Abandoned Paper Mill

View of underground abandoned industrial facility.

View of underground abandoned industrial facility.

I recently was invited to take a tour of the Blue Heron Paper Mill, now defunct, abandoned and destined for gentrification. The site is literally right on the Willamette River in Oregon City. This is the kind of special place where Native Americans used to pluck salmon from the waterfalls, but is now damed for a power plant, but that is another story.

This paper plant is special too, at least in my eyes. I am attracted to these industrial environments of old, I am not sure if it is the gritty textures, the architectural forms, or something about the abandonment that speaks to me.


My attraction and empathy could stem from the legacy of those who stood before us - for better or worse. The shear amount of concrete, materials and energy to build such a place, only to have the times change the entire enterprise become obsolete, is in itself a haunting story.

Old storage tanks in black and white.

Old storage tanks in black and white.

Apparently, the site closed down so quickly that employees just walked away from everything, giving the offices and facilities an appearance of a "ghost town".

The site and tour was fantastic, although I always seemed to be a thorn in the side of the docent leading the tour. "Where's our photographer" she would say ushering the small group along to the next dilapidated interior stuffed with remnants of pipes, tanks and god knows what else.

I never had enough time to devote to the site that it deserved, but I was able to capture a number of quality images, some of which are shown at this gallery.

Friend, and fellow artist, Becky Busi summed up my photography from that day this way...

"Wow. Amazing photos and to think we were actually there...! You have captured a softness in the degradation. Acting as the intermediary between past and future you have collected a jewelry box of industrial manufactured spaces transforming them into diamonds and rubies from a by-gone era. Thank you so much for sharing these...lovely...."
Thanks Becky.

The industrial site has recently been purchased and is destined to become a marquee destination spot for Oregon City. Their website presents the following goals for their master plan... "a way that embraces the four core values of this project: healthy habitat, historic and cultural interpretation, economic redevelopment, and of course, public access."

It will be interesting to witness the evolution of this site over the next few years and see how the transformation takes place.


Please share this post by clicking on the buttons below, comment below that. Thanks! Russ

8 Responses to “Abandoned Paper Mill”

  1. Nice work Russ!

    · December 1, 2014 @ 8:56 pm


  2. Alex Lobba says:

    Russ, thank you for sharing this. The loading dock image is a whole world in itself. I love the contrast of the hard, recognizable reality at the bottom with the soft abstract universe art the top. Very captivating: it pulled me in and it doesn’t want to let go. I love it – congrats!

    · December 1, 2014 @ 9:00 pm


    • Russ Widstrand says:

      Alex, many thanks for your comment and praise. The loading dock image was a unexpected bonus from the shoot, as it was nearly the last capture I made as we were shuttled out of the site. Let me know if you would like to purchase a print. Russ

      · December 2, 2014 @ 10:25 pm


  3. Mary says:

    Very interesting Russ – it’s great to have the beautiful imagery with a story behind them. There is something about rust, concrete and peeling paint that’s very enchanting. We’ve been waiting for the papermill in Camas to close – they’ve talked about it for the past 8 years. The riverfront is beautiful from afar but it’s hard to imagine the changeover when the structures are so enormous, and the whole facility almost a part of the landscape. They talk about ‘saving the papermaker jobs’ but the gentrification would really help our little part of the world become more than just a stopover for gas. I hope one of your images gets into the photo of the day on the site. Mary

    · December 1, 2014 @ 9:39 pm


  4. Teresa says:

    Beautiful Russ!! So cool to get a glimpse inside what has been in my neighborhood, but unseen by me. I have been so excited about the prospect of cleaning up the site and showcasing the falls for so long! The idea of reclaiming some of the natural parts of the area, and creating public access to the falls is a dream for us here in Oregon City- it has been for so long a blight, and we are hoping for the best.
    Thanks, Teresa

    · December 2, 2014 @ 3:25 am


  5. Michael MacCaskey says:

    Very nice photos Russ.

    · December 2, 2014 @ 9:35 pm


  6. Russ Widstrand says:

    Thanks all for your comment on the work. Much appreciated. Russ

    · December 2, 2014 @ 10:26 pm


  7. Brian Christofferson says:

    It took a second glance at the loading dock abstract to realize the vertical lines were those plastic sheets that kept the heat in/out. They seemed a brilliant innovation when they came into use all those years ago. Looking at them from my retired perspective it is easy to see the broken corners and the dirty edges not to mention the lack of anything useful to do anymore. Still vertical and that is what counts. Nice job Russ.

    · February 6, 2015 @ 4:02 pm


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