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Rock-Tenn Paper Mill

UPDATE: As of May 2022, the Rock-Tenn Paper Mill has been completely demolished. There is nothing left standing at this location.

Situated in the heart of a little town in southern Michigan called Otsego is a 47 acre plot of land with an abandoned gem.

The Rock-Tenn Paper Mill of Otsego, MI, formerly known as the MacSimBar Paper Mill, began operation here in 1905 according to the Michigan Department of Labor. "Lockwood's Directory of the Paper and Stationary Trade for that year showed MacSimBar as featuring twenty beating and refining machines, and one 138-inch four cylinder. Its products included roofing and deadening felts, carpet lining, corrugated and perforated boards, and rag paper specialties. Their output was shown at 80,000lbs in 24 hours." (nailhed, 2011)

Photo courtesy of Otsego Public Library

The "MacSimBar" acronym comes from the last names of its president, vice president, and treasurer, who were as follows: M.B. McClellan, S.W. Simpson, and G.E. Bardeen. George Bardeen also headed the Bardeen Paper Co., and McClellan headed the Wolverine Paper Co. In 1905 the secretary was listed as R.W. Reynolds, and the superintendent as James Burby.

"MacSimBar Paper Co. 1911" Photo courtesy of Detroit Public Library

By 1915 the Department of Labor showed MacSimBar to have a workforce of 176 males and two females, all of whom were over 16 years of age. There were two injury-accidents at this mill in 1913 according to the Department of Labor, and twelve in 1914, almost all of which were caused by machinery and classified as "severe."

In 1918, the MacSimBar Mill's capacity had been greatly increased. It featured seventeen 1,000lb beating engines, ten refining engines, two rotary boilers; one 126-inch six cylinder, and one 142-inch seven cylinder. The widest trimmed sheets they could produce with this equipment were 115 inches, and 130 inches respectively, for making "high grade bending and non-bending combination boards." Marble and oak graining were available, and their factory output had jumped to 250,000lbs in 24 hours.

From 1918 until 2004, multiple companies have occupied the building. At some point over the years, the Rock-Tenn Company moved into the building and operated it until they shut down permanently in July of 2004. Rock-Tenn then foreclosed on this property in April of 2011.

In more modern times, The Forgotten Existence has been fortunate enough to document this particular site and preserve it electronically here.

The Rock-Tenn Paper Mill is a beautiful maze of various buildings, warehouses, and interconnecting hallways; all of which are being slowly reclaimed by nature.

When first walking into this facility, you're met with an expansive warehouse. The floors are littered with old scraps of paper, pieces of concrete, and various tools and pieces of machinery that have been broken.

The first thing you smell in this facility is wet, old, and dangerous asbestos insulation. PPE is of utmost importance here, which is why The Forgotten Existence immediately suited up with P100 respirators. There are also signs scattered throughout the facility that warn you of these various hazards.

The entire facility is riddled with old electronics, old machinery, and old books and manuals from a time that has been lost. Everything from old phones, to control panels mounted to the walls, to a book titled "Exploring The Physical Sciences" has been found here.

In addition to all of the old electronics, remnants of the old work that had been done here was lingering around as well. Multiple safety jackets, old toolboxes, and namely this hard hat were also found here at the Rock-Tenn Paper Mill.

Filing Cabinets absolutely filled with various receipts, documents, and worker files were discovered here as well. It seems as if whoever left this place did so in a hurry, and did not care to retrieve any of these extremely sensitive documents.

In one of the warehouses, the ceiling had completely caved in, allowing for nature to reclaim the walls and the floors, as well as letting the local wildlife inhabit this facility.

This row of loading bays hasn't seen a semi truck in decades.

It's not only the inside of these abandoned buildings that are beautiful, but the surrounding outside as well. Connecting all of these warehouses and offices are wide open concrete slabs that are littered with broken glass, broken bricks, as well as weeds and wildlife that have reclaimed the area.

In almost every room, the wallpaper is peeling off the walls and sunlight pokes through every nook and cranny that has decayed over the decades.

Debris was falling from the ceiling and gathering on the floors. Most certainly this isn't all natural decay, and has some part due to vandalism.

At least there were exit signs scattered throughout that guided our way.

A massive expanse of concrete and bent rebar scattered the outside of the facility.

Rooftop terraces are a great photo opportunity.

This is one of the most impressive shots we took at this facility. It captures many different aspects, such as the outside, inside, as well as the state of disrepair this facility is currently in.

A ladder to the rooftop.

Pallets were thrown every which way, only being glanced upon by the sunlight.

An interconnecting hallway that connected two different warehouses.

The adjacent shot to the one where the ceiling had collapsed. Machinery, equipment, and tools are scattered throughout.

Overall, this facility was a really neat place to see. We enjoyed documenting this place, as well as digging up some of the forgotten history surrounding it.

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