Papering Concord Township

Richard Aldorasi demonstrates the art of paper making as was done in colonial times.

There was a time when papermaking was a dominant industry in the local community. According to Richard Aldorasi, of the Philadelphia Handmade Paper Co., there were once 27 active paper mills in Southern Chester and Western Delaware counties.

Aldorasi spoke during a demonstration of papermaking at the Newlin Gristmill on Cheyney Road in Concord Township Saturday. Along with the demonstration at Newlin, there were also tours of the of the Polecat Road House — a two-family tenant house for workers at Trimble's Mill (before 1750) — and the ruins of the old Ivy Mills.

Ivy Mills was an industrial mill in operation from the 1720s until it was closed down and abandoned in 1866. But Aldorasi demonstrated making paper by hand from rags. Because paper was so important, he said, the rag trade was a highly lucrative business, controlled and protected by a handful of wealthy families.

The watermark in a paper making mold.

While industrial mills used machinery to beat the rags into pulp, Aldorasi said the smaller papermakers would let piles of rags compost, letting the material decompose, a process that could take weeks or months.

At that point, the pulp would be put in water, soaked and then scooped up into a deckle and mold — a frame and screen. The screens also contained a metal design that became known as the watermark. That design is not imprinted into the paper. Instead, it's an area where there are fewer fibers. The paper in that area is thinner, he said.

The individual sheets of wet rag pulp would then be turned out onto cloth, sandwiched and piled up, before being placed in a press to remove the bulk of the water. Workers would then remove the damp paper from the press and hang the sheets over a line to dry.

But much paper was frequently lost during that final drying process. Aldorasi explained that the drying paper could rot if the edges of the sheets came in contact with each other during long periods of rain or humidity.

Saturday’s event was hosted by Newlin, the Concord Township Historical Society and The Friends of Old St. Thomas.

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About Rich Schwartzman

Rich Schwartzman has been reporting on events in the greater Chadds Ford area since September 2001 when he became the founding editor of The Chadds Ford Post. In April 2009 he became managing editor of ChaddsFordLive. He is also an award-winning photographer.

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