One of the most distinguishing features of the former Spaulding Fibre plant in the City of Tonawanda came crashing down in a cascade of bricks Thursday.
The demolition of the 250-foot chimney at the Wheeler Street property marked the end of an era for dozens who showed up to watch it topple. Some were armed with cameras to record the event for posterity, while others reminisced about when Spaulding Fibre was, perhaps, the top employer in the city.
"Spaulding once was a very vibrant part of our community, but it is now less than a . . . shadow of itself," Tonawanda Alderman Rick Davis said in a prepared statement at the demolition.
"The smokestack symbolizes the economic decay that this area had to endure over the years with the closings of Bethlehem Steel, Remington Rand and Spaulding Fibre."
Assemblyman Robin L. Schimminger, D-Kenmore, recalled efforts to save the building for industrial reuse.
"There were hopes of adaptively reusing the building," he said. "It was difficult to rescue the building coming out of a bankruptcy, and ultimately the decision was made . . . to demolish the structure."
The 40-acre plant operated under the name Spaulding Fibre until 1988, when it became Spaulding Composites Co. The plant shut down for good in late 1992.
Former Tonawanda Alderman Gary Doane, who showed up Thursday to witness the smokestack demolition from the parking lot of T.C. Wheeler's Bar & Pizzeria, recalled his lengthy employment at Spaulding.
"I started there in January 1959 and was there till the end in 1992. I helped process people out the door," Doane said. "I worked nearly every job there was at the plant. I started out in the cutting room and worked myself up to human resources manager."
Schimminger said nearly everyone who lived in the city a generation or so ago has his or her own story.
"My story is that my dad grew up two blocks away," he said. "His father worked at the Spaulding plant almost from the time it opened until the time he died in 1947. My mother, who lived just down the street from my dad during World War II, worked here in the office. The point is that so many, many families have stories of their family connections to Spaulding."
A cleanup of the contaminated site is the culmination of efforts by the city, Erie County and Erie County Industrial Development Agency to secure funding for the demolition. The state Department of Environmental Conservation provided $3.24 million toward the project, and $1 million came from the Erie County Department of Environment and Planning, through block grants and private donations.
"The City of Tonawanda, with its limited resources, relied heavily on these agencies," Mayor Ronald Pilozzi said.
About a third of the work remains to be done. City officials hope to attract developers through the Empire Zone, which offers tax breaks, training grants and utility discounts, among other incentives.