Visitors to Legacy Park in downtown Neenah will find a wealth of information on the origin, growth and importance of Fox Valley papermaking.
The privately funded park was built around the base of the former Glatfelter/Bergstrom Paper Co. smokestack and showcases plaques explaining the contributions of 12 local companies.
It also features a specially crafted dandy roll, which is a cylinder of wire mesh pressed onto moist pulp in the papermaking process to create watermarks on fine papers.
The park is a gift to the community orchestrated by businessman John Bergstrom, whose great-grandfather purchased the Winnebago Paper Mill and founded Bergstrom Paper Co. on the site in 1904. Glatfelter acquired the mill in 1979 and ran it until it closed in 2006.
Bergstrom said as society advances into the digital age and the paper industry contracts, he wants people to remember that papermaking drove the Fox Valley to prominence.
"Without the paper industry, we wouldn't be here," he said. "This is a tribute to all of the men and women who worked in these factories and built this community. I don't think any of us should forget how hard these people worked."
A walkway leads from Legacy Park to Plexus Corp., which built its world headquarters on the Glatfelter site. Plexus is a manufacturer of complex electronic products. The path is symbolic of the transformation from a paper-based society to a digital society.
Bergstrom declined to reveal how much Legacy Park cost to construct, but Chris Haese, Neenah's director of community development and assessment, said the project cost well in excess of $100,000.
Romanesque stonework salvaged from an 1893 paper mill office building reappears in the park's archway and monuments.
"I have heard a lot of good things from people who have seen it," Haese said.
Not everyone is thrilled.
Gina Sanders Larsen of Neenah said she was "a bit irked" when she and her husband visited the park and found no mention of Wisconsin Tissue Mills (now SCA Tissue), where her husband works.
The company dates to 1915 and employs about 800 people at its Menasha mill and Neenah converting facility.
"It is certainly not a comprehensive list of mills that have made the Fox Valley into the Paper Valley," Sanders Larsen said. "There needs to be some disclaimer. It is entirely misleading."
Bergstrom said Legacy Park focuses on the mills that powered the paper industry in its formative years. He said it does not include every paper company or corrugated manufacturer that followed.
"When we did our work, we thought these were the primary historical mills," he said. "We did not do any of the modern-day mills."
A plaque outlining the history of papermaking in the Fox Valley says the industry once accounted for 60 percent of the nonfarming jobs in Wisconsin.
Information from: The Post-Crescent, http://www.postcrescent.com