Paris Woolen Mill - Stayton Woolen Mill, Stayton Oregon

Date added: July 18, 2022 Categories: Oregon Mill

The main Stayton Woolen Mill building, dating from 1905, is a 2½-story, gable-roofed building of post and beam construction with roof-ridge monitors and assorted extensions and annexes situated on the West Stayton Ditch, a power canal diverting water from the North Santiam River in Stayton, Oregon. Wool processing and manufacturing has been an integral part of Stayton's economy since the town's founding. The Stayton Woolen Mills Company was incorporated in 1905 and flourished to 1911, at which time it was reorganized as Santiam Woolen Mills, an enterprise which extended through the 1920s. As the Paris Woolen Mills, the plant's machinery was updated in the years between 1933 and 1944. The plant was acquired by John Etzel in 1947, and manufacturing continued under Etzel family ownership through the 1980s. In fact, while there are older manufactories of its type still standing in the region, the woolen mill at Stayton was one of only four woolen mills still in full operation in the Pacific Northwest. While overhead line shafting is still in place in the Stayton Mill, the carding, spinning and weaving machines are no longer run by direct-drive water power. The plant has been converted to motor-driven electric power. Steam heat is provided by two natural gas boilers. The mill site, approximately one and a third acres in size, includes the main mill building, its lean-to weave room addition on the west, the two-story finishing room and spinning annex on the east, a succession of contiguous single-story sheds containing a workshop, boiler room and dye house; and a picker house and a carbonizer building, both of tile block construction. North of this complex, across a 40-foot public right of way, are a two-story, L-shaped warehouse and shipping room and the adjoining single-story office building. The main mill building and its earlier additions are typical of frame construction techniques of the early 20th century.

Wool growing has contributed to the state's agricultural economy from the earliest Euro-American settlement period. Men such as Joshua Shaw and Joseph Watt drove the first sheep flocks overland to Oregon in 1844 and 1848. Mechanized wool Processing was introduced on the Pacific Coast in the Willamette Valley in 1857, when the Willamette Woolen Manufacturing Company opened its plant in Salem. By 1861, the mill at Salem was operating day and night to keep up with the wool clip, and "woolen fever" spread to other parts of the valley. Mills were opened at Brownsville in 1863, at Oregon City in 1865, and at Ellendale in 1866. Beginning in 1867, the industry expanded eastward to The Dalles, aided by steamboat shipping on the Columbia River, and the range lands of eastern Oregon proved so well suited for sheep raising that The Dalles became one of the largest primary wool markets in the world. Huge wool clips were shipped to the centers of the textile industry, Boston and London. Throughout the later 19th and the early 20th centuries, new mills opened, replacing older ones which had closed. Among them were the Thomas Kay Woolen Mill at Salem (1889), the Union Woolen Mill at Union (1898), the Stayton Woolen Mill (1905), and the Pendleton Woolen Mill at Pendleton (1909). By 1940, according to the Dictionary of Oregon History, "Oregon had the largest aggregation of woolen textile machines west of the Atlantic seaboard." By 1950, the ten or eleven mills operated by Oregon companies employed 2,000 workers, processed about 14,000,000 pounds of wool annually, and their products were dispersed to both Western and Eastern markets. Gradually, however, much of the open range land of eastern Oregon was put into wheat production or was subdivided for other uses and the wool clip dwindled. The development of synthetic fibers also affected Oregon's woolen industry, and most of the mills which had been operating in 1950 were closed by the end of the 1960s. Today, the Stayton Woolen Mills plant, that of the Mt. Jefferson Mills at Jefferson, and two manufactories operated by the Pendleton Woolen Mills Company, those at Pendleton and Washougal, Washington, are the only ones in the Pacific Northwest still in full operation.

It was in 1866 or 1867, at the height of the "woolen fever" of the 1860s, that Drury S. Stayton set up a mechanized wool carding operation on the bank of Mill Creek, a tributary of the North Santiam River, 17 miles southeast of Salem. His machine-carded wool was a boon to pioneer housewives of the district who were relieved of the "arduous, time-consuming task of hand-carding." In 1872, Stayton platted the townsite at that location which bore his name. Over the next quarter century, Stayton's mechanized carding operation grew slowly to include a small factory producing wool yarn and socks. Then, on April 29, 1905, the Stayton Woolen Mills Company was incorporated by S. Philippi, Fred Carter, and W. L. Freres for $100,000. The 2½-story, 69 x 120-foot main building was erected promptly to house the carding, spinning, weaving, finishing, and clothing manufacture departments. A separate one-story building was built for scouring, drying, dyeing and picking. Automatic fire sprinklers were installed throughout. The mill machinery, shipped by rail from San Francisco and Los Angeles, was powered by a 100 horsepower 30-inch Sampson waterwheel. Knitting machines to make stockings were installed in 1907. A 65-foot water tower with a 15,000 gallon tank constructed for extra fire protection built about the same time no longer stands.

By 1908 the 3-set mill at Stayton was producing 125 pairs of blankets and 35 dozen pairs of stockings a day with sixty people on the payroll, but by 1911, the mill had been reduced to intermittent operation. With financial assistance of the community, the company was reorganized in 1912 as the Santiam Woolen Mills by J. P. Wilbur, former manager of the Union Woolen Mill Company. With Wilbur as president and manager, the corporation prospered and was soon selling woolen goods throughout the United States. Under the name of Wilbur Woolen Mills Company beginning in 1913, business peaked at the end of World War I and then began to decline. The mill was finally forced to close in the late 1920s.

In 1933 the mill was purchased by Robert D. Paris, an experienced mill hand from Wisconsin and Portland, Oregon. Since then, it has been called the Paris Woolen Mill. Under Paris' management, most of the mill's obsolete machinery was replaced. The organization operated profitably for a decade and was finally sold in 1944 to John W. Powell, formerly vice president and sales manager of the Portland Woolen Mill Company, and his son, John E. Powell, who installed automatic looms to modernize production of robes and blankets.

In 1947 John Etzel, a Stayton farmer who had worked as a wool buyer and sorter in the Stayton factory, bought the business and reincorporated the Paris Woolen Mills with members of his family. The family corporation continued manufacturing woolen goods through the 1980s, the mill operated full time turning out auto robes, pram robes, blankets, and worsted and cooler cloth for race horses. State institutions, including state universities and the Oregon State Penitentiary, provided a stable market for the mill's blankets.

After closing in the 1990s, the mill was demolished in 2003.