Wednesday, December 19, 2018

Holy smokes

I'd just about forgotten about Monday's demolition of the smokestack at Lexington Home Brands Plant No. 1. Clearly, watching a smokestack come down wasn't high on my priority list.

But about mid-afternoon, after running a series of errands, my neurons and synapses started firing and I remembered, "Hey, today's the day." So I drove over to see what I could see.

I first went to the Piedmont Funeral Home parking lot, but that only put me in a position to look straight into the sun. So I drove to the Talbert Boulevard side of the plant, near the railroad tunnel, and got a much better view without damaging my retinas.

History comes down in pieces. (Photo by Adam Gregory)
 Half of the stack was already down, including the iconic white lettering of "Dixie" that anointed the structure.

About two dozen spectators were on hand when I arrived, spread here and there, which kind of surprised me given the emotional outcry about the demolition that you can find on social media. I'm guessing that there was a floating party of sorts, with handfuls of spectators coming and going (like me) most of the day.

But I thought there'd be more people on hand to watch.

I understand the emotional attachment behind the demolition, especially from people who worked at the plant most of their lives. The furniture industry was the beating heart of Lexington for more than 100 years, and the smokestack of Plant No. 1 dominated the city's skyline for nearly that long.

But a devastating fire a year ago brought down several of the plant's buildings, and no doubt considerably weakened the mortar of the cherished smokestack, which actually sits on Norfolk-Southern Railroad right-of-way. Feasibility studies showed it would cost upwards of $4 million to somehow save or move the smokestack.

No philanthropists stepped up to throw money at it.

Times change, and they usually change with circumstances. And history is a fickle thing, meaning different things to different people. Do we miss the old Lexington High School building that once sat where the current post office is located? How about Robbins School? Where's the Donut Dinette? What about Milton Hall, near where Parkdale Mills is located? Anyone miss it? What about Swing Dairy? Why is there outcry over the demolition of a smokestack, but measured resistance to historic districts within the city limits?

My wife, a lifelong native of Lexington, already misses the smokestack. A friend of mine, who also grew up in Lexington, wasn't bothered so much by the demolition of the smokestack, but he sure does miss the factory whistle that could be heard across town ending the work shift. The dismissal whistle, I guess.

It's good to pay respect to the past. It helps describe who we were, who we are, and who we can be.

But we can't save everything. Except, maybe, in our hearts.

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