May, 2003 - My Trek To
Gloucester, Massachusetts!

Several years ago I had been in contact with the American Le Page's head office in Pittsburgh (owned by The Papercraft Corporation) and had an invitation to visit the original factory in Gloucester, which at the time was still in use. One thing lead to another, as they always do, and I never got around to taking them up on the offer. Within that time I also became involved with the Canadian company and in their anniversary celebrations. At the time I had heard from them something about the American company being bought out by Ross but didn't have the opportunity to investigate further.

In March of this year I began the process of revamping this website and I went to the web to see if there was anything new happening with the American side of the company. Immediately I noticed that there was now a Canadian address listed there but not much else information. I've learned that the company had in fact been sold a couple of years ago due to the financial burden of their law-suit against 3M, despite the fact that they eventually won. There are now two different Le Page companies in Canada - LePage and LePage's.

I decided to do a Google search on Le Page's (along with the name Ross) and what ended up following was an amazing set of coincidence and timing. A Middlebury school alumni newsletter came up regarding a former student's - Jackie (Lucy) Littlefield - involvement in a project to turn the factory into an affordable housing unit. (By chance there was another student listed on the page by the name of Ross - nothing to do with the glue company!) "As board chairman of Gloucester's Wellspring House, Lucy Boyd Littlefield is up to her elbows in an exciting project to adapt an old Le Page's Glue factory to 75-100 units of affordable housing. Lucy, who sold high-end real estate in Weston for many years, writes that in many ways this is a lot more rewarding." Although it sounded like an interesting project, I was immediately upset that I had perhaps missed my chance to visit my Great Great Grandfather's old stomping grounds but emailed the secretaries of the newsletter right away, asking them to forward my query about the project to Jackie.

The next day I went back to Google, to their news search engine, and just that day an article in the Gloucester Daily Times had been published about the project getting final approval. Nothing had been touched yet, to my relief. By Friday I had finished my website renovations and also heard back from Jackie! We began emailing back and forth and I soon heard from Nancy Schwoyer as well. They both told me all about the project and the organisations involved with it, namely Nancy's organisation Wellspring House and its offshoot Cape Ann Housing Opportunity, Inc. No work had yet been done, but very soon a few of the unusable buildings would be torn down and I definitely wanted to see it all before that happened...and all very quickly my trip to Gloucester - or GLUEcester as my boyfriend now calls it - was finally being planned for May!

Jackie very graciously, along with her husband Paul, hosted my short stay in Gloucester. She truly went all out showing me all of Cape Ann - made up of Gloucester and Rockport - and Paul told me many stories regarding the history of the area. I had arrived by plane in the late afternoon and my first night there Paul and Jackie took me to The Cape Ann Symphony where we listened to Debussey, Ravel and Moussorgksy. It was a very enjoyable performance fronted by a very entertaining conductor!

The next day was a busy one! I could not have asked for nicer weather, especially after such a hard winter and largely dismal spring both there and here in Toronto. It was sunny and pleasantly warm as Jackie took me for a long walk along the Annisquam coast and through part of the surrounding neighbourhoods. The beach was so lovely and the water so fresh smelling. I was surprised that there was no fishy smell in the air as that's generally the case here by the waterfront. Later on she took me downtown where I saw the famous fisherman's statue in honour of all of those lost at sea, along with the new addition, just a little jog the road, of the lost fisherman's wife and children looking out to sea.

We also took a quick peak at the factory, since it was such a nice day. The buildings overlook Banjo Pond, a large and scenic man-made pond that some people still go to fish in, and with its very own pair of swans. We spotted the female tending to its nest as the male swam about, likely protecting the territory. I snapped a few pictures and then we went back on our way, the full tour of the place scheduled for the next day.

We drove briefly through the Rocky Neck Art Colony which was pretty cool looking and also through Rockport which was very scenic and lovely. As if that wasn't plenty to do in a day, we also went to Halibut Point for a hike on the northern tip of Cape Ann. It was a quarry at one time and truly breathtaking to look at. Unfortunately I had already run out of film for the day. I had not known that the quarries were once an integral part of Gloucester's economy. They were largely mined by the Finnish population there and Jackie introduced me to a delicious bread, spiced with cardamom, popular in their community.

Later in the afternoon I met Nancy for the first time. Another wonderful lady! She is the head of Wellspring House, a dedicated organisation that helps and educates women and families who need a helping hand to get back on the right track. It is all run out of a home originally built in the 1600's! It's a great old house set picturesquely in amongst the trees and gardens and inside there are still the lovely old, massive wooden beams showing. As well as the offices there are some accommodations there for people in need and there is also a large addition to the house where the education centre is.

Later on she took us to dinner at a restaurant in Rockport overlooking "Motif #1", the most commonly painted fishing shack. I did recognize it after Jackie mentioned it to me! I had an amazing meal of wild mushroom ravioli and a mesclun salad with toasted pecans, cranberries and feta cheese with raspberry vinaigrette that was incredibly delicious! I keep meaning to try and put something like it together here at home but I keep forgetting to buy the feta!

