Good News from A Great City Haverhill, MA
With a half dozen cameras pointed in his direction, Mayor Fiorentini informed reporters including those from Boston television channels 4, 5, 7 and 25 about the lightning strike on Sunday, June 30 that hit the decommissioned L. H. Hamel Leather Company smokestack and led to its pending demise.
The stack is an icon in the city and provides testament to the shoe factories that made Haverhill known worldwide. The Mayor noted that yesterday after the strike sent bricks to rain down upon the ground, he immediately called in an expert structural engineer to assess its risk. The damage was designated ‘severe’ and neighboring residents were asked to evacuate for their own safety. The City opened an emergency shelter to accommodate them, but it went unneeded. Complicating the process, a storm induced electrical outage made it difficult to track down the owners of vehicles parked near the base of the towering structure.
The stack which was built in about the 1940s according to a photo caption in the Haverhill Public Library collection was preserved when the factory itself was converted to residences. It stood as a beacon to the new Haverhill until a freak storm pummeled its way through the City in the late afternoon bringing with it high winds, driving rain and enormous and frequent lightning strikes.
According to engineer Ron Bergman of Bergman and Associates, who was called to the scene while tending to his garden on a Sunday afternoon, “My grandfather was friends with Mr. Hamel, if anyone wanted to see that stack salvaged, it was me. But the damage is too great. If you use binoculars and catch the right angle you can see the light shining right through the stack. Unfortunately, we’ve had so much rain that the old mortar acted like a sponge and absorbed the water. The water served as a conductor for the electricity increasing the potential for damage.”
The Heartbeat of Haverhill noted that Bergman & Associates is located in a historic building on Washington Street. The company appreciates history but puts safety above all else.
The stack is not in a convenient location, and for the safety of all it will not be toppled or imploded. Bergman said it will be dismantled “brick by brick over the next 2-3 days, with each separated brick being tossed into the stack”. There is an exception. The Hamel family requested that a few bricks from this piece of their family’s heritage be preserved for them. Bergman suggested some of the white bricks that spell out the family name. The Hamel Leather Company and its stack may no longer tower over the neighborhood, but it is unlikely to be forgotten any time soon.
Photos and text (c) Alison Colby-Campbell