After 164 years, a major name in Maine and paper history is being erased.

Sappi North America is formally dropping the S.D. Warren Co. name where it is still in use at the Westbrook mill it bought in 1994 and other sites that were part of the acquisition.

Sappi North America submitted a letter to federal energy regulators last week to change the name on six dams. A spokeswoman for the company, which is headquartered internationally in South Africa, said the change was being made for “administrative reasons.”

“For almost two decades, the corporation has done business as Sappi North America (or, prior to 2015, as Sappi Fine Paper North America), although the formal name for the corporation was still S.D. Warren Co. until last week,” said Olga Karagiannis, Sappi North America’s manager of corporate communications.

“We made the move to formally update the corporate name to ensure consistency with the trade name,” Karagiannis said in a prepared statement, declining further comment.

The practical impact is unclear – most references to S.D. Warren have been changed to Sappi, including the big name painted on the Westbrook mill’s main smokestack. And most people in southern Maine have updated their references to the mill after a generation of Sappi ownership.

But the name is intertwined with the history of Westbrook, and some lament its passing.

“It was more or less the backbone of our community – paper city,” said Mike Sanphy, Westbrook’s mayor and president of the Westbrook Historical Society.

S.D. Warren dates to 1854, when the company was established on the banks of the Presumpscot River in Westbrook. It originally was known for its coated paper, used in magazines and other glossy publications. Like most paper mills in Maine, it has had to adapt to changing times and markets, and now makes casting and release papers, used in the production of synthetic leather, fabrics and laminated panels.

Last year, Sappi North America decided to combine its packaging and release paper units to better position the company for future growth and innovation. It also announced a $165 million investment to boost capacity at its sister mill in Skowhegan.

As S.D. Warren, it operated a well-regarded research and development facility that developed new types and uses for paper. It also owned The Elms, a large house in Westbrook on nearby Cumberland Street that it used as a guest house for visiting clients and as a site for some company functions. The house was sold by Sappi in 2006.

S.D. Warren itself evolved from another papermaker. Samuel Dennis Warren bought the paper mill on the site that had operated for nine years under the name Day & Lion, Sanphy said. The mill grew and remained the city’s major employer for decades – those who complained about the foul smell were famously told that the odor from the plant was “the smell of money.”

S.D. Warren was considered a good corporate citizen, he said, beyond the jobs it provided. It gave generously to local causes, and Sanphy, a retired Westbrook police officer and firefighter, said the company used to allow volunteer firefighters to leave their jobs in the mill to respond when a fire call came in.

He said the historical society has a large collection of photos related to the mill and copies of employee newsletters dating back decades.

“These are all good memories and they (Warren) were always good to the city,” he said.

Sappi still embraces the S.D. Warren name to some extent, noting in company histories that the corporate roots in the U.S. reach back to the original Westbrook mill in 1854.

With the decline in the paper industry, the mill has been supplanted as the city’s top employer by Idexx, which makes veterinary diagnostic devices. That company is in the midst of a major expansion and intends to hire 600 more workers.

But Sanphy said the name S.D. Warren will “be long remembered in the community.”

And, he assumes, stay on at least in one form that he noted last December.

Sanphy said the company still hangs a large banner during the holidays that reads, “Merry Christmas from S.D. Warren Co.”

Edward D. Murphy can be contacted at 791-6465 or at:

[email protected]

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