My third and final day was also action packed! We returned to the factory where we met up with Phil Lambert, the caretaker of the building for the past three decades. He knows the site inside and out and took us, along with Richard Gaines from the Gloucester Daily Times, on a very informative and interesting tour. The massive buildings are all but empty now, of course; all of the equipment having been moved up here to Toronto after the sale. It was easy to see what a great space it is to be converted into apartments. We went inside and out and into all of the nooks and crannies in all of the various buildings, some built right into the rock walls of the large hill it rests against. One of my favourite parts was going down into a spooky old part that is set to be demolished. Long since out of use it was an underground fishfarm they attempted to use instead of having to buy the fishskins used in making the original glue.

Upon Nancy's suggestion we visited The Manor Inn, just a short distance down the road from the main entrance of the factory. She had recalled that there was some connection to Le Page's and in fact it had been built in 1901 for Ruben Brooks and his family, one of the original partners of the company. It's a lovely old building that is now in use, along with several additions as a large bed & breakfast and motel.

We also went to Pigeon Cove where The Paper House is located - a house made in the 1920's of newspapers glued layers and layers thick and varnished. It took 20 years to complete! Although it no longer says so on their brochures, I have an older one that states that the papers were glued together with Le Page's! It's just a little cottage but very charming, indeed - as well as awe inspiring, considering the amount of work and dedication that went into its construction. Even all of the furniture is made of rolls of newspaper.

After another delicious meal, this time wild mushrooms with crepes, Jackie left me to my own devices for a few hours. I casually went browsing and window shopping and stopped into Main Street Arts & Antiques just a few doors down from the restaurant. I like all kinds of antiques but of course I was keeping an eye out for anything Le Page's. I didn't come across anything but did find a few other little items. When going to pay for them I decided to ask if they did happen to have anything Le Page's and lo and behold I had completely missed an entire shelf of items! I spotted a few little things I didn't have and then the owner remembered a long, rolled up photograph he had - a Le Page's staff family picnic from 1944!

Then he told me about a bookstore not too far from there where the owner had recently come across some books from Le Page's. I didn't grasp the enormity of what he was referring to until I got to the shop, Dogtown Books. There the owner had a stack of 11 gigantic books from the late 1880's to early 1900's containing copies of all correspondence from the company! It is largely a lot of orders being filled and such but there are also company dealings contained in them...some very interesting things from an initial glance through them, including a 1901 letter signed by my Great Great Grandfather that I happened to spot. They will provide me with a long time of reading and research! And a lot of deciphering - some of it has blurred with time and dampness, but all in all an amazing find; almost as if it was waiting there just for me, as they had only just come into his possession two weeks earlier, cleared from someone's attic during renovations!

After a little more brief browsing and walking around town I went to the library and found some old newspaper clippings about the company which I photocopied. One article in particular caught my eye. It pertains to some intrigue and controversy surrounding the beginnings of the company and the glue itself. In my own family records there is mention of law-suits and a dishonest partner of my Great Great Grandfather's. This article discusses a man who says he was the original inventor of the glue and that Le Page himself was suspect! It mentioned the law-suits, which my relatives in Vancouver, who own much of the family's heirlooms and records, tell me were lost by Le Page due in part to his status as a Canadian citizen. I found it very interesting that a story recounted by this man's descendant about the observations that led to the invention of the glue was strikingly similar to a story my Father had told me when I was a child about Le Page's observations and discovery. Business scandal is not unique to our own time, I see! And thus more research to do!

The day ended with the board meeting of Cape Ann Housing Opportunity, Inc. at The Wellspring House. It was an eye-opening look into the workings behind such a grand project, including the many various grants and loans needed and available to them and the environmentally green resources available. I was happy to see that not only is the factory being reused for such a worthwhile project, but it is also gaining much attention and favourable responses, both locally and nationally, and it is becoming a prototype for future projects like this all over the US! An amusing part of the meeting dealt with the naming of the project which at that point they had not yet come to a consensus on. It's a great group of people who have undertaken this rebuilding and I'm sure my Great Great Grandfather would be pleased to see the buildings being used in this way.

Looking back on my trip, which is surprisingly already a month in the past, I cannot believe how much activity went into a two and a half day period! It was filled with incredibly warm and gracious people, surroundings and weather. I also learned a new and third variation to the pronunciation of my surname! Here in Canada we have two pronunciations: the French, Leh-Pzh (rhymes with triage) and Leh-Page (my family's particular preference - half French, half English). In Gloucester it is Lee-Page! (I have since learned from my Dad that this was also how it was pronounced in England when he went there in the 1960's!) Thank you so much to Jackie, Paul, Nancy and all of the folks of Wellspring and Cape Ann Housing. I had the best time I could imagine there and I look forward to going back again when the project is complete, if not sooner!

Snapshots of Gloucester!
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