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Rock Hill's Bleachery becomes rubble, one piece at a time

Barney Nichols climbed into the cockpit of a track hoe and raised its big mechanical arm high into the air. One quick swoop and a heap of bricks and dust later, the demolition of the Bleachery was officially underway.

Maybe it was fitting for the old Rock Hill textile mill to meet its first death blow at the hands of a 79-year-old man. Nichols knows this building like few others - his dad, Newton, was one of the first employees hired at the Bleachery in 1929. Barney himself worked there more than 40 years.

"I brought a good chunk down, didn't I?" Nichols asked after stepping down from the machine.

In coming weeks, a convoy of track hoes, bulldozers, front-end loaders, crushers and other machines will arrive to finish what Nichols started. Crews will haul hundreds of tons of bricks, concrete and steel to scrap yards from North Carolina to Georgia.

Project manager Will Simmons assigned his most experienced workers to a burned-out, asbestos-plagued section of the main building, one of the two spots where young men set intentional fires last summer.

"I've got the best team back there that I've got," Simmons said. "They've been with me a long time."

Simmons promised to let Nichols take the ceremonial first swipe of a backhoe. The honor was performed Wednesday in a safer spot -- an air compressor room housed in a small brick building.

Norfolk Southern agreed to park a line of empty train cars along a side track that divides the Bleachery from houses along Ebenezer Avenue. It's a buffer from the sights and sounds that will make the area a dangerous place for the next six months.

Simmons said he plans to hire off-duty Rock Hill police officers to guard the property as work progresses. According to Simmons, the city also plans to install a network of surveillance cameras.

The Bleachery's iconic brick smokestacks will be left standing as a nod to the past and the centerpiece of what city officials hope will become a village of residences, shops and offices.

Work is on schedule to conclude by the end of November, or Christmas at the latest, Simmons said. Once the employer of one in every five Rock Hillians, the Bleachery will become empty ground except for the smokestacks.

The prospect brings mixed feelings for Nichols, who can remember when this area was the bustling hub of Rock Hill. Memories darkened over the past decade as the Bleachery sat mostly vacant, a relic of the textile era. Today, weeds grow through cracks and graffiti covers the walls.

Nichols still carries a key to the building in his pants pocket.

"There comes a time when you've got to move on," he said. "I've been here 45 years. I've seen it grow. And then die."

By the numbers

100,000

Tons of crushed concrete

30,000

Tons of brick

10,000

Tons of steel

1,000

Tons of trash

90 percent

Materials to be recycled in scrap yards

Source: Action Demolition & Recycling

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