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, dubbed "Uncle Jake" by his employees, was a devout Christian who thought that the success of his firm hinged on the livelihood and well-being of his workers. He began purchasing property surrounding the facility, providing not just jobs but also a place to live for his employees. In 1918, the Village of Parchment, Michigan was established as a direct result of this.
This form of corporate paternalism, on the other hand, was not a novel concept. In Highland Park, Dearborn, Henry Ford was known for doing this. Most of the time, the designers of this form of "corporate town" do so in order to have more control over their personnel.
The Village of Parchment was formally recognized by Kalamazoo Township in 1930, with a population of 511. Until the Great Depression took its toll and necessitated a public administration, the corporation administered and financed all parts of the community. The residents of the community then ratified a charter, legally establishing Parchment as a city.
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.
The mill employed 1,700 individuals after the Great Depression and during the postwar period. As the "company town" concept fell out of favor, the firm began selling off portions of land to mill workers and their families so that they could own their own houses. In January of 1947, Kindleberger himself passed away.
The Kalamazoo Vegetable Parchment Company and Sutherland Paper Company joined in 1960 to establish KVP-Sutherland. The Brown Company bought them out again in 1966, and the James River Corporation bought them out again in 1980. Crown-Vantage became the last business to run this mill in 1995, and it was closed permanently at the end of 2000.
The mill's closing resulted in the loss of 249 jobs, which was particularly devastating for the City of Parchment as all 249 workers were Parchment residents. At the time, Parchment had a population of 1,936 people. This meant that roughly 13% of the city's residents were 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