Exploring the Abandoned Bayless Paper Mill in Potter County

Hole in the wall of the abandoned Bayless Paper Mill in Austin, PA.

The abandoned Bayless Paper Mill in Potter County is part of a planned 329 acre park and interpretive center dedicated to telling the story of the paper mill, the dam built to sustain in, and the disastrous 1911 flood that resulted when that dame broke, killing at least 78 people and devastating both the mill and the surrounding town of Austin.

Roadside historical marker about the Austin Dam Flood.
Roadside historical marker about the Austin Dam Flood.

As of 2021, much remains to be done to bring the full vision for this park to fruition, but the Austin Dam Memorial Park around the ruins of the failed dam itself is already a popular tourist attraction in Potter County.

Memorial to the victims of the Austin Dam Flood at Austin Dam Memorial Park.
Memorial to the victims of the Austin Dam Flood at Austin Dam Memorial Park.

The proposed south entrance to the park that encompasses the abandoned Bayless Paper Mill is still very much a work in progress, but in recent years a white-blazed hiking trail connecting the dam ruins to the north to the paper mill ruins has been completed.

The white-blazed Bayless Paper Mill Trail at Austin Dam Memorial Park in Potter County.
The white-blazed Bayless Paper Mill Trail at Austin Dam Memorial Park in Potter County.

What I’ll share with you here is a brief history of the Bayless Paper Mill and the associated flood of 1911, as well as my observations from a recent visit to the ruins of both the dam and the paper mill.

Looking down on the ruins of the Bayless Paper Mill in Potter County.
Looking down on the ruins of the Bayless Paper Mill in Potter County.

This property is not maintained or monitored for safety conditions, and therefore this is strictly a VISIT AT YOUR OWN RISK DESTINATION!

By voluntarily exploring this location, YOU assume the risk of any personal injury or damage to personal property, and shall not hold the author liable for any injuries, losses, or damages that may occur while visiting this location.


History of the Bayless Paper Mill

By the year 1900 the tiny town of Austin in Potter County had experienced floods, fires, and a declining local economy as the hemlock forests that fueled the area timber mills had been clear-cut in the years before.

The smaller “pulp wood” trees that grew up where the clear-cut hemlocks once thrived were attractive, however, to industrialist George Bayless, who saw the area as a prime spot for a pulp and paper mill.

Bayless Paper Mill Historical SIgn along Route 872 in Potter County Pennsylvania.
Bayless Paper Mill Historical Sign along Route 872 in Potter County.

Construction of the Bayless Paper Mill began in 1900, and many in the area welcomed the mill and the jobs it created.

Historical photo of the Bayless Paper Mill in Austin Pennsylvania.
Historical photo of the Bayless Paper Mill in Austin, Pennsylvania (public domain image).

Because the paper mill required a reliable, year round source of water to operate, Mr. Bayless had a large concrete dam built in 1909 a half-mile upstream from the paper mill, to replace an earthen dam on Freeman Run that had proven to be inadequate.

Photo of construction of the Austin Dam in 1909, on display at the Austin Dam Memorial Park.
Photo of construction of the Austin Dam in 1909, on display at the Austin Dam Memorial Park.

George Bayless ignored several key safety recommendations to save money during construction of this 50 foot-tall, 530 foot-wide dam, and the result was catastrophic.

The Austin Dam in Potter County PA soon after it failed in 1911
The Austin Dam in Potter County,PA soon after it failed in 1911 (public domain image).

On September 30, 1911 the dam broke, unleashing 400 million gallons of water in a torrent that tore through the narrow valley, destroying the paper mill before reaching and destroying most of Austin as well.

The village of Austin in Potter County after the flood in 1911.
The village of Austin in Potter County after the flood in 1911 (public domain image).

The Bayless Paper Mill was rebuilt after the flood, and remained operational until a massive fire in 1944 caused it to close forever.

The deteriorating roof of the abandoned Bayless Paper Mill in Potter County, PA.
The deteriorating roof of the abandoned Bayless Paper Mill in Potter County, PA.

Today, only the charred and deteriorating remains of this once-mighty operation remain, standing in silent tribute to those who worked and those who died on that site over the years.

Looking out over the remains of the abandoned Bayless Paper Mill at Austin Dam Memorial Park.
Looking out over the remains of the abandoned Bayless Paper Mill at Austin Dam Memorial Park.

Exploring the Bayless Paper Mill Ruins

There are several ways to see the ruins of the abandoned Bayless Paper Mill in Potter County.

Remnants of the Bayless Pulp and Paper Mill in Potter County.
Remnants of the Bayless Pulp and Paper Mill in Potter County.

The easiest by far is simply to stop at the roadside pull-off along Route 872, just north of Austin, where you are separated from the ruins by Freeman Run and some rather thick vegetation.

