‘Symbol of Our City': Historic Haverhill Smokestack Being Torn Down

More than 100 residents were evacuated after lightning struck a historic smokestack in Haverhill, Massachusetts.

Crews are tearing down the L.H. Hamel Leather Company smokestack down brick by brick. Residents of the Hamel Mill Lofts were evacuated due to concerns that the landmark could topple.

Mayor James Fiorentini says crews need to make it down to the "A" in "Leather" before it will be stable and people can return home.

"This was the symbol of our city for so many years," Fiorentini said.

The smokestack has stood as the center of the Shoe City for generations. Beth Petrou, whose family owns a restaurant across the street, says her customers are reminiscing.

"I had an older couple and they were talking about when he was a teenager and worked there," Petrou said. "His grandparents worked there, everyone worked there."

Petrou and her daughter live in the Hamel Mill Lofts and walked right by the smokestack minutes before the storm rolled through.

"It's the closest I've even been to lightning hitting anywhere," Petrou said.

She and her neighbors say they didn't just hear the strike – they felt it.

"I mean it sounded like a gunshot in the next room," said David Bashara, who also lives in the Lofts. "Bricks were exploding out of the chimney."

Monday, Louis Hamel III brought his kids back to Haverhill, where he grew up. His grandfather started the company.

"It is emotional," he said.

Before they went home to Maine, the Hamels were handed a brick that they can say once held their family name high above the city.

"Just because this is gone doesn't mean the story is gone," Hamel said.

He went on to call the incident a lesson in impermanence, saying nothing can last forever. He says his family is lucky to have such rich memories.

Fiorentini says the city protected the smokestack during the downtown renovation years ago and now he's asking for patience and understanding as crews take it down.

"As much as history is important, preserving human life and safety is more important," he said.

The mayor says there were three lightning strikes in the city during Sunday's storm, but no one was hurt.

He is hoping residents can start returning home by Tuesday.

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