The Līgatne Paper Mill, which is located in Līgatne, Latvia, was one of the oldest and richest paper producers in Europe. The factory was constructed in 1815 on the site of an old windmill by two German tradesman from Rīga. The rapid flow of the Līgatne River allowed the factory to produce writing paper, stationary and wrapping paper. In 1858, the factory was brought by a local nobleman who brought in new equipment from Scotland. In the first half of the19th century, some 100 people worked at the factory. By the start of the 20th century, nearly 800 workers were employed at the mill. Writing paper was the primary product, although there were sometimes special orders for artists' supplies and other specialized paper products. During World War I, for example, the mill produced paper on which the Russian military printed its maps. This allowed the factory to play an important role in the Russian market. During the Soviet era, the factory at Līgatne produced notebooks and other paper products that were sent all over the USSR. Since Independence in 1991, the factory mainly produced wrapping paper that was made from recycled waste paper.
The factory was also quite progressive for its time. In 1889, the Paper Mill built a residential building of 18 wooden houses on the hillside outside the factory gates. A school was also constructed to teach the school children of the factory workers.The old Mill School was in use until 2003 when a new school building was constructed nearby.The factory also built a one room hospitaland some 30 residential terrace houses with small gardens for the worker's families.
The Līgatne Paper Mill managed to thrive despite Russian Annexation, a brief spell of Independence from 1920-1940, World War I, World War II, incorporation of Latvia into the Soviet Union in 1940, and the transition from central planning to a market economy and full independence in 1991.Eventually however, competition from low-cost paper mills in East Asia and the adverse effect of the digital economy on paper demand spelled the end for the factory, and it was forced to shut its doors In 2016.
In June 2022, I visited Līgatne, and strolled up the wooded hill to find the locked gates of this large and imposing paper mill.Just to the side of the front gate, however, the driveway to one of the barns on the complex was open, and I was able to enter the compound from there. Wandering around the factory grounds, there was precious little sign of the Mill's past prosperity. Everywhere one could see, the buildings and the machinery were decaying rapidly, with broken windows, piles of rubbish, and a sad sense of abandoned and faded glory.
After visiting the factory, we hiked through the woods and up the hill to the old school building, and saw the school and the row houses that had been built for the mill workers. These houses are still in use, and most have been re-purposed, and were bought by middle-class families from Riga.Now what once were mill houses are used by families for weekend and summer homes, by those who enjoy spending time in the countryside.
Even in it's decay, there is something powerful and appealing about this old Paper Mill. That it managed to thrive for over 200 years is a remarkable accomplishment.Eventually, the passage of time, globalization and technological change proved to be just too much for it. Thinking back, the many changes thatthis factory had to adapt to over its lifetime is quite something, while the rust and decay that beats a rapid path over the factory grounds today is a vivid reminder of how unforgiving change can sometimes be.