If it’s true that a picture paints a thousand words, then a good aerial photograph probably paints a million.
And speaking of a million, that’s about how many square feet of the old Whirlpool manufacturing site has been scraped away by a Decatur, Ill., contractor who launched the demolition project in early 2019.
Steve’s Trucking Inc. crews have been feverishly swinging the wrecking ball on behalf of the global appliance giant with the intent of tumbling four historic buildings, one whose roots date back to the 1870s: Hardwick Stove Company, which in the Maytag and Whirlpool era was known as Plant 2.
On the chopping block as well has been Plant 1 East, and now Plant 1 West is almost a memory. For the most part — and this includes growth and additions over the years — these two facilities constituted the original Dixie Foundry, given birth in 1917 by entrepreneur and philanthropist S.B. “Skeet” Rymer Sr.
The company name eventually changed to Dixie Products, and later to the Magic Chef Company once the Rymer operation — headquartered in Cleveland — purchased the national player, Magic Chef, which was based in St. Louis, Mo. Although the corporate bases were consolidated to Cleveland, the Magic Chef name was retained because of its national identity; Dixie Products at the time was more of a regional manufacturer.
In 1986, the Maytag Company of Newton, Iowa, acquired Magic Chef, thereby giving rise to the expanded Maytag Corporation. Locally, the manufacturing plant became known as Maytag Cleveland Cooking Products.
The next big change came two decades later when the Whirlpool Corporation purchased its failing Maytag rival in March 2006. The local site operated as Whirlpool Cleveland Division for the next several years until 2010 when the Benton Harbor, Mich.-based corporation announced it would construct a new 1 million-square-foot, state-of-the-art plant in Bradley County.
The new factory opened in 2012. Seven years later, with little hope of selling the abandoned buildings (with the exception of the Plant 3 standalone factory on Euclid Avenue), Whirlpool began the inevitable demolition of the historic manufacturing site in an action that will allow the city of Cleveland to begin a massive revitalization of the downtown area.
of tearing down
First to be razed by the Illinois contractor was Plant 2, and then Plant 1 East. As of Wednesday, the mechanized building eaters had taken down most of Plant 1 West.
Next up will be a structure known to Maytag and Whirlpool insiders as the Flat-Top building, a uniquely shaped structure that in effect was built into a gradual slope on the manufacturing complex. Used primarily for storage in its latter years, the Flat-Top is located at the corner of 6th Street and the railroad.
During the site’s manufacturing heyday, the Flat-Top was flanked on two sides by employee parking, on a third side by the railroad track and on the fourth by Plant 1 West.
Butch Smith, owner of Steve’s Trucking Inc., said it best in a Cleveland Daily Banner news article earlier this week when he told staff writer Tim Siniard, “I’m about to get it whupped. It should be all done by the end of June.”
A few Whirlpool buildings are being left untouched because it is felt they still have some shelf life. Among them are a distribution warehouse (formerly used for shipping downstairs and upstairs offices housed the training department and various conference rooms), buildings B and C, and a truck terminal.
Ironically, Smith’s time in Cleveland has convinced him he likes the area. He envisions the possibility of operating a business here.
“I like it here,” he told the Banner. “There’s a lot of potential business in East Tennessee and North Georgia.”
One man’s demo
is another man’s
vision of the future
While Smith’s line of work is to tear things down in order to clear spaces for the future, a local visionary sees how the future could look once the remaining physical traces of the manufacturing site have been hauled away.
He is Cleveland Mayor Kevin Brooks who is respectful of the heritage of appliance-makers that once operated thriving factories there while doing it through the labor of thousands of Bradley County and Southeast Tennessee workers. Over the generations, these jobs put food on tables, paid for educations, houses and new cars, and brought an accepted standard of living to blue-collar workers who became the backbone of Cleveland life.
“Historically, our downtown industrial area began as the heartbeat of Cleveland, Tennessee,” Brooks said. “Our first neighborhoods grew here. Our first industries began here, the largest of which has been stove-making.”
