At 44 employees, the Sonoco paper mill wasn’t the biggest employer in town. Nor was it the biggest taxpayer or the biggest landowner. By those measures, the announcement Dec. 1 that the plant would permanently close wasn’t particularly newsworthy to this village of 5,500.

At 44 employees, the Sonoco paper mill wasn’t the biggest employer in town. Nor was it the biggest taxpayer or the biggest landowner.

By those measures, the announcement Dec. 1 that the plant would permanently close wasn’t particularly newsworthy to this village of 5,500. The job losses are mitigated somewhat by the Chemtool facility that’s coming to town, and several other active employers in town could absorb the Sonoco workers.

But the land has been home to a paper mill since before the Civil War. The first such plant was established in 1851 and has changed hands nine times, failed financially and was destroyed by fire at least once before becoming part of the Sonoco company in 1963.

By that measure, the shutdown is a loss to the community’s fabric, one more slice of the local bedrock to fade into history.

“I have a 1905 map, and it shows a paper mill right at that same spot,” Mayor Dale Adams says. “They were always such a good corporate neighbor. They donated several acres for Settlers Park, they worked closely with our Public Works Department to help us when we needed welding work done. They’re one of those companies that’s good to have around.”

Over the years, Sonoco was host to many a community event, from offering its land for an aluminum-recycling fundraiser to being a drop-off point for paper recycling.

Rockton Hardware has been across the street from the paper plant for 31 years. Owner Don Stien put in a few years at the plant as a teenager, and his brother worked there when it closed.

“Everyone had someone in their family at one time or another who’s worked at the plant,” he says. “We had guys in here all the time. Their paper blows around town sometimes, sure, but I’d just go pick it up. I wanted them here, not for any reason other than they were good neighbors. Anytime anyone needed help, they’d be here. I wish they could have kept on going.”

The company hasn’t said what will come of the land it owns. Sonoco’s 2007 property tax bill was $342,299, the biggest chunks of which went to the area’s two school districts.

Adams isn’t sure what he’d like to see happen to the property. It would be nice to see a new riverfront development move in there, or maybe some green space.

For now, however, he’s dealing with the fact that the last chapter of 150 years of history just ended.

“Overall, it has a big impact on the community. Not only the job loss, but for the other benefits the plant offered.”

Sean F. Driscoll can be reached at (815) 987-1346 or sdriscoll@rrstar.com.

Facts & Figures

What

Sonoco manufactures industrial and consumer products and provides packaging services

Founded

1899

Headquarters

Hartsville, S.C.

Locations

335 in 35 countries, serving customers in 85 nations

Plants

54 globally, including 32 in the U.S. and Canada

Employees

18,600

2007 sales

$4 billion