Stillwater has always had a full complement of businesses including manufacturing in downtown over the course of history. Some businesses stayed a long time and others just a few years. One of the shorter lived businesses in downtown was the Smithson Paper Box Factory which its building still stands today at 321 South Main Street.
In 1906, William Smithson, a native son of Stillwater and a man of “push and energy” started the company at Main and Nelson streets in downtown Stillwater. The business was managed by Herbert A. Bell, who formerly resided in Watertown, Wis. He was an expert in the work of paper boxes and it was said that he would have the “best of goods turned out.”
The company at first made paper boxes for the new shoe factory, then expanded to make specialty boxes for fancy candy and other such uses. In 1907, the Smithson factory had about twenty skilled workers and would fill orders promptly according early advertising. It was Smithson who oversaw the company – creating the business, advertising and the operations of the entire company. Smithson was born in Stillwater on June 15, 1870. He spent some time in Colorado while in his late teens hoping that the climate would help his health. He returned to Stillwater in 1891 and helped his father at his grocery store on the North Hill.
There was competition in the box manufacturing in the St. Croix Valley. The St. Croix Box Manufacturing Company was organized in South Stillwater [now Bayport] in 1900 with C.J. LaVine in charge. Then in 1904 the Kaiser Box Company was organized also in South Stillwater by R.J. Kaiser and his two sons, Walter and Dick Kaiser. The Kaiser Box Company plant burned in 1911 and was never rebuilt – but a smaller plant was constructed and renamed the Eagle Box Company that lasted only a few years. The St. Croix Box Manufacturing Company also folded in the early 1920s leaving only the Smithson box factory operating.
Smithson unexpectedly died on August 22, 1922 at the age of 52. Smithson was a member of the Stillwater Elks Club and other organizations. He was a member of the Stillwater City Council, and when Mayor J.R. Kolliner died, Smithson was appointed to fill out his term. Smithson was Mayor of Stillwater at the time of his death.
According to the Stillwater Gazette, “During the time that Mr. Smithson occupied the mayor’s chair at the city hall he always acted for what was best in affairs relating to the advancement of the city and was always ready – in and out of season – to bring about the best possible results.” The Paper Box Company continued after Smithson’s death with M.L. Murphy as President; George H. Sullivan as Vice President; E.W. Simonet Secretary and Ludwig Simonet as Treasurer. The Company soon saw declining sales and by 1930 the Smithson Paper Box Company was out of business. The building then was used by Allied Manufacturing Company which manufactured overalls with Ed Pavek as manager. The 1960s saw the Smead Manufacturing Company in the building which made office supplies and August L. Heinold was plant manager. The building was purchased by the Simonet family; it served as a warehouse for the Simonet furniture company until it was sold to the Anderson family. Soon thereafter Al Fresco Casual Living for Home and Garden home goods store moved into the first floor, owned by Meg Brownson. The Anderson’s company, W.R.Medical Electronics Co., a small medical device manufacturing company, occupied the second floor. Another business tenant in the building was the Lonnie Loveness jewelry factory.
The building continues to be a hub for small businesses. It is the new home for Anderson Legal, and several other businesses.