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A brief history of Glatfelter and Spring Grove

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Spring Grove was founded in 1747 but its identity over the last 150 years has been shaped by its biggest employer, Glatfelter.
Spring Grove was founded in 1747 but its identity over the last 150 years has been shaped by its biggest employer, Glatfelter. - (Photo / )

Philip H. Glatfelter purchased a paper plant in 1864 for $14,000, according to Spring Grove Area Historical Preservation Society Manager and Curator Blake Stough.

Since that purchase, the York County paper mill has grown into an international business cultivated by five generations of Glatfelters. The last to serve in a leadership role was George H. Glatfelter II.

In addition to running the organization and being a presence inside its mill, the Glatfelter family was heavily involved in the borough’s affairs.

For many, memories of the “old days” still burn bright. Though their experiences vary, there are a lot of common elements in the stories of former and current employees.

Those memories came to life on a Thursday morning in March at the Spring Grove Area Historical Preservation Society museum.

Robert Spangler Jr., now 69, chuckled as he recalled starting as a teenager with the company.

“Glatfelter was the main employer at the time … that’s just how it was,” he said. “My dad, my grandma, my uncles … everybody from generation to generation, that is, until I worked there.”

He lasted only two months.

“I got caught in what they call a ‘hogger’ or a cutter,” he said. “They had to tear it apart to get me out. I was 18, working seven days a week, so I quit,” he said. His career led him instead to Johnson Controls in Spring Garden Township, which designs, engineers and tests chillers.

Like Spangler, William Allen followed family members into the mill.

Now 61, Allen started working at Glatfelter in 1976 on Groundhog’s Day and is still there 42 years later. The majority of his time has been spent in the service maintenance room.

Allen said he’s seen a lot of changes at the plant.

When he first started working there, Allen said, P.H. Glatfelter III came to the mill every day. “He would stop there after church and everything,” Allen said. “He knew you by name and everything else.”

George H. Glatfelter II, the nephew of Philip H. Glatfelter III and great-great grandson of Philip H. Glatfelter, Allen said, carried that same legacy of “knowing his employees.” In addition to his role as chairman, George II was CEO from 1998 to 2010. He retired as chairman in 2011.

“What was great about George II, he would come through (the building), but he was hands-on. He did a lot of the jobs in (the company), he didn’t just sit in the office. He worked his way up,” Allen said.

Life in a mill town

Growing up in Spring Grove, Nancy Doerflein spent a lot of time at the paper mill and its functions: Her father, Charles D. Doerflein, was a photographer for the company. Oftentimes, she’d tag along on assignments to hand her father photo equipment.

As company photographer, Charles produced an in-house newsletter called the Barker, which showcased what was happening inside the company and its community.

Doerflein, now 72, was raised in a neighborhood that wasn’t only close to the company, but was built by it, too. At that time, she said, a majority of people in the neighborhood worked at the mill.

Following the death of her parents in the late 1980s and early 1990s, Doerflein inherited her family home and moved back from Hanover. Doerflein can still see the mill from the windows of her home.

Among their contributions to the community, the Glatfelters set up scholarships that allowed local residents like Doerflein to go on to college. Because of that scholarship, Doerflein studied elementary education at Shippensburg University and went on to teach in the Littlestown Area School District for 25 years.

She wishes the company had stayed in the Glatfelter family.

“In the late 1800s and 1900s, they were the main business in town and they took care of the town,” she said.

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Emily Thurlow

Emily Thurlow

​Emily Thurlow covers York County​ for the Central Penn Business Journal. Have a tip? Drop her a line at ethurlow@cpbj.com. Follow her on Twitter @localloislane.

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