Tonawanda News

March 16, 2013

TUCKER: History sheds light on naming

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The Tonawanda News

Tonawanda News — It’s always fun to hear from Paul Gerlach. This week, following up on recent discussions of teachers, he sends along the following definition of a “school snow day” that he heard on the radio:

“Snow Day:

“1. God’s way of showing teachers that He loves them.

“2. God’s way of showing parents that teachers are underpaid.”

“Principals as well as teachers (and all of the staff) looked forward to the surprise day off,” Paul added.

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Does it seem as though spring begins on Wednesday? After a couple days of warm weather, the daffodils have popped up and the trees have a reddish cast which my father used to say was the harbinger of spring. Although by last fall after the hot, dry summer, I feared for some new landscaping plants that were only a year old. In particular, a Japanese maple. But when I scratched a bit of bark off the limbs, the wood underneath was green, so maybe all isn’t lost. Have you noticed more birds flying about and rabbits visiting the neighbors again? Guess we’ll just have to wait for warmer temperatures.

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A caller said there’s been some discussion of changing the name of the former Spaulding Fibre site in Tonawanda from Spaulding Commerce Park to something more generic.

That sparked an interest in the Spaulding plant and on the Internet, a wonderful article was found on how the plant began and what the Spaulding Brothers and their plant meant to the city. Spaulding Fibre, a manufacturer of leatherboard, transformer board, vulcanized fibre, Bakelite  and fiber glass tube, operated in Tonawanda from 1911 to 1992 and became a major employer and contributor to Tonawanda’s economic life.

The origins of the company can be traced to a leatherboard mill in Townsend Harbor, Maine founded in 1873 by Jonas and his brother Waldo Spaulding who did business as The Spaulding Brothers Company.

Jonas Spaulding had three sons: Leon C., Huntley N., and Rolland H. Jonas died in 1900 and the sons continued to operate these mills successfully under the J. Spaulding and Sons banner in 1902.

The success continued and the three brothers added a vulcanized fibre operation in Tonawanda. In 1913. Tonawanda Mayor Charles Zuckmaier influenced the Spaulding brothers’ decision to build their new facility in Tonawanda and on May 23, 1911 the plans were announced that the new facility would be built on Julia Pohl’s farm at 310 Wheeler St.

Operations at the plant began on April 1, 1912 with 40 employees. Leon Spaulding died in Tonawanda on Sept. 11, 1924 while overseeing an expansion of the facility that included the addition of a continuous vulcanized fibre making line.

Around 1927 the name of the company changed from J. Spaulding and Sons to the Spaulding Fibre Company. In the 1930’s a second product was added at the Tonawanda plant. On March 14, 1942 Rolland became the second Spaulding brother to die at a hospital Rochester, NH, an institution that benefitted from the philanthropy of the Spaulding Family.

Huntley Spaulding died on Nov. 11, 1955. At this time, the Spaulding Fibre Co. became part of a charitable trust Huntley and his only sister Marion S. Potter had set up to disperse their remaining wealth within 15 years of the last to die.

With the momentum of the family ownership and the shelter of the charitable trust the Tonawanda plant completed in 1956 an expansion that doubled the paper mill and the vulcanized fibre making capacity of the plant.

The 50th anniversary of the Wheeler Street Plant was marked by a special 22 page section in the Tonawanda News which reported that the Wheeler Street Plant covered 610,000 square feet, employed 1500 workers, and had a payroll of $9,000,000. The News also reported the company paid $153,818 in city taxes that year and was Tonawanda’s largest taxpayer.

After the plant was sold, its decline began — and we all know the rest of the story.

But given the whole story, it seems that it would be a tribute to the Spaulding family by naming the site after the family. Sometimes a look back at history give a fresh perspective.

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Congratulations to the Quality Students who will be honored at a dinner on Wednesday. The News will print a tab section about the students and when you read it, you’ll have an idea that the country will be OK with these young people in charge.

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Congratulations, too, on the election of Pope Francis. That was a shocker. Our family has always been committed to the Franciscans and their philosophy. As our son Christopher noted, “He may be a Jesuit, but he picked the right hame.” All our prayers should be with him for a successful papacy.

Contact community editor Barbara Tucker at 693-1000, ext. 4110 or email barbara.tucker@tonawanda-news.com