When Boxes were a Booming Business in the City

It was in 1894 that F.E. Rice, a native of Charlemont and a resident of Florida, came down from the mountain and formed a partnership with E.A. McMillian and began a shoebox manufacturing facility on Washington Avenue to supply the booming local shoe industry.

McMillan, a newspaper man from New York state, had come to North Adams when he bought the controlling interest in the Hoosac Valley News. He was the editor until October 1897, when he relinquished the newspaper to give his full attention to the shoebox enterprise. 

In 1895, the burgeoning box business had outgrown its original site and work was begun on an up to date factory on the western end of Chestnut Street adjacent to the Boston & Albany railroad terminal. 

The Washington Avenue plant became a storage facility. The new plant was unique, as it had an indoor loading and unloading bay for horses and wagons in inclement weather. There were stalls for three horses and an office on the first floor. The building was steam heated and lit with electricity. It employed 50 to 70 people, a majority of them were women.

In its early days, Rice & McMillan produced shoe boxes, candy and wedding cake containers and so called ‘cloth boards’ – cardboard strips upon which cloth was wound after being processed. In later years, with the shoe factories disappearing and New England textile manufacturing on the wane, 97% of the business relied on the cloth boards and only 3% on boxes.

What happened to the Rice & McMillan partnership is unclear. In 1945, when the company was put up for sale, it was done by the E.A. McMillan estate. The company was purchased by Henry Jarisch Jr. of Holyoke, proprietor of the United Paper Box Co. in that city.

“Henry, as president, installed his nephew, Alfred R. Jarisch, as vice president and treasurer. Robert F. Vincelette of Adams was named plant superintendent. The Jarisches immediately embarked upon an expansion and modernization of the Chestnut Street building. They hired more workers and increased its line of cardboard and plastic boxes, greeting card containers, specialty boxes for the retail trade, hosiery manufacturers and for dress shirts. “Jarisch was a generous man. He shared profits with his employees. In March 1964, he distributed $8,000 to 45 employees. He continued this profit sharing for 11 years. Henry Jarisch died on June 11, 1979.

As one delves into the history of Jarisch’s operations, we see the company suffered through hassles with the North Adams Redevelopment Authority’s urban renewal of the downtown area. Jarisch claimed substantial loss of money because of heavy urban renewal taking place in the neighborhood, hampering trucks form loading and unloading. The building expansion that would have enlarged the plant, that would have increased its production and added more employees, never took place.

The business continued under Robert F. Vincelette’s leadership until 1995 when he sold the business to Gary P. Marlow who had been Vincelette’s accountant. Marlow’s attempt to continue the business in a new building in the North Adams Industrial Park proved to be his financial undoing. So it was that the foreclosure auction on April 27, 2000, ended the 55-year-old business. 

Adapted from a story for the North Adams Historical Society