Magazine article ASEE Prism

Recycling a Building

Magazine article ASEE Prism

Recycling a Building

Article excerpt

WHEN A REAL-ESTATE developer read about my interest in the history of wooden-toothpick manufacturing in Maine, he informed me that he had bought the old Forster Mfg. Co. toothpick plant in Wilton. All of its machinery was in place, and he was thinking of starting it up again. He told me I was welcome to visit and look around.

This was a rare opportunity, because wooden toothpicks are no longer made in the United States. Even when they were, it was not common for an outsider to be able to visit a factory, lest trade secrets be compromised.

I took a rain check until the summer, when I would be in Maine. One sunny Saturday morning in mid-July, my wife and I drove over to the western part of the state. It was there that white birch once grew in abundance and where the First toothpick mill was established around 1870.

We arrived at the plant at the appointed time, but no one was there to let us in. I had been told that this could happen, because it was haying season, so it might be difficult for anyone to get away from the farm. But I was also assured that eventually someone would come to unlock the door for us.

As we waited, I walked around the outside of the complex, which had clearly been added to as the business grew. Unfortunately, there appeared to have been no maintenance performed for quite some time. The red paint was peeling off the clapboards, and most of the windows had been broken. It was a sad reminder of what once must have been a proud place of employment for a hundred or so local folk.

Soon the caretaker's brother-in-law came and unlocked the door, which was almost hidden behind high grass and weeds. Though he may have had the physical key to the place, he knew nothing about its history. He just let us in and told us to lock up when we were finished.

The corridor before us was dark, and one of our flashlights had weak batteries, so we walked carefully around the water and mud on the floor. …

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