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Historical Prospectives

Fox Mills
Gold Dot
Blue Dot
     "The rehabilitation and conversion of the 1880's paper mills in Appleton, Wisconsin, into a mixed income housing complex has elements worthy of a made for television movie: abandonment, attempted arson, drug abuse and 11th hour salvation." Margaret E. Guthrie "Run of the Mills" Historic Preservation Magazine July/August 1992.
Blue Dot The importance of the Fox River was recognized by European cartographers as early as the 1500's on the first maps of North America. Since that time, the colorful history of the Fox River has been animated by the adventures of fur traders, lumber barons and the establishment of the "valley" as a major center of the U.S.paper industry.
Blue Dot Fox Mills
Fox Mills, at present
It was in 1883 that the Fox River Paper and Flour Company was organized and the first building in the Fox Mill complex, the Ravine Mill, was constructed. The building was designed by noted architect E. D. Jones of Pittsfield, Massachusetts. Jones employed striking Italianate-style elements, including expansive rows of arched windows, decorative brick corbelling and prominent towers.
Blue Dot Eighty workers were employed by the original Ravine Mill, which generated 4 tons of paper daily, barely meeting customer demand. Soon, the mill was enlarged and the Lincoln Mill was built in 1887 increasing capacity to 12 tons a day. In 1893, a third mill, the Fox River Mill, was erected and the firm grew to 375 workers. For many years the mills flourished and produced fine writing paper from rags collected locally and in the Milwaukee and Chicago areas. During World War II, Fox River Paper was the principal source for blueprint paper used in war production efforts, as well as one of two main suppliers of paper money used by troops in North Africa and Europe.
Blue Dot The Mills started their decent into decay after they were abandon in 1955. The buildings served intermittently as a beer distributorship, worm farm and storage facility, but by 1988 the once proud Mills were vacant, structurally ravaged and a haven for drug activity. The City of Appleton issued a contract for demolition, but the historic paper mills were literally saved in the 11th hour through a public-private partnership involving HPI, the City of Appleton and The Alexander Company.
Fox Mills
Fox Mills, in disrepair
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Interior View
Interior View
Completed in three phases, the project ran from 1989 through 1992. Upon the completion of the final building, the $16 million project created 188 apartments and townhouses offering a dynamic mix of affordable and market-rate homes for a variety of income levels. In addition, nearly 20,000 square feet of commercial space was included in the buildings.
Blue Dot Renovation was completed according to the historic standards of the National Parks Service. The work, which has been praised by preservation experts nationally, included customized multi-paned replacement windows and the matching of brick mortar to resemble that used a century ago.
Blue Dot On the interior, structural elements that had supported heavy manufacturing equipment warehouse doors and other mill relics were imaginatively adapted to add character and ambiance to the space. In carving the cavernous mills into housing, over 100 unique floor plans were used. Many of the units have soaring 14 to 20 foot ceilings, exposed cream-city brick walls and decorative beams crafted from rich Wisconsin timber, as well as open floor plans, loft spaces and river views. The complex is connected through an underground parking garage and landscaped courtyard. An expansive rooftop, screened-in porch was added for use by residents.
Room with a crane
Blue Dot In the spirit of the historic mills, a unique water court was also created. As part of an initiative to integrate art and architecture, painter/sculpture Bud Wall, chairman of the UW-Platteville Department of Art, was commissioned to design two life-sized figures of workers. The figures are realistically clad in worn blue jeans of their trade. And delicately suspended some 35' above the court, laboring to repair a broken stream pipe. The Fox River Mills represents a most challenging and rewarding historic renovation. The work restores a complex that played a significant role in Appleton's heritage, while creating needed affordable housing for the Fox River Valley.
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