My Grandma Spencer’s photo album contains a number of pictures from the days when the family lived in International Falls, Minnesota, and worked in the lumber business, and I assume, the paper mill there in town. If the family didn’t work there, then I would assume that she was simply interested in all the changes that were taking place in the area. At that time, the big man around town was a man named Edward Backus, who owned a vast empire of lumber and paper mills. Oddly, he originally got into that business as a young college student in need of money to finish his university program. He took time off from college to earn that money, took a job in the lumber business, and bought into the business, before finally buying out his partners to become the sole owner. He later brought in a partner, William Brooks, and together they incorporated, and their company Backus-Brooks Co. bacame the parent company for for numerous subsidiaries that came into being with developments at International Falls, Fort Frances, Kenora and elsewhere. The little sawmill in Minneapolis that started it all, was sold in 1906 because by then, the owners were devoting much of their efforts into the developing industry in the north, which is where my grandparents’ families came into the picture, and my interest was founded. As a side note, as far as I can tell, Mr Backus never went back to finish his university program, but then I suppose there wasn’t time for that with everything else that was going on in his life.
As I said, my grandmother had numerous pictures of a paper mill, in several stages of its construction. This got me started wondering if that paper mill still existed. I began my search looking for paper mills in International Falls, and came up with a current paper mill owned by Boise Cascade…a name most of us know quite well, which came back into the news just recently when they announced the layoff of 265 workers on May 2, 2013. They plan to stay open, but will focus on the successful lines of their production, and close out two unsuccessful lines. I wondered if this paper mill could have started with the one my grandmother’s pictures to me so much about.
In my research, I found not only the information on Mr Backus, but a picture of his paper mill…Falls Paper Mill…and it was indeed the one in my grandmother’s album. So, not only does the paper mill still exist, it is still in use today. So many buildings that were built in the early 1900’s are crumbling or have been demolished, but this building is still there, still standing, and still useful, although it appears that there have been some improvements and buildings added to it and around it. I guess that goes to show that good workmanship will stand the test of time.