Posted Online: Nov. 30, 2012, 2:26 pm

Company wrapped in history

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By Marlene Gantt

The former Davenport Bag & Paper Co. is now a local landmark. City leaders recently voted to designate it to make it easier for developers to get funding.

The new owner, Y and J Properties, wants to open commercial space on the first floor of the building at 301 E. 2nd St. and make 20 apartments on the upper floors.

The structure sits on the southeast corner of the intersection of East 3rd and Pershing streets facing north. The building was designed by local architect G.A. Hanssen.

It was constructed in 1907 long after the great Chicago fire in 1871 that destroyed most of downtown Chicago. Still its character was influenced by the Chicago-style of architecture that resulted after the fire.

It is a five-story concrete block structure constructed on a concrete foundation. It has Chicago-style windows in the upper stories of the facade. A Chicago-style window is a three-part window with a large fixed central pane flanked with two narrower movable sashes.

The use of Chicago-style windows came out of the technological advancements made in Chicago following the tragedy in 1871. At the time of its construction it was touted as a "Fireproof, Reinforced Concrete Bldg," according to the Iowa Department of Cultural Affairs and State Historical Society of Iowa on their Iowa Site Inventory Form Continuation Sheet.

The company produced paper bags, wrapping paper, and flour sacks. It was part of a core of manufacturing and warehouse industries in the east end of Davenport's business district for many years. By 1940 the building housed the Peterson Paper Co. The building is currently vacant.

Last week's column featured a picture postcard of the entrance to the Rock Island Arsenal. It was post marked 1901and sent to a customer of the Davenport Bag & Paper Co. The back of the post card had information indicating the day a salesman from the Davenport Bag & Paper Co. would "call on" a particular customer. The salesman's name was stamped at the bottom above the words "The Davenport Paper Man." The postcard had been specially made for the Davenport Bag & Paper Co. by the Rock Island Post Card Co.
Postcards were among many paper products made locally.

Clinton, Iowa had a paper company operating until WWI. The mill was completed in 1868. When operations began, an average of 1,000 tons of wrapping paper was produced each month. When running at full capacity 24 hours a day, which was often, the plant consumed upwards of seven tons of straw daily, according to a Clinton newspaper. Average annual production was 1,000 tons of wrapping paper, rag and tissue paper. Paper bags, paper and wood plates were also produced. It was most famous for its "Red Express" paper, a product widely used in the Midwest.

There was another paper company in Clinton. The Lyons Paper Co. began operations about five years after the Clinton mill opened. This mill, straw-yards and warehouse had a frontage of about 800 feet on Ringwood Slough.

Approximately 100,000 butter plates were stamped out daily and the mill frequently was millions of units behind in orders. The payroll was about $2,000 per month.

The local Rock River Paper Co. was organized December 1875. Its capital was $80,000. It was said to be located at the lower end of Well's Island. It was built at the site of a former saw mill. The company built a new dam. It employed 36 workers. The company had a capacity of from five-six tons of wrapping paper per day.

In 1874 a paper mill was built on the north bank of Rock River. It ran for several years and was sold to the Grahams of Rockford, which ran it until 1893 when it closed during the great financial panic of 1893, according to a history of Rock Island County.

There were apparently two paper mills on Hake's island in Rock River during the 70s. They were run by water power. Hake's paper mill was situated on the western end of the island.
The "Report of the Chief of Engineers U.S. Army 1891" said the mill burned and the dam was destroyed. The report said the waterway of the channel could be materially increased by removing the wreckage and the side of the canal.
By the late 1800s, cheap paper and good machinery had made the U.S. competitive in the foreign paper market.

Paper companies also made boxes, petroleum barrels and envelopes from paper to name a few items. The Japanese were the first to use envelopes. They used them to enclose perfume.

By 1880 there were 80 manufacturers of paper bags in the United States.
The first machine to make paper bags had been invented in 1852.
Several more were invented and by 1882 the bag making machine had become a very complicated looking mass of moving parts.
Marlene Gantt of Port Byron is a former Rock Island school teacher.