Driving through the Western Adirondacks, in a remote part of St. Lawrence County, one can not miss the remnants of the once thriving paper mill industries that prospered in towns such as Newton Falls. In this region of New York, pulp and paper mills were built on riversides that provided power and transportation for floating lumber. While many mills suffered from the competition of larger, more efficient mills in Canada, Newton Falls Paper Mill prospered for over a century. Today, the mill’s abandoned remnants are a reminder of the once-flourishing industry.

Panoramic of the Newton Falls Paper Mill cir. 1908,
Panoramic of the Newton Falls Paper Mill cir. 1908, Courtesy of Susan Thomas-Smeby

Learn more about the Newton Falls Paper Mill and other abandoned sites of New York’s Central and Thousand Island-Seaway regions in our upcoming virtual talk with photographer John Lazzaro, author of A Vanishing New York: Ruins Across the Empire State on May 8th! This talk is free for Untapped New York Insiders! Not an Insider yet? Become a member today with promo code JOINUS and get your first month free!

A Vanishing NY: Central + Thousand Island -Seaway Regions

Abandoned mansion
Newton Falls paper mill abandoned building
Remnants of Newton Falls Fine Paper Co, taken in 2020

The town of Newton Falls, New York is named after James Newton who built a sawmill in the vicinity in 1894. That sawmill eventually became the Newton Falls Paper Mill. McGraw-Hill and United Publishers Corporation (American Broadcasting Companies) purchased the mill in 1920 to supply paper for their magazines. Both partners held a 50% stake.

During this time there were over 800 residents living in Newton Falls, many immigrants who traveled from Canada, Poland, Denmark, Finland, Latvia, Russia, and Norway across the Adirondack Mountains looking for work. In turn, the Newton Falls Paper Mill built Sears Modern Homes for the workers as well as a church, post office, school, and a hotel for the greater hamlet community. 

Sears homes on Cottage Street in Newtown Falls, NY
Sears homes on Cottage St., Newton Falls, Courtesy of Courtesy of Susan Thomas-Smeby
Aerial view of Newtown Falls neighborhood
The hamlet of Newton Falls with the mill off to the left, circa 1950s, Courtesy of Susan Thomas-Smeby

Another ownership change came in 1984 when McGraw-Hill/ABC agreed to sell their respective 50 percent interests in Newton Falls Paper Mill Inc. to Stora Kopparbergs Bergslags A.B., Sweden’s second-largest forest products company. The mill was sold yet again in 1996, to Appleton Papers Inc., a leading producer of carbonless paper. Following the ownership changes, Newton Falls saw great renovations and equipment updates to keep up with industry giants in other states.

Even though Newton Falls was profitable, mill owner Appleton Coated of Kimberly, WI, announced in October 1999 that it was laying off half its workforce. Millworkers were forced to learn new trades at schools in Canton and Saranac Lake. Others simply moved to find stable work. By the time the paper mill closed in 2000, the hamlet of Newton Falls had about 100 residents.

Inside abandoned Newton Falls Paper Mill building
Main processing floor of Newton Falls Paper Mill
Inside abandoned Newton Falls Paper Mill building
Office room in the mill
Inside abandoned Newton Falls Paper Mill building
A room containing blueprints for every aspect of the mill and its equipment.

When the mill closed, two former employees, Andy Leroux and Levi Durham found jobs at Deferiet Paper Mill, 44 miles away. Then that plant closed in 2001. In 2006, they reached out to Dennis L. Bunnell, who had once served as the Newton mill’s president. After a series of meetings and consultations, Bunnell and three partners joined with Scotia Investments, a family-owned holding company from Canada, to buy the mill for about $20 million.

Synchroscopes which measured the degree of synchronicity between Newton Falls’ generators.

The mill briefly reopened as Newton Falls Fine Paper Company from 2007 to 2011. Under the new ownership, it became one of the largest private employers in St. Lawrence County. Unfortunately, the business eventually succumbed to financial and pricing pressures in the paper industry.

Parts of the former Newton Falls Paper Mill have been demolished to make way for a Christmas tree farm, a maple syrup retail outlet, a fishing and hunting lodge, and a campground.

A Vanishing NY: Central + Thousand Island -Seaway Regions

Abandoned coal chute

Next, check out Photos: Inside the Abandoned Hospital at Ellis Island