Harold Snowberger brought down the former C.L. Gougler and Machine factory's massive smoke stack with the push of a button Wednesday.
Snowberger, 90, of Kent, pushed the button that set off dynamite at the smoke stack's base, turning the massive column — which stood for almost 100 years — into a mere pile of bricks.
"I’m gonna miss it," Snowberger said of the monolith. "I drove down here every morning looking at the stack when I came to work."
The life-long Kent resident spent 44 years of his life working for Gougler Machine Co. He started in the foundry and eventually rose to superintendent of the plant. Much of that time he lived on Lake Street in the shadow of the smoke stack.
"Every time we drove to Ravenna or any place else we always passed it. I always thought it was going to be a permanent fixture," Snowberger said.
The oldest living Gougler Machine retiree said the feeling of throwing the switch to demolish the iconic landmark was "indescribable."
"It’s probably the biggest day of my life," he said. "I’ve been honored and I appreciate it."
Snowberger was one of more than 150 retirees and family members who returned to the half-demolished factory to watch the smoke stack crumble Wednesday. The demolition of the enormous chimney, which fell at about 1 p.m., was preceded by a luncheon hosted by Furukawa Rock Drill USA, which owns the property.
Gougler industries was one of the largest and most successful manufacturing operations in Kent's history. The original buildings date to around 1920. At its peak, C.L. Gougler and Machine ran 10 different plants across Kent and employed 1,500 people. FRD USA is the company's successor and last remnant of Gougler Industries.
Following the luncheon, a crowd of almost 300 gathered across Lake Street from the factory and gave a 10-second count down for Snowberger to throw the switch. The brief dynamite blast rattled windows and was heard as far south as Crain Avenue.
Glenn Butcher, owner of Butcher and Son Demolition, said they had knocked away part of the base of the smoke stack so that it was standing on three legs prior to its razing. The dynamite blew out the remaining supports, and the smoke stack fell slightly south, crumbling from the top down.
"It went extremely well," he said.
Butcher said they'll finish the rest of the demolition within a few weeks and have the site graded and covered with grass seed.
Gougler landmarks remain
Jeff Crane, president of FRD USA, said he understood the sentimental nature of the demolition — his father worked at the plant — and told the crowd the factory's history won't be lost.
"Some of us are fearful that this demolition will erase history and cause us to lose identity within this community," he said. "That won’t happen. Your contributions to this company will not be ignored or forgotten."
Crane said stone from the main entrance to the former headquarters building, which stood in front of the factory and was demolished earlier this year, has been incorporated into Gougler Park in Brimfield.
Tom Hatch, the director of the Kent Historical Society, said the original lamp post that stood outside the headquarters building was restored by FRD USA and will be erected outside the historical society museum on East Main Street.
"It's going to be in front of our museum for a long time," he said. "We don't have to say goodbye to everything Gougler today by any means."
Hatch pointed to some inconspicuous landmarks around Kent, including Gougler Avenue and the Franklin Town Hall, which was renovated by Gougler Industries, as other permanent reminders of the company.
"Being at this spot today reminds us that history is all about how things are connected," Hatch said. "Before this place was Gougler Machine, it was the home of Mason Tire and Rubber, and D.H. Mason was the prime mover behind the creation of the Franklin Hotel. So when you see Ron Burbick's renovated Acorn Corner at Main and DePeyster, think also of this place and everything it has meant to Kent."
Also, the historical society encouraged those who attended Wednesday's demolition to set up a time to record an oral history of their time at Gougler Machine and to donate or bring photos in from the factory to be scanned into the society's archives.
Woodwork from the office of the company's founder, Charles L. Gougler, will be used to create a permanent exhibit to the company as part of the restoration of the old Franklin Hotel, developer Ron Burbick said.
Burbick said originally they planned to use the wood work to accent new office space in the hotel.
"That was the plan until about two months ago," he said.
The hotel, however, is getting about $2 milion in state and federal tax credits, and tax credit agreements stipulate that no part of another older structure can be reused in the restoration of another historic building. Instead, the woodwork will be used to create a permanent display recognizing Gougler, Burbick said.
"That will always be representative," he said.
The rest of the woodwork will be used and recognized in a conference room in Acorn Alley II.
After the demolition, some retirees carried away bricks from the site as a memento of their time spent working in the factory.
A couple from Ravenna, the husband of which spent 35 years working at Gougler, carried a few blocks home and planned to put them in their flower garden.
Expansion at Furukawa
Demolition of the former factory and headquarters have been under way since December 2011. Both buildings dated to around 1920.
FRD USA, which makes blast hole products and implements for the mining and construction industries, is planning a $21,000 addition to its existing manufacturing facility on Lake Street.
Crane likened the demolition to another chapter in the evolution of Gougler Machine, which over the years changed its production methods and products in order to stay in business.
"Business opportunity for Gougler has changed, and we have had to evolve in order to continue," he said.