CHESTER-Another milestone in the Taylor, Smith & Taylor demolition saga will be marked on Wednesday when Chester residents gather to celebrate the history and legacy of the old pottery site.
The legacy, they hope, will be in the form of economic development and jobs sprouting from the eight-acre, riverfront property that sat idle for 30 years.
"I used to go there as a kid, so I have a little memory of what it used to be like and what it turned into-a real eyesore," said Chester City Councilman Mike Dotson, whose 3rd Ward includes the TS&T site.
A conceptual drawing of the central commons area that could be developed on the old Taylor, Smith & Taylor pottery site in Chester, showing the 50-foot remains of the pottery’s smokestack. This and other drawings will be available for public viewing from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. Wednesday at the Chester Municipal Building. (Submitted Photo)
Dotson and many other Chester residents have watched as, over the past eight months, crews from Six Recycling have demolished the TS&T buildings, tunnel kilns, silos and foundations that sat vacant and blighted for so many years.
"We've been struggling to get to this point," he said. "It's great to have it out of the way."
A celebration scheduled for 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. Wednesday at the Chester Municipal Building will mark the completion of the demolition process, which began almost two years ago with the formation of a task force known as the Rock Springs Riverfront Redevelopment Committee.
The event will be held in the multipurpose room and will include lunch, a display of TS&T pottery artifacts found during the demolition work and the unveiling of a conceptual master plan for the TS&T site developed by students and professors at West Virginia University. The artifacts will be donated to the city of Chester.
Among those expected to attend the gathering are representatives of U.S. Sens. Jay Rockefeller and Joe Manchin and the office of West Virginia Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin.
Residents are encouraged to bring historic photos of the TS&T pottery; a prize will be awarded for the winning photo, said City Clerk Sandra Parkins.
"The major focus is to thank all of our partners for contributing to the success of this project and to celebrate our collective accomplishment," said Patrick Ford, executive director of the Business Development Corporation (BDC) of the Northern Panhandle, owner of the property.
Ford singled out the Chaney Service Station and Arner Funeral Home for special praise for their help with access and "real estate issues" respectively.
The entire community deserves praise, Ford said, for "being our biggest cheerleaders and supporters throughout the entire process. ... They were acting almost as stewards of the property throughout the whole process."
The BDC, the chief economic development authority for Hancock and Brooke counties, bought the TS&T site for $125,000 in June 2011. The agency then raised $1.1 million in funding for the reclamation of the site from sources as diverse as the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Tomblin's office and the Hancock County commissioners.
Much of that money went to the abatement of the asbestos nuisance on the site. "There was a lot more work required for the asbestos remediation than we anticipated," Ford said.
Now that the work is complete, the public will be able to walk the site on Wednesday after the celebration. Some will doubtless reminisce, while others will breathe a sigh of relief.
Dotson said he'll do both.
"A lot of people still living worked at the pottery. It was a great asset to the community when I was growing up," he said. "The traffic on main street was jammed when people got off of work."
Then came the plant closing in 1981 by then-owner Anchor Hocking and the interminable decades of vacancy and neglect.
Dotson said he's grateful that "my grandkids don't have to look at what my kids and I had to look at for 30 years" and that the first impression that most people get of Chester is no longer TS&T.
"We appreciate everything everybody has done in the last year," he said. "We're just ready to move on and see something new in there-something good."