Camp descendents reeling from mill news

Published 10:37 am Saturday, October 24, 2009

FRANKLIN—The Camp name, commonly seen on buildings and street signs here and still uttered with reverence, has been synonymous with Franklin since 1887.

As news hit that International Paper Co. was closing the mill founded by the Camps, thoughts again turned to Franklin’s founding fathers.

Their descendents here were as shocked as the community surrounding the mill.

“Where in the hell did you hear that?” Billy Camp remembers asking the drugstore employee who broke the news to him.

“I thought it was just a rumor,” he said Friday.

Camp, 81, is the grandson of James L. Camp, who founded Camp Manufacturing with his brothers, Paul D. Camp and Robert J. Camp.

“I’m just like everyone else — just devastated by the closure,” said another third generation descendent, Paul D. Camp Marks, who is named for his grandfather. “I feel so sorry for the people who lost their jobs.”

Marks, 85, made his living as a farmer in Capron and never worked at the mill. He said his grandfather would have been shocked at Thursday’s news and felt great compassion for the workers.

“If he found out that all these people lost their jobs after working there so faithfully, he’d be devastated,” he said.

Marks said he wasn’t thrilled when the family company was sold to IP in 1999.

“I didn’t approve of the selling of the timberland, either,” he said. “If you’re a dairy farmer, you don’t sell your cows.”

Sitting in front of his sprawling Carrsville estate, a “disappointed” Billy Camp wasn’t feeling very optimistic.

“I think it’s going to be worse than people realize,” he predicted. “There are already so many houses for sale right now.”

As a younger man, Camp worked in the woodlands department at the mill. His father, William, was in charge of that operation.

“When I left nearly 30 years ago we had 88 sawmills shipping us chips,” he said. “At this date there are four of those mills still running. The lumber business is going to hell in this economy.”

Camp said he is putting his faith in officials and campaigning for Democrats in this election.

“I think they have more feeling for people and will do everything they can to get work here,” he said.

Joe Stutts, who retired from Union Camp after 28 years of service and served as the company’s manager of community relations, said the Camp family name will not be marred by IP’s decision to close the Franklin mill. The Camps were well known for investing in their community and several foundations still exist for that purpose.

“The traditions and philosophies and culture that the family passed on now is completely gone,” Stutts said. “But the generosity of the family continues in the foundations.”