The second-year mayor added, “In the 1870s, a family business grew from a backyard foundry to a now major commercial enterprise. Hardwick Stove Company shaped Cleveland’s industrial history for more than 150 years, and now as part of the global Whirlpool Corporation, it is partnering again with ‘The City With Spirit.’”
Brooks pointed to the connection between the razing of the manufacturing site and the future of the city.
“Our downtown revitalization plan is key to getting the heartbeat of Cleveland in rhythm again,” the mayor stressed. “We have never lost our heart, or our hope, of what our downtown can once again become in time. We are grateful to our Whirlpool partner who has begun this great work, and who is rapidly nearing its completion.”
to the old and new
While crews tear down a 90-acre manufacturing complex whose walls — in some sections — have stood for 1½ centuries, it’s difficult for photographers to capture the moment, or the progress, while standing on the ground.
That’s the beauty of aerial photography, especially in this new age of drone technology.
Gillard (Gil) Arthur Petry, whose hobby earned him the nickname of “downtown photographer,” is heavily invested in the moment. One, he and his family — wife Alyssa, and four kids, Lily, Skyler, Grace and Joey — live in the historic district in a house they bought two years ago near Arnold Memorial Elementary School. And two, he’s a photography buff whose skills have risen to new heights. Thanks to his new and ultra-modern drone — a DJI Mavic Air 2, that comes with all “the bells and whistles,” Petry has been able to capture quality images, both still and video, of much of Cleveland’s “history.”
Much of his efforts have been dedicated to the downtown area, and most recently to the demolition of the historic Whirlpool manufacturing site.
A Jacksonville, Fla., native who later landed in Atlanta, Petry, his mom and sister moved to Cleveland in 1982 when he was only 7 years old.
“We lived on the north end of town on Ramsey Street near the old Cleveland airport (Hardwick Field),” he said.
In the years since, he has lived in Cleveland, and two years ago he and his family of six took root in the downtown area.
Wanting a skilled trade, Petry in 2002 began a career in welding. He now works at Miller Industries where he serves as a heavy-equipment welder in the Larger Wrecker Weld Department. He’s been welding for the past 18 years and at Miller he works 12-hour shifts four days a week.
His love of photography came early.
“I developed an interest in photography as a teenager,” he said. “My grandpa was an engineer, as well as being an artist who enjoyed oil painting and photography. My mother was an artist, as well, and also a nurse. Over the years, I realized I had an eye for photography and capturing that unique perspective.”
His intro to aerial photography came a few years ago when a friend kept talking about the high-tech capabilities of his drone. It inspired Petry to buy his own, and to make full use of it … not just as a hobby, but as a second income.
But, to be able to legally profit from his drone he needed his FAA License Part 107. Last October, he obtained his license at the FAA testing center just up the road in Athens.
“This was a huge step forward for my photography pursuits,” he said. “So now, here we are. Welding 48 hours per week, and being a photographer as much as possible in my spare time.”
He added, “My wife Alyssa, and four kids — Lily, Skyler, Grace and Joey — all support my hobby and we try to have fun with it as a family.”
Petry made his photography available to the Cleveland Daily Banner, and even went out and took new aerial photographs of the Whirlpool site demolition. Some of those photos are being published in today’s edition, alongside this story.
Petry frequently posts photos on Facebook, as well as the Cleveland and Tennessee History pages. In the future, he will provide aerial photographs for use in the Banner.
His work is on display in the “Southern Exposure” booth at Grit & Grace which is located in The Old Woolen Mill on Church Street. He shares the booth with a friend and fellow photographer, Nick Simonetti.
Because he is licensed through FAA, Petry can do commercial work such as roof inspections and personal aerial projects. He is a videographer, as well as photographer.
He can be reached by email at email@example.com or via Facebook at gillardpetryphotography. Petry interacts frequently with friends and fellow enthusiasts through Facebook Messenger and email.