David Record explains the process of producing paper, using a scaled model of a paper machine constructed by Dan Patrie of Winslow in 1979. Jon Bolduc/Sun Journal
LIVERMORE FALLS — This town was built on paper.
It built the schools, the churches, the businesses, the drugstores and grocery stores, said Sherry Judd, the founder of the Maine Paper and Heritage Museum.
The museum hosted its second annual Papermaker Community Heritage Day on Saturday. The building that houses the museum was owned by International Paper, serving as the mill managers’ living quarters. The house was bought by the Maine Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry in 1987 and donated it to be used for the museum.
Before that, the house belonged to Alvin Record, an entrepreneur who helped shape Livermore Falls and Jay — a man who defied the immense power of conglomerations and monopolies in the late 19th century and lost every scrap of his wealth in the process.
A sign on display at Maine’s Paper and Heritage Museum. Jon Bolduc/Sun Journal
Under the shade of a tree outside the Museum on Saturday, David Record, a descendant of Alvin, read an account of his success and failure written by Alvin’s grandson, Donald.
“Alvin Record is, so far as I know, the greatest figure in the Record family,” David Record read. “He was a strong, Christian character, and I can testify to that. He was an able businessman, highly successful; and at the peak of his career, he made — and lost — a fortune.”
In 1840, Alvin Record bought a pulp mill In Livermore Falls. In 1858, he bought a share in a water power company and in 1869, he began to manufacture leather board, finely pressed pulp fibers that became the soles of shoes. His wares sold like hotcakes in the shoe-making centers of the East Coast. He expanded his operation to the east side of the Androscoggin, doubled his outputs, and began producing pulp.
But competition was brewing: The industrialist Hugh J. Chisholm showed up in town and set about to create a conglomerate. But Record kept expanding his business, expanding to Jay, building a dam, pulp mill and paper machine in that town, known as the Jay Paper Co. In the late 1880s, Record had reached the height of his career.
The town of Jay, likewise, grew rapidly. Record and his family were central figures in the community. A proto-snowbird, Alvin bought a 10-acre orange grove in Tampa and spent several winters there.
By the mid-1890s, pressure from a massive paper conglomerate, led by Chisholm, was growing and would eventually become International Paper.
“Alvin followed the dictates of his conscience, and exercised his rights as an individual,” David Record read, “and refused to join the proposed combine. Countlessly, he had been warned his stand would result in a fight, and the possible destruction of his business.”
Record’s luck took a dramatic turn. In those days, there were no laws protecting businesses from unethical maneuvers. Chisholm choked the supply of sulfate, necessary for Record to make paper, and made it nearly impossible for him to buy it. Customers were scared off by the power of the looming conglomerate. Record’s health began to decline, and the Jay mill was in a bad way.
Two fires sealed Record’s fate. According to the Maine Historical Society, in 1896, Record sold his mill to the Otis Co., which also bought the Umbagog Mill in 1896. The venture became known as International Paper Co., founded by Chisholm and his business partner, the Hon. William Augustus Russell. It was the largest paper company in the world at the time.
Record died two years later, poor, the tide of his wealth and prosperity receding.
Preserving a sense of history is a key goal of the museum. Reverberations from the towns’ once burgeoning paper industry are still felt. Judd said many people who walk through the museum are reminded of a nearly forgotten way of life.
“There wouldn’t have been a town without it,” she said. “That’s how it all started.”
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