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New Pioneer Park Historical Complex Exhibit Explores Rhinelander Paper Mill History

Katie Thoresen/WXPR

Live in Rhinelander long enough and you’ll likely find yourself with some kind of connection to the paper mill.

Built in 1903, the Rhinelander paper mill has been a key part of industry in the Northwoods.

“It’s really been part of the industrial lifeblood of the Rhinelander community. Just about everybody that I talk to that’s from Rhinelander, has been a resident of Rhinelander, has some connection to the Rhinelander paper mill,” said Pioneer Park Historical Complex Director Kerry Bloedorn.

With so many lives impacted by the mill in its 100-plus year history, Bloedorn said an exhibit honoring that history is long overdue.

“As we all know, this is an absolutely wonderful history facility, showcasing not just Rhinelander area history, but history from across northern Wisconsin, the entire state of Wisconsin and the Midwest. It’s very special,” said Bloedorn. “One thing that it has been missing though for many years, as part of its forestry history exhibits, was some representation of the Rhinelander paper mill.”

Current papermill owner Ahlstrom-Munskjo, allowed Bloedorn to access its historic paper mill archive to help build the current display.

Bloedorn said despite the mill changing hands numerous times over the years, there’s a wonderful record of its history.

“It was really a miracle how much history had survived and had been kept and passed onto the next company to the next company to the next company,” he said.

Credit Pioneer Park Historical Complex
One of many historic photos of the Rhinelander paper mill you can find on display at the Pioneer Park Historical Complex.

The exhibit features photos and artifacts detailing the paper mill’s long history and its impact on the community.

The display was made possible thanks to a financial contribution from Ron and Elsie Garber last fall to honor their family that worked at the Rhinelander paper mill.

Ron, whose father worked at the mill for over 40 years, said much of his family’s life revolved around the mill.

“Of course, our mother scheduled us by the whistle of the paper mill,” said Gaber as he shared stories of his memories associated with the mill to group gathered for the exhibit’s dedication Tuesday afternoon.

The display is in the basement of the Rhinelander Railroad Museum or the “yellow depot” as its often referred to.

A fund through the Rhinelander Community Foundation has been established with the hopes of maintaining and expanding the exhibit in the years to come.

Katie Thoresen is WXPR's News Director/Vice President.
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