The Crown Vantage Paper Mill is an abandoned factory that sits in the small town of Parchment, MI. Originally called The Kalamazoo Vegetable Parchment Co. when it was first created by Jacob Kindleberger in 1909, the abandoned paper factory now sits dormant and in a state of decay.
This is easily one of the largest places that has ever been documented by The Forgotten Existence. With nearly 1 million square feet of abandoned goodness (just over 22 acres of buildings alone), this facility took almost an entire day to explore, with many buildings and rooms that we were still unable to see due to daylight restraints. But before we delve into The Forgotten Existence's take on the location, let's delve into some of the history behind this plant.
Jacob Kindleberger, or "Uncle Jake" as he came to be known as by his employees, was a devote Christian and believed that the success of his company depended upon the livelihood and well-being of his employees. He began to buy land around the factory, which provided his workers with not only employment, but a place to live as well. This directly resulted in the founding of the Village of Parchment, Michigan in the year 1918.
This type of corporate paternalism was not a newfound idea, however. Henry Ford was known for doing this in Highland Park, Dearborn. Most of the time, this type of "company town" is designed by their creators in order to exercise more control over their workforce.
In 1930, the Village of Parchment had a population of 511 people, and was officially recognized by Kalamazoo Township. The company ran and financed all aspects of the town until the Great Depression took enough of a toll to necessitate a public government. The citizens of the village then approved a charter, making it officially the City of Parchment.
Incredibly, Jacob Kindleberger has written an entire auto-biography about the facility titled The History of the Kalamazoo Vegetable Parchment Company. This book is available in pdf format as well.
After the Great Depression, during the post-war era, the mill provided employment for a work force of 1,700 men. As time went on, the company sold off pieces of property to the mill workers and their families so that they could own their own homes, as the "company town" model faded from popularity. Kindleberger himself passed away in January of 1947.
In 1960, The Kalamazoo Vegetable Parchment Company merged with Sutherland Paper Company to form KVP-Sutherland. In 1966 the Brown Company bought them out again, and by 1980 they were in turn bought out by the James River Corporation. In 1995, Crown-Vantage became the last company to operate this mill, which finally closed for good at the end of 2000.
The mill's closure resulted in the loss of 249 jobs, which was especially difficult for the City of Parchment, considering that all 249 employees were citizens of the city. The population of Parchment at this time was 1,936. This means that nearly 13% of the city's population was now unemployed.
The fate of the mill is now tied up in the courts of both legal and public opinion, and have been for a long time. In the meantime, the now abandoned buildings were breached, and scrappers, graffiti artists, and urban explorers all had their heyday.
When The Forgotten Existence first arrived in Parchment, MI, we immediately could tell that the town was based around this abandoned paper mill. All of the schools, houses, buildings, restaurants were scattered around the center of the town, which was the absolutely massive abandoned plant.
Upon visiting the plant, the front gate was wide open, allowing for us to just... walk right in. We were immediately met with an array of buildings that were interconnected using cracked, weed-infested, and graffiti covered sidewalks. The majority of this completely fence-enclosed facility was like walking through a little town, with about half of our exploration being outdoors, navigating the various interconnecting sidewalks and concrete pads.
The insides of the various warehouses and buildings were extraordinary, however. The majority of them being multi-story expanses with wide arrays of glass windows, I-beam covered areas, interconnecting catwalks, and remnants of old machinery, all separated in distinct areas that were enclosed by yellow guard rails.
Venturing as far as we could up the catwalks, towards the ceiling, we found access doors to the roofs of the buildings, which included massive rusted towers, and an expanse of graffiti.
Off in the distance, separated from the main collection of buildings were massive storage containers (silos, maybe?). These cylindrical containers were about 70 feet in diameter and about 35 feet tall, with stairways that allowed us to gain access to the top of them.
After exploring some more, we came across a building whose roof was entirely glass, allowing for natural sunlight to pour in. This room also hosted an absolutely impressive amount of graffiti. The next image is a gallery that includes just some of the pieces of graffiti that are in this room alone.
Continuing on, the basements of some of these buildings were extremely eerie. They were completely pitch-black, with shards of broken glass and trash littering the floors.
The day of exploration was winding down to an end for us, but not before we snapped a few more pictures on the way out:
But alas, this concluded The Forgotten Existence's visit to the Crown-Vantage Paper Mill. We would love to return to this facility to take even more pictures, explore even further, and to delve even further into the lost history of this fantastic piece of abandoned glory. (Crown Vantage pt.2?)
Until next time,
-The Forgotten Existence
P.S. - Almost all of the historical information on this page was paraphrased from a wonderful article by nailhed, check out his website here!