RittenhouseTown in Philadelphia
The Birthplace of Paper in America
There was an enchanting little village along the Monoshone Creek that was once a thriving colonial industrial village of over forty structures and included a paper mill, church, school and fire company. Today this important site has seven of its original buildings which portray the vital role RittenhouseTown played in the development of America.
RittenhouseTown was the site of the first paper mill in the American Colonies of Great Britain. Previously to the arrival of Wilhelm Rittenhausen, the colonists had to order their paper from England. Wilhelm Rittenhausen arrived in America from Holland in 1688, and with his son Nicholas, built a mill to manufacture fine white paper in 1690. This mill was William Penn’s pride, since such facilities were new even in England. For over one hundred years, this area remained a center of papermaking in America.
Below is a picture of some of the descendants of William Rittenhouse enjoying a break by the river. Seated from the left are Ted Carpenter (husband of Judith Rittenhouse), Carola, Sonja, and Thomas Tucker, Susan Lamb Griffith.
Above is a picture from July 2002 showing where the old Mill River used to flow when the Rittenhouses produced paper here through the mid 1700’s. Fairmont Park rerouted the Mill River closer to a building which has caused a real problem. Flooding of the River has caused some damage to the building.
The original paper mill had four partners, a common practice at the time; two of them supplied the needed capital: Robert Turner, Penn’s land agent, and Thomas Tresse, a wealthy merchant and ironmonger. Rittenhouse’s other partner was William Bradford, the King’s printer and the mill’s major customer.
After a flood swept away the original mill about 1701, a stronger structure was built with William Penn’s assistance. The Rittenhouse family then acquired full rights to the mill and the surrounding property.
Over the years as the Rittenhouse family prospered, the village became known as RittenhouseTown and grew. Other mills were built at nearby locations on the Wissahickon Creek below the confluence with the Monoshone which acquired the name “Paper Mill Run.”
A Papermaker’s Life Was a Hard Life
The life of a papermaker was not an easy one. Three men working very hard could produce a mere thousand sheets a day.
This is a replica of the original Rittenhouse paper mill.
The pulp was beaten using a hugh trip hammer, known as a stamper beater, which was lifted by the mill’s water wheel. Sometimes flax was used, but mostly linen rags were recycled for printing and writing paper. Wood fibers were not successfully used in papermaking until 1860. William Rittenhouse, showing the wear and tear of his profession, was called “old and decrepit” when he was barely in his fifties by William Penn, although both men were the same age.
Of the three major jobs in the mill, including the Coucher and Layer, the Vatman was the real artisan. He dipped a rectangular wire screen, called a “mould,” into the liquid pulp or “stuff” and lifted out a layer of fibers that would become a sheet of paper. The layer of fibers was laid between felts, then placed on a press. After the water was squeezed out, the paper was hung over ropes to dry.
April Elizabeth Tucker at table showing various stages of paper making at RittenhouseTown in July 2002. Wilhelm Rittinghausen is her 9th great-great grandfather.
Our tour guide on the left is showing us the press used to squeeze out the water leaving us with paper to hang over a rope to dry. Sonja Tucker, a 10th great granddaughter of Wilhelm Rittinghausen (or Rittinghuysen) and her mother Carola look on.
Paper made by Judith Rittenhouse, 8th great granddaughter of Wilhelm Rittenhouse, at RittenhouseTown. Judith made this in a vat similar to those used by the Rittenhouses.
Margaret May Rittenhouse Ellison made a thread count of the various Rittenhouse watermarks that were pictured in a book about Rittenhouses. She made it for her first cousin Elizabeth Rittenhouse Lamb. They are both 7th great granddaughters of Wilhelm Rittinghausen or Rittenhouse.
From the pamphlet The Rittenhouse Mill and the Beginnings of Papermaking in America, p. 17-19, we learn about the watermarks for stationery. When you hold up a “laid” paper to the light, the distinctive marks of the laid wires and chain wires of the mould are readily seen. Many early papermakers took advantage of these results to mark their products with watermarks, which were produced by lacing figures twisted in wire onto the s surfaces of their moulds, so that the finished sheets when help up to the light show not only the chain and laid lines but also the impression of those figures.
The Rittenhouses used moulds with several different watermarks. The earliest seems to have been in use by 1692, consisting of a shield enclosing a fleur-de-lis with a monogram NR, for Nicholas (Claus) Rittenhouse. This is shown in the top right watermark above with 1694 underneath and the date to the left.
By about 1700 we begin to see a much more complex watermark, consisting of the word “Pensilvania” beneath a shield bearing a three-leaf clover, the so-called “Klee-blatt,” based on the trefoil seal of Germantown devised by its founder Francis Daniel Pastorius. This watermark was accompanied by another figure on the left side of the mould, called a countermark, in the form of a monogram WR. The watermark is a proud statement of the American origin of the paper. See the middle figures with 1696 and 1700 underneath them above. This pamphlet tells many more interesting stories and was written by James Green and published in 1990 by the Library Company of Philadelphia and Friends of Historic RittenhouseTown. After about 1710 a much simpler watermark appears consisting of a simple Klee-blatt and a monogram KR for Klaus or Claus Rittenhouse. Later Rittenhouse watermarks are monogrammed WR for Claus’ son William, and IR for Jacob Rittenhouse, William’s son. The dates by the pictures above do not exactly match the descriptions in the booklet which are probably more accurate.
April Tucker, Judith Lamb Rittenhouse, and Susan Lamb Griffith are in front of the plaque at Nicholas Rittenhouse’s home in July 2002.
Restored Nicolas Rittenhouse home in July 2002 in the RittenhouseTown, Fairmont Park, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
Sonja Tucker, 10th great granddaughter of Wilhelm Rittinghausen or Rittenhouse, with kitchen utensils in original building separate from the home for cooking. At RittenhouseTown, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, in July 2002.