CHESTER - Asked what it feels like to see the Taylor, Smith & Taylor pottery buildings gone and the site clean, Chester resident and business owner Mary Lawrence struggled for words for a minute on Wednesday.
"It feels wonderful. It feels like a Christmas present. It feels like progress." She hesitated, then repeated, "Yes, it feels like progress."
Many of her fellow residents, who gathered at the Chester Municipal Building on Wednesday, could have said the same thing. They were there to celebrate the demolition and reclamation of the TS&T site - a process begun nearly two years ago with a $5,000 grant that grew into $1.1 million.
READY FOR DEVELOPMENT — The Taylor, Smith & Taylor pottery site, once home to 11 buildings and 400,000 square feet under roof, now sits empty in Chester’s Upper End after eight months of demolition and reclamation work. All that remains is a 50-foot section of the TS&T smokestack. Economic development officials hope to attract light industry to the site. -- Stephen Huba
The event closed one chapter in the TS&T story - one that was 30 years in the making - and opens a new chapter in which officials hope to develop the eight-and-a-half-acre site for economic development purposes.
"This is a very marketable site," said Patrick Ford, executive director of the Business Development Corporation of the Northern Panhandle, owner of the property.
On Tuesday, Ford showed the property to a business prospect from Europe - he couldn't give more details because of a non-disclosure agreement - who wants to build in Hancock County because of its proximity to drilling activity in the Marcellus and Utica shales.
"He was quite impressed with the (TS&T) site, actually," Ford said. "We're confident that we're going to see more of this. This is going to show up on people's radar."
Ford said the West Virginia Development Office soon will include TS&T on its inventory of state economic development sites so that it can be viewed by companies that search the Internet.
Ford spent much of Wednesday both giving and receiving congratulations for a project that many Chester residents thought would never get off the ground.
Among those sending their congratulations were West Virginia Sens. Jay Rockefeller and Joe Manchin. Among those attending Wednesday's celebration were West Virginia Auditor Glen B. Gainer III, West Virginia Secretary of State Natalie E. Tennant, and West Virginia Delegate Randy Swartzmiller, D-Hancock.
"I've been to a lot of groundbreakings over the years," Swartzmiller said. "It's kind of different to have such a big crowd to celebrate something that's gone. ... This is a big thing to us."
A source of local pride for decades, TS&T, after its closing by Anchor Hocking in 1981, became an embarrassment and an eyesore for the city of Chester. City leaders, including Mayor Ken Morris, labored in vain for years to get the attention of state government and find funding to raze the vacant, blighted site.
After a few false starts in 2008, the project gained traction in early 2011 when the Northern West Virginia Brownfields Assistance Center and the Brooke-Hancock-Jefferson Metropolitan Planning Commission used a $5,000 grant to support the city of Chester in its efforts to redevelop the site. Soon, a local task force known as the Rock Springs Riverfront Redevelopment Committee formed to oversee the effort.
In June 2011, the BDC bought the property from Dietz Enterprises for $135,000 and began raising funds to demolish the buildings, remediate the site of hazardous materials such as asbestos and prepare it for future development.
Lawrence, who served on the local task force, said the project was hard but worth the effort.
"Every year, we were told we couldn't get it done. To know that we could, with a little bit of hard work, makes you feel so good," she said.
Crossing the Jennings Randolph Bridge and seeing a clean site makes her feel even better.
"If I was a cheerleader and I had rhythm, I'd do a cheer," said Chester City Councilman Mike Dotson, whose 3rd Ward includes the TS&T site.
Among those Ford thanked on Wednesday was Six Recycling of East Liverpool, the general contractor for the demolition project, which "turned this into an archaeological find."
Historic TS&T products, including cups and plates from the once-popular Lu-Ray line of pastel dinnerware, were on display at Wednesday's event and will be donated to the Hancock County Museum and the city of Chester. Six Recycling workers unearthed them during the dig and set them aside.
"A number of these relics that were throwaways back in the day have become cherished items for us," Ford said.
Ford also thanked Arner Funeral Home, Jerry Chaney of Chaney Service Station and the Hancock County Commission.
(Huba can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)