If you’re looking for just a quick glimpse of the Bayless Paper Mill Ruins before continuing on to the Austin Dam ruins, then this is your spot.

View of the abandoned Bayless Paper Mill from Route 872.
View of the abandoned Bayless Paper Mill from Route 872.

Hiking the Bayless Paper Mill Trail

A recently-completed hiking trail, linking the ruins of the Austin Dam to the ruins of the Bayless Paper Mill, is an option for those looking to get a more up-close look at history.

Map to the ruins of Austin Dam and the abandoned Bayless paper Mill in Potter County Pennsylvania.
Map to the ruins of Austin Dam and the abandoned Bayless paper Mill in Potter County.

The Bayless Paper Mill Trail is a 0.8 mile, white blazed trail that begins at the campground near the Austin Dam ruins, and follows the right side of Freeman Run downstream to the paper mill ruins.

The Bayless Paper Mill trail head at Austin Dam Memorial Park in Potter County Pennsylvania.
The Bayless Paper Mill trail head at Austin Dam Memorial Park in Potter County.

A trail map on display at the pavillion near the Austin Dam ruins lays out the trail, as well as describes the buildings you’ll see at the end of the trail.

An aerial-view map of the Bayless Paper Mill ruins at Austin Dam Memorial Park.
An aerial-view trail map of the Bayless Paper Mill ruins at Austin Dam Memorial Park.

The trail is essentially flat, reasonably easy to follow, and along the way you’ll encounter some remains of the pipes that carried water from the dam to the paper mill.

Remains of a pipe that conducted water from the Austin Dam to the Bayless Paper Mill downstream.
Remains of a pipe that conducted water from the Austin Dam to the Bayless Paper Mill downstream.

The second half of the Bayless Paper Mill Trail follows a dirt road, which brings you out on a hillside next to the “Papermill Tower”.

The lower half of the Bayless Paper Mill Trail at Austin Dam Memorial Park in Potter County PA
The lower half of the Bayless Paper Mill Trail at Austin Dam Memorial Park.

The Bayless Paper Mill Tower

By far the tallest structure still standing on the site, the abandoned Bayless Paper Mill Tower is an impressive spectacle.

The abandoned Bayless Paper Mill Tower in Austin, PA
The abandoned Bayless Paper Mill Tower in Austin, PA

Composed of three “legs”, the tower conjures up images of a decaying Middle-Ages castle.

View from the bottom of the abandoned Bayless Paper Mill Tower in Potter County PA
View from the bottom of the abandoned Bayless Paper Mill Tower in Potter County.

A smaller but still impressive structure next to the tower is empty, except for some old tires and a few rusty bicycles.

Inside one of the structures at the abandoned Bayless Paper Mill in Austin, Pennsylvania.
Inside one of the structures at the abandoned Bayless Paper Mill in Austin.

No interpretive signage exists in this portion of the park, so I’m not sure what the function of the tower and adjacent building was (if you know, feel free to email me).


The Bayless Paper Mill Main Buildings

Just down the hill from the tower, along an obvious and well-worn trail, lie the main buildings that comprise the Bayless Paper Mill ruins.

The pulp digesters at the abandoned Bayless Paper Mill ruins.
The “pulp digesters” at the abandoned Bayless Paper Mill ruins.

Although these ruins are incorporated into the master park plans for the area, there are currently no trail improvements or safety measures of any kind in place in and around these buildings that made-up the Bayless Paper Mill.

Second floor of the abandoned Bayless Paper Mill ruins.
Peering into the abandoned Bayless Paper Mill in Potter County.

For that reason, I would encourage you to simply view the ruins from a distance, and if you do choose to explore them up-close, know that you do so at your own risk!

Roof of the abandoned Bayless Paper Mill at Austin Dam Memorial Park.
Roof of the abandoned Bayless Paper Mill at Austin Dam Memorial Park.

Having said that, on the early spring morning I visited to take these photos, a large group of local kids were hanging out in the buildings, and from the amount of graffiti on the walls it seems the ruins are a popular spot for teens to congregate.

Graffiti on the walls of the abandoned Bayless Paper Mill in Potter County.
Graffiti on the walls of the abandoned Bayless Paper Mill in Potter County.

Stalactites have formed on the ceilings of the buildings as water leaches through the concrete.

Stalactites forming on the ceilings inside the abandoned Bayless Paper Mill.
Stalactites forming on the ceilings inside the abandoned Bayless Paper Mill.

Basements are a dark, flooded labyrinth.

Basement of the abandoned Bayless Paper Mill ruins in Potter County.
Basement of the abandoned Bayless Paper Mill ruins in Potter County.

Rooftops are now open to the sky.

Looking up through the missing roof at the abandoned Bayless Paper Mill.
Looking up through the missing roof at the abandoned Bayless Paper Mill.

Some stairways lead to nowhere.

