Mills and their emotional impact on the towns they call home

Like many other Maine mill towns, Millinocket built up around the Great Northern Paper mill. (WGME)

Millinocket (WGME) – Dick Manzo could talk all day about paper.

Born and raised in Millinocket, he worked at the Great Northern Paper mill for nearly 40 years and still loves his hometown.

“It was just a great place to work,” Manzo said during a visit to the mill site. “A great place to raise a family.”

Manzo and other mill workers remember Millinocket when the town and the mill were one in the same. Wally Paul grew up in town and worked in the mill during summer breaks while he was in college. He says the mill shaped the town.

“You knew who’s house you could play at because of whose father was working nights and sleeping during the day,” Paul remembers.

Like many other Maine mill towns, Millinocket built up around the Great Northern Paper mill. The town incorporated one year after the mill opened in 1900. After 100 years together the two were deeply connected. When the mill went away, it impacted more than just the bottom line. Former mill worker Dick Angotti likened the loss to the passing of a loved one.

“Look at the town,” Angotti said. “As the town struggles it’s because [the mill] is not here. Those sounds are no longer here.”

While the mill will probably never reopen, there are plans to revitalize the site. The non-profit “Our Katahdin” bought the 1,400-acre property for $1 earlier this year. With the purchase comes abundant potential and massive debt.

“There’s hundreds of thousands of dollars in liens that were against the various properties by the town of Millinocket,” said Mike Osborne a member of the group Our Katahdin. “There was also a $1.4 million IRS lean on the property. So what we’ve done and what we continue to spend most of our time on is unencumbering the site so trying to resolve those liabilities through one avenue or another.”

Osborne says they’re working to pay off the debt, clean up the site and entice businesses to move in. He says the key to Millinocket’s future is building on the ruins of the past.

“We want to take that mindset and bring a little piece of that back from the dead,” Osborne said. “That generosity, putting the funds that came from here back into the community is extremely important to us and we’re going to do anything we can to make that happen.”

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