Thursday, March 17, 2016

Industry on the St. Joseph River

Good afternoon, everybody!  

My name is Alexander Milnikel; I’m a graduate student studying Public History at Western Michigan University.  As a member of Dr. Michael Nassaney’s “Anthropology in the Community” section this semester, I am, in collaboration with my research partner Ryan Murdoch, studying the impact that industry on the St. Joseph River has had on the Niles community throughout its history, going all the way back to the establishment and settling of Fort St. Joseph.  Questions we’re delving into include what industries in particular have utilized the St. Joseph River; how have these industries impacted the environment; and how have they helped Niles develop into the community that it is today?
Historical depiction of the French Paper Co. in Niles, Michigan

Since our research began, we’ve looked at a number of industries which have been critical in the history of the Niles area at varying points in time.  A great example of one such industry which most of our Niles readers should be familiar with is the French Paper Company, a paper mill in Niles which has been in operation since 1871.  This paper mill to this day utilizes electricity generated at a hydroelectric power plant at the Niles dam, and continues to produce a wide array of paper products.  What’s more, French Paper Company is just one of a number of paper mills which at different points in Niles’s history have operated along the St. Joseph River, as evidenced by both county histories and old Sanborn Maps of the city of Niles dating back to the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.  This shows us a pattern in the types of industry which have historically utilized the St. Joseph River in Niles, namely that there is a longstanding history of paper mills utilizing the river.

When this project is all said and done, Ryan and I hope to have compiled a sufficient rundown of some of the most important industries along the St. Joseph River in Niles’s history, and the role both they and the river have played in the development of the Niles community.  We’re reaching out to at least one community partner and still looking at a number of very promising resources which should greatly aid us in our endeavors.  As a native of southwestern Michigan hailing from St. Joseph who’s visited Niles many times, it’s my great pleasure to in some small way take part in assisting the Niles community in compiling and interpreting its history for the public.

-Alexander C. Milnikel