Stairway to nowhere at the abandoned Bayless Paper Mill in Potter County.
Stairway to nowhere at the abandoned Bayless Paper Mill in Potter County.

Others seem to lead to an abyss.

Stairs leading to the basement of the abandoned Bayless Paper Mill in Potter County.
Stairs leading to the basement of the abandoned Bayless Paper Mill in Potter County.

Again, without any sort of interpretive signage, I’m simply not sure what the function of each building was at the Bayless Paper Mill.

One of the abandoned buildings at the ruins of the Bayless Paper Mill in Potter County.
One of the abandoned buildings at the ruins of the Bayless Paper Mill in Potter County.

Hopefully if/when the park is completed, that sort of historical information will be displayed.

Holes in the floor and ceiling at the Bayless Paper Mill ruins in Potter County.
Holes in the floor and ceiling at the Bayless Paper Mill ruins in Potter County.

Until then, we can still appreciate the workmanship that went into these structures that have withstood flood, fire, and the ravages of time.

Walls of the abandoned Bayless Paper Mill in Potter County Pennsylvania.
Walls of the abandoned Bayless Paper Mill in Potter County

Final Thoughts

The legacy of the Bayless Paper Mill is forever linked in history to the devastating 1911 flood that resulted from the failure of the Bayless Paper Mill Dam.

History of the Austin Dam Flood on display at the Austin Dam Memorial Park.
History of the Austin Dam Flood on display at the Austin Dam Memorial Park.

Remarkably, more than 100 years after that disaster, the Austin Dam, as it has come to be know, is still standing.

Aerial view of Austin Dam ruins in Potter County Pennsylvania.
The ruins of the Austin Dam in Potter County, Pennsylvania.

So to are the remains of the Bayless Paper Mill, the enterprise for which the dam was built to serve.

Remains of the Bayless Pulp and Paper Mill near Austin, Pennsylvania.
Remains of the Bayless Pulp and Paper Mill near Austin, Pennsylvania.

Hopefully the Austin Dam Memorial Park will continue to evolve, and all of these incredible structures and their stories can be preserved and interpreted for a new generation of Pennsylvanians.

Mural at the Austin Dam Memorial Park in Potter County, PA.
Mural at the Austin Dam Memorial Park in Potter County.

If you’d like to camp at the Austin Dam Memorial Park, you can, and you’ll find all the details HERE.


Nearby Attractions

The Austin Dam Memorial Park is dedicated to those that lost their lives in the 1911 flood resulting from the failure of the Bayless Paper Mill Dam, to this day the second-deadliest flood in Pennsylvania history.

Remains of Austin Dam in Potter County PA
Remains of Austin Dam in Potter County.

The Fred Woods Trail in neighboring Cameron County takes you on a loop hike past an ancient “rock city” as well as two fantastic mountain vistas.

The author in one of the canyons formed by massive rock formations along the Fred Woods Trail.
The author in one of the canyons formed by massive rock formations along the Fred Woods Trail.

The 20 Best Scenic Overlooks in PA Elk Country introduces you to some of the finest vistas in the PA Wilds region of Pennsylvania.

Hikers taking on the view at Hyner Run State Park.
Hikers taking on the view at Hyner Run State Park.

If it’s elk you seek, The 15 Best Elk Viewing Destinations in Pennsylvania is the roadmap you’ll want to follow!

Elk Country Visitor Center food plot.
Elk Country Visitor Center food plot.

Exploring the Ridge Road Vistas in the Elk State Forest will introduce you to Pennsylvania’s most scenic State Forest road, featuring 6 world-class ROADSIDE vistas along a 3 mile stretch of road.

Logue Run Vista along Ridge Road in the Elk State Forest.
Logue Run Vista along Ridge Road in the Elk State Forest.

The nearby Quehanna Wild Area is home to countless memorable scenes, and The 5 Best Roadside Attractions in the Quehanna Wild Area makes for an easy introduction to this remote oasis in the PA Wilds.

A September view of Table Falls, flowing high and clear on Paige Run.
A September view of Table Falls along Red Run Road in the Quehanna Wild Area.

Want to make your trip to the Abandoned Bayless Paper Mill even MORE epic?

Rent a one-of-a-kind Potter County vacation home through Vrbo!

A Potter County Vrbo rental near Cherry Springs State Park and the Austin Dam Memorial Park.
Photo courtesy of Vrbo.

Browse HUNDREDS of awesome cabins, lodges, and chalets near the Abandoned Bayless Paper Mill at the Vrbo link below.

Disclaimer: If you book a vacation rental through this Vrbo link, I get a small commission (at NO additional cost to you!), which helps offset the expense of hosting the PA Bucket List website.

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Rusty Glessner is an award-winning photographer, lifelong Pennsylvanian, and creator of the PA Bucket List travel blog.

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