen to use. I just like to throw that out there in case anyone does any research on their own, that they know to check all the different forms of the name.
  • Thomas Meeteer was, in 1799, one of the founders of what became Newark United Methodist Church. From then until 1812 when they purchased their first chapel, the fledgling congregation met either in Meeteer's house or in the paper mill itself.
  • Although I don't think it has been established for certain, prevailing thought seems to be that the area of Milford Crossroads derived its name from that of the Meeteer's Milford Paper Mill.


  1. Excellent articles! For those who may have missed it, the transformation from the horse and wagon age to the age of motorized transportation is subtly displayed in the mill picture. When magnified a bit, note the truck at the front corner of the plant while a team of horses hitched to a freight wagon is located at the back corner. The Pomeroy Railroad Bridge is also seen in the background.kc.

  2. I just updated this post with info submitted through the Facebook page. Many thanks to Gabrielle Anne for sending a snip of the 1789 deed mentioned in the post. As you can see, the name is "Miles", not "Meter". She's right, though, in pointing out that the line could look like a crossed "t". And unlike, "Edward Meter", Edward Miles was a real person who earlier owned the mill where the Dean Woolen Factory (and later, NVF) would be. Maybe Miles was the one who built the dam (the mill seems to have been there before him), so his name was attached to it.

  3. I work with 1820s era records, and stumbled across this page while researching a watermark on a document. The watermark on the paper (a Revolutionary War Claim certificate issued by the War Department in 1820) is "Meeteer". I can provide a photograph of the watermark if you'd like.

    1. That's amazing! Yes, I'd love to see that. I don't know that I've ever seen much about what their product was. Government work does kind of make sense, though, since they had a store in Baltimore. If you'd like, you can contact me at mchhistory@verizon.net. Thanks!!!