Demolition under way at former Cannon Mills plant in Salisbury

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, December 1, 2009

By Mark Wineka
George Culver has seen easier demolition projects.
Consider the delays he faced as Salisbury preservationists searched for a way to save the historic 1896 Kesler Manufacturing complex. He says it led him into Chapter 11 bankruptcy.
After he finally could start demolition in late February, Culver stepped on a sawn board one day and fell 22 feet.
He broke his left shoulder blade, collarbone, eight ribs and opened a gash on his head that required 38 staples.
But Culver thinks the wood, brick and concrete he’ll salvage from the site will save his Kings Mountain company and be worth all the pain and anguish.
“It was worth the aggravation and the time,” Culver said Monday of the 11th mill he has torn down. “This one was a little unique because we had to fight so hard with the guys here.”
Meanwhile, Historic Salisbury Foundation has not given up on saving at least one piece of the former mill รณ the small office building off North Martin Luther King Jr. Avenue.
Doing so will mean moving the structure and relocating it onto a vacant lot in this same neighborhood.
Jack Thomson, managing director of the foundation, acknowledged it would have to be “a speculative move,” meaning people such as Culver and the mover couldn’t be paid until the property was resold to someone who could rehabilitate the property in its new spot.
Thomson said the neighborhood has a couple of lots on which the house-like structure would fit, with a city variance for setbacks.
The foundation made concerted efforts to find a developer for the mill property during a city-imposed demolition delay, Thomson said, but “it’s a bit of a perfect storm as far as the economy is concerned.”
The rehabilitations of old mills also are among the tougher development proposals, even in good times, Thomson noted.
Culver obtained a demolition permit last October for the historic Kesler Manufacturing plant, known by many people as Cannon Mills Plant 7. The plant had been idle and in deteriorating condition for several years.
City Manager David Treme later rescinded the demolition permit after Historic Salisbury Foundation pointed out the city code allows a 90-day waiting period before a demolition can proceed for properties on the National Register of Historic Places.
The plant is centerpiece to the Kesler Manufacturing Historic District, added to the National Register in 1985. The Salisbury Historic Preservation Commission approved a 90-day waiting period in late December 2008 in hopes of giving preservationists time to find a developer.
Culver said the three-month delay led him to file for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in January, but the ongoing reclamation project now means “we’re finally starting to move out of it.”
He has 25 to 30 men on the site and a weekly payroll of $15,000 to $20,000.
The non-profit FCS Urban Ministries of Atlanta became the property’s owner in 2007 when the organization received it as a gift. It contracted with Culver to clear the site in hopes that it could sell the vacant property for redevelopment later.
Culver walked a Post reporter and photographer across the former Cannon Mills Plant No. 7 site Monday and showed off the stacks of wood and some 800 pallets of handmade brick already salvaged from the buildings.
Those buildings, once representing close to 300,000 square feet, are mostly rubble now on the 12-acre site.
All that remains standing are two rear buildings, which will be down by Friday, the square smokestack and a water tower near Park Avenue. The metal tower, perched on four legs, also will be pushed down soon.
Norris Construction of Burlington will be brought in to implode the smokestack in about a month.
“That’s like the grand finale,” Culver said.
The pallets of brick already cleaned and stacked represent some 400,000 bricks, with probably 1,000 or more pallets to come.
“If that’s not recycling, I don’t know what is,” Culver said.
The huge wooden beams salvaged from the plant are impressive enough.
Some weigh 2,800 pounds each, and Culver said he was able to save 496 beams, losing only about 30.
“We got some really pretty wood out of here,” said James Baker, Culver’s superintendent on the site.
Judging from the tight rings evident in the ends of the beams, Culver guessed that some of the trees dated back to the 1500s.
Culver will sell the wood by the board feet. Each beam is labeled with its grade and size and given a number for pricing purposes.
The work behind cleaning and stacking the brick is back-breaking. Each worker creates about three pallets a day with 500 bricks per pallet. When a pallet is finished, the worker wraps the brick in plastic and labels it with his name and date, so he can be paid later.
The best handmade brick probably will find its way into upper-class homes and fireplaces.
Elsewhere on the site stand stacks of wood from the mill buildings’ floors and ceilings. Culver said there’s about 400 board feet per bundle, and each bundle is worth $325.
The high quality of wood making up the bundles is evident, even to untrained eyes.
“There again, that’s wood you can’t buy,” Culver said.
His crew already has sent some 2,500 tons of steel to Holmes Iron & Metal Inc., a salvage yard in East Spencer.
A mountain of debris that can’t be salvaged is growing toward the back of the property.
When he’s finished, Culver expects to have a pile of trash, a pile of bricks and wide expanses of concrete pads.
In a separate contract, he will offer to use his C-12 jaw crusher to grind up the concrete. His debris crusher also will tackle the trash pile to reduce the amount of material going to landfills.
Culver claims he’ll be able to salvage at least 90 percent of the materials from the demolition.
He would like to take some of the brick from the smokestack and build a monument around the marble plaque, which noted the original mill’s construction date.
The monument could be erected in the nearby city park, Culver suggested.
Thomson, the historic foundation director, said there has been some conversation about what the former mill property should be zoned once the site is cleared.
“I think the neighborhood needs an opportunity to weigh in on that,” Thomson said.