DALTON — Nestled next to the busy Pioneer Mill, largest of the four Crane mills, lies a quiet 106-year-old fieldstone building in which the visitor can see assembled in tidy display cases a host of papers, letters and tool models which graphically tell the history of the success of Crane & Company for 150 years.
The neat, solid structure of the Crane Museum was originally the rag room of the Old Stone Mill, built in 1844, gutted by fire less than 30 years later, and restored to its present condition in 1930. Central exhibit in the one-room building is the scale model of the original vat house built and operated by the company founder, Zenas Crane.
Invitations to the opening of the museum in 1930 were printed on deckle-edge paper made by hand on the miniature mold, which forms part of the exhibit. The model antedates the Fourdrinier machine now used and was constructed by Dard Hunter of Lime Rock, Conn., noted authority on the history of papermaking.
Ringing the room are glassed-in cases containing old bank notes, currency, business letters written by members of the Crane family, and photographs and sketches of old buildings, some of them long since burned by the 19th century fires which destroyed three Crane mills.
Although the distant past is well represented in the display cases, the contemporary can find many articles which stir the memory. Two-ply bank note paper made in 1852 vies for attention with "invasion currency" used in the Philippine Islands in World War II and the Gold Seal U.S. currency used by American troops in Europe in 1945.
A copy of the Sun newspaper published at Pittsfield March 22, 1802, is printed on some of the earliest Crane paper, while an invitation from Dean Acheson, now secretary of state, calling members of the Council of the United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration to a first meeting is engraved on Kid Finish Naturel, a recent Crane product.
Although the Crane family makes no claim to being the oldest paper manufacturers in the country, members of the family engaged in the trade long before Zenas Crane halted his horse on the banks of the Housatonic. It is the oldest firm making paper in Western Massachusetts, however.
The first mill in which the Crane family had an interest was the Liberty Mill at Newton, operated from 1770 to 1793 by Vose, Lewis & Crane. A ledger of this early mill shows entries of currency paper purchases by Paul Revere, who engraved currency for the Colonies.