HAVERHILL — Workers carefully began disassembling the old L.H. Hamel Leather Co. smokestack brick by brick. Meanwhile, residents of Hamel Mill Lofts below remain displaced for fear the more than 100-foot-tall structure may topple.
Bright sun beat down upon the site Monday, a contrast to the storm clouds Sunday when lightning struck the smokestack, sending a shower of brick fragments on the plaza below.
Beth Petrou-Finn, 47, of Haverhill lives in the section of the loft residences known as the “Powerhouse.” She said she, her husband, Michael, and their 2-year-old daughter, Lyla, were displaced Sunday night.
Petrou-Finn said she and her family were taking out the trash only four minutes before the rain came and the lightning struck the tower. She said when they walked out to see the damage, there were “bricks strewn all over the ground.”
“It’s a big part of the town,” Petrou-Finn said of the history of all of the mills in town as well as the stack. “People put their blood and sweat into it (and) now it’s coming down.”
The family is currently staying with Petrou-Finn’s brother, and were able to spend time together Monday. Petrou-Finn is the general manager for Butch’s Uptown restaurant, a short walk from her apartment.
Her cousin, Jason Petrou, 34, of Bradford, whose family owns Krueger Flatbread and Olivia’s in town said it’s “too bad” to see the stack come down.
“A historical building like that, it’s too bad to see it come down, and watch the destruction happen,” Petrou said, who mentioned bringing the tower down was “probably a good move” to ensure the safety of those around the area.
An emergency shelter was set up at the Citizens Center on Welcome Street Sunday night for those who were displaced from their apartments, but no one showed up, according to maintenance worker Robert Dunford
Dorothy Forrestall, 69, of Bradford explained that her maternal grandfather, Louis H. Hamel, who owned the tannery in the current spot of the lofts, began his business career selling popcorn balls in the sixth grade to help pay bills and provide food and clothing for his mother and siblings after their father left the family.
According to Forrestall, Hamel then found scraps of discarded leather and would sell the re-purposed scraps back to nearby companies. At that time, he rented the basement of what’s now The Tap Brewing Company and started his tannery there before moving to the smokestack’s current location. Forrestall’s father John J. Heffernan was a tanner at the location for 40 years.
Forrestall said she is a little sad to see the smokestack go, because “another great tribute to my grandfather will be missing from Haverhill.”
“I would really like them (the workers) to if they can, possibly save a letter (from the stack) and give it to the Buttonwoods Museum here in Haverhill,” Forrestall said, who mentioned there are other items in the museum dedicated to her grandfather. Forrestall said she was given a piece of the tile letter herself.
Forrestall also said Hamel was instrumental in the founding of Merrimack College, where the Hamel Health Center bears his name.
Haverhill Mayor James Fiorentini said the removal of the smokestack is not a city project so the owners of the lofts will be footing the bill to take the tower completely down.
Fiorentini said it’s sad to see the tower coming down. The smokestack is part of the Hamel Leather Co. Historic District.
“This was such a great symbol of our city,” Fiorentini said, “(but) safety has to come first.”
Workers started the destruction by taking the cap off of the tower and began chipping away at the bricks Monday afternoon. There was no confirmation on how long it will take to demolish the smokestack.