Childsdale paper mill in the process of rezoning for new use

Church considers rehabilitation of riverfront structure


On Monday, March 7, Plainfield Township trustees described the progress of a potential rehabilitation of a historic 17.58 acre property and former paper mill at 7700 Childsdale Avenue. BridgeWay Pastor Ron Aulbach said current owners, Rockford Paperboard Company, have offered to donate the waterfront property to the church, which currently meets at East Rockford Middle School. The ten year old church is considering using part of the existing structure and demolishing 60-percent of the building. BridgeWay has asked the township to rezone the property from light industrial to a Planned Unit Development. A public hearing on the proposed change will take place in April.

The Rockford Paperboard Company property today. The business in the Rogue River valley began as a sawmill, which declined in prosperity after Smith Lapham built one upstream where the Rockford dam is today. The sawmill was abandoned and purchased by H. B. Childs in 1866, who turned the facility into a paper mill.

The land last changed hands in December of 1998 when it was sold by Central Leasing to Rockford Paperboard Company for $432,000. Assessors have the value of the building today at $309,500 with a taxable value of $292,861. The structure is actually listed on tax rolls as five different buildings, an office building with 2,271 square feet, three additional buildings of 15,580 square feet, 10,000 square feet and 12,000 square feet and a warehouse of 65,800 square feet.

According to Township Manager Bob Homan, the structure is an eyesore and a cobbled together monster that dates, in part, back to the original building of 140 years ago. “It is a terrible, horrible building,” he said. “It was probably a terrible and unsafe place to work. There are probably places better than that in Pakistan and

and India.” Homan said the building has not been used in over a decade and then the owners were operating at the barest of margins. He also said it was added to over the years with no regard to code and “is like a ruin.”

Aulbach said the donation depends on the results of environmental testing and the company the church is using is in the process of Phase I and Phase II evaluation. Phase I is an eyeball overview of the facility and Phase II will consist of water and soil sampling. He said the church estimates it will cost a million dollars to demolish much of the existing building and rehabilitate the remaining 40 percent on the easternmost side of the structure.

“It’s kind of ironic,” Aulbach said of the possibility of the church acquiring the former paper mill. “I am a pastor now, before that I was a financial adivisor, before that I was an engineer in the paper industry.” He said he is thankful that God is apparently calling on all his skills in this endeavor.

The paperboard company has been closed since May, 1998, when its then 70 employees lost their jobs.

If the church undertakes rehabilitation of the building and lands, the action will be one more in a long history of redevelopment for the property. The valley was once a booming little town that predates Rockford and its predecessor, the former Laphamville upstream. The first developer of the area, known as Gibraltar, followed the construction of a sawmill built by Zenas G. Windsor in 1848. Windsor built and operated the sawmill, located on the site of the current Paperboard company building, just north of a dam on the Rogue River. The river was then known as the Rouge from the French word red, although it is unknown to historians if the word referred to the water or to native Americans living along the waterway. A mispelling by a surveyor resulted in the name Rogue, which was so entrenched by the time it was noticed that no one ever tried to correct the mistake.

Windsor’s sawmill declined in prosperity after Smth Lapham built his sawmill up river. The lower mill was abandoned until it was purchased in in 1866 by Henry B. Childs, who converted it into a paper mill. The town that eventually became known as Childsdale included the mill, a general store, a post office and a train depot after the Grand Rapids and Indiana Railroad put in a track that led through Childsdale and to the north. The bed of the track was originally along the route through the river valley but was later moved to high ground because of flooding. When relocated, the track included an extension down and to the east to reach the paper mill.

The post office opened on September 15, 1900, with Clair C. B. Kutts as the first postmaster. Later Maude Maynard came to be postmistress, a prelude to being another sort of mistress, which proved to be of great importance to the story of the history of Childsdale.

Watch next week’s Squire for more of the history of the Village of Chilsdale.

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