Uncovering the history of a building can sometimes reveal an evolution of epic proportions, as is the case for the surviving remnants of the old Charles Boldt Paper Mill in New Iberia.
Driving along East Main Street, or down South Lewis Street, one can easily see the towering brick smokestack that still bears the name of the mill’s original owner, Charles Boldt, who owned the Boldt Paper Mill Co. of Cincinnati.
The history of the mill can be traced back to 1919 when New Iberian A. C. Bernard, in an effort to bring commerce to the region, contacted Boldt about locating one of his mills in the area. On Aug. 21, 1920, The Weekly Iberian announced that Boldt had purchased 18 acres of land along the Bayou Teche, not far from the N. I. & N. tracks and the Conrad Rice Mill, later trademarked as the Konriko Rice Mill.
Remarking on what the mill meant for the economics of the city, Tulane University President A. B. Dwindle told The Weekly Iberian, “New Iberia is fast awaking to its possibilities and, in my humble opinion, will again take its place among the foremost cities of Louisiana if the New Iberia Chamber of Commerce keeps up the pace it has set within the past few months.
“The fact of the matter is — on my previous visits to New Iberia several years ago your little city seemed to be just ambling along, but now it is showing signs of becoming a real center of commercial and civic activity, the result of hard and progressive work by your leading public spirited men,” Dwindle said. “Personally, I don’t believe that New Iberia is on a boom, but is merely making strides in the right direction because of your active Chamber of Commerce.”
Construction of the mill, which was estimated to cost $500,000, was started in October 1920. One year later, on Oct. 29, 1921, the New Iberia Enterprise reported that the mill’s manager, Max Zimmerman, invited New Iberia Mayor Ed LaSalle and Chamber President Albert Estorge to the factory where they blew the steam whistle to sound the first day of work at the plant.
According to Glenn Conrad’s “New Iberia: Essays on The Town and Its People,” the mill employed a total of 100 people, but only lasted for a short period of time, and was finally closed due to the Great Depression in 1934.
For decades the mill went unoccupied, and remained at the mercy of the elements until 2002, when it was purchased by Dale Mouton. Missy Johnson, Mouton’s partner, now uses the old factory’s main building as the headquarters for her business, Down to Earth, where she sells mulch and compost.
Johnson said although the mill was unused for more than seven decades, it did not go unoccupied.
Behind the main building of the mill is a labyrinth of catacomb-like concrete rooms once used as engine rooms and storage for the old paper mill, Johnson said, which she described as “the underground city.”
To keep vagrants and teenagers from exploring the underground rooms, Johnson said Mouton installed a bulkhead and flooded the majority of the vast underground sanctum upon purchasing the property.
“It’s pretty dangerous,” said Johnson. “It’s my responsibility to make sure kids don’t get hurt in there.”
Lauren Buteau, Johnson’s daughter, said rumor has it that during the late 1970s and early 1980s believers in the occult held ceremonies and staged sacrifices in the deepest caverns of the mill.
“We bulkheaded it and flooded it with water so people can’t get in there,” Buteau said.
Lt. Ryan Turner, a spokesman for the Iberia Parish Sheriff’s Office, said the mill is under surveillance and trespassers will be immediately arrested if found on the premises.