Good News from A Great City Haverhill, MA
On Sunday, September 20, 2015 an old and disused mill building on Stevens Street in Haverhill, MA raged in one of the city’s largest fires in recent history. It was a 7 alarm (8 alarm according to CBS Boston News) blaze; according to a Boston Globe article, 19 communities provided assistance. The smoke could be seen more than 20 miles away in Boston and drew The Heartbeat of Haverhill across Bradford’s Basiliere Bridge to experience the conflagration. Communities as far away as York, Maine and Worcester, MA graciously and heroically responded with aid for our hard working fire department. People swarmed neighboring streets inching ever closer to watch the epic battle between those hoping to extinguish the fire and the fire’s desire to live and grow. It was only through precise and meticulously coordinated firefighting training that no one was injured.
Within days four teens were charged with setting the fire even as the embers still smoldered and required round the clock watches to prevent flare ups. The Heartbeat of Haverhill read an interview with Mayor Fiorentini and began to understand the true cost of the loss. After years without interest, the mill had a prospect who was scheduled to make a site visit the following Tuesday; just two days made the difference between a valuable property and a ruin.
THOH returned to the scene a few days later while Stevens Street was still blocked by onsite firefighters. A visit to Granville Street, across the Little River from the fire, revealed what looked like ancient ruins being reclaimed by nature though there were still occasional plumes of smoke and steam and little bursts of orange flame.
We visited again in November wondering about what the future would hold for the site and discovered the odd beauty that was left in the fire’s wake. Ducks returned to reclaim their place in the river, placidly floating passed the ruined dreams.
January’s nearly new year visit yielded, stark silhouettes in the setting sun. No one was at the site.
The Heartbeat of Haverhill drove toward Lafayette Square on February 15, 2016 and watched as a three 18-wheelers exited Stevens Street. We took an unplanned right and witnessed the open view across the river. Without the fanfare and crowds of the demolition of the Woolworth Building early last year, without so much as a front page article in the local media, this little remnant of shoe factory history had been razed creating new views and new promise of what is to come. Discussions with the security staff on site and the men charged with hauling away the debris produced the following answers… No one needed masks on site because the air quality was constantly being monitored and was well within range, and spraying water (quickly frozen in the recent arctic-like temperatures) kept dust to a minimum. Initially, they’d be hauling five truck loads away on this day, but estimates were that as many as 100 trucks would be required to clean the entire site. The refuse would be sorted for recyclables like metal and brick.
One last trip across the bridge to look back at the site, made it hard to remember what had once been such a prominent feature on the bank of the Little River. And that might be good, as we look forward to emergence of a new life on this historic site.