Demolition of landmark changes downtown skyline

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One of Sumter's most recognizable landmarks was a 226-foot smokestack on South Main Street. This magnificent edifice constructed in 1921 was taken down in 1962 because it had become a liability to those who worked near it.

The following account of this structure and its removal was captured in an article written by Item writer Jack Copeland and is being reprinted with minimal editing.

"Mr. W.E. Brunson purchased the plant and smokestack from the Carolina Power and Light Co. (formerly known as the Yadkin Co.) during the 1930s depression. He situated his electric rewinding on the property containing the smokestack and former power plant. The stack was originally erected by the city of Sumter in 1921 as part of a municipal power plant. The stack cost $30,000 to build, and under Mayor Lang Jennings steam power became a driving force for local industries before the stack and power plant were complete.

"Shortly after the power plant went into operation, industries and commercial enterprises were clamoring for a level of service which overloaded the power plant from its inception. The plant was never successful due to numerous expensive hurdles including, 'bungle-some operation, impending lawsuits by nearby residents and the need for expansion.' Numerous additional issues finally convinced city officials that it was time to get out of the electric power business. Carolina Power and Light Co. bought the plant and closed down the operation. Electrical transmission lines were later run from Bishopville affording Sumter to gain power, minus the expense and inconvenience.

"The towering stack, which could be seen for miles, was built by a German brick mason who specialized in this type of work. The structure measured 20 feet in diameter at its base and 8 feet at the top. A military plane, saved by a quick change of course, barely missed the tower. Finally, Mr. Brunson decided to remove the structure and hired local Sumterite, Jack Horton, to remove the stack at a cost of $3,000. Mr. Brunson noted that he had decided to remove the structure because when lighting struck the stack, bricks showered down on his operating building and tore large holes in the roof. ...

"Jack Horton was a courageous wrecker. He stood on the stack's rim with a sledgehammer, loosened the bricks and tossed them down. He noted that the swarms of wasps nesting there did not bother him, although he did not wear any pest protection. Horton used inside-the-stack scaffolding to reach the top. As he worked downward, the scaffolding was dismantled and lowered. In his first 16 working hours, Horton whittled 23 feet from the stack and declared that he would finish within six weeks. Older Sumter citizens viewed the destruction of the historic stack with some feelings of sadness. However, Mr. Brunson felt it was good riddance to a constant hazard to life and limb."

Reach Sumter Item Archivist Sammy Way at waysammy@yahoo.com or (803) 774-1294.