A Century to Stand, Days to Fall

Awhile back I was given a once in a lifetime chance. I was called on a Sunday afternoon by my friend Gina Zhidov; a fellow photographer. She was on her way out of town and noticed that large machines were tearing down the old grain elevator. She wasn’t able to stop and take pictures herself so she called me and another photographer friend (Johnny Trammell) to tell us to get out there and record the event. I strapped on my camera and a bag with a few lenses and went out the door. Here is what I saw when I got there.

There was a large gauge steel cable wrapped around the mid-section of the old building. This cable was attached to a bulldozer at one end and a large truck with a winch at the other. They were trying to pull it over after they had taken out some of the building’s supports earlier that morning. It was leaning on some concrete grain elevators built in the 1920s and was refusing to go down.

This grain elevator was built by the Chickasha Milling Company which started when Edwin Nye Humphrey bought the local milling complex from the Tate family in 1899. With the help of Pat Cunningham at the Grady County Historical Society we were able to find a letterhead of the Chickasha Milling Company dating back to 1907. The letterhead image included the grain elevator and is the oldest documentation we could find of this building. So, this building was constructed in or before 1907 but was not present when the Chickasha Milling Company began in 1899. This building was at least 109 years old when demolished on Sunday, February 21st, 2016.

Owners (front row) and Employees of the Chickasha Milling Company in 1907 (image courtesy of the Grady County Historical Society)
Workers at the mill in the early 1900s (image courtesy of the Grady County Historical Society)
The full mill complex including the grain elevator on the far left. (image courtesy of the Grady County Historical Society)

It was strange seeing this iconic building of my hometown be torn down. It was very well built, as buildings of the past usually are, and did not want to go down. After Johnny and I got there it took the workers hours to pull to top part of the building off to make it safe to go in and demolish the rest with heavy equipment. As the excavator dug through the tin skin of the building and into the wooden internals cracks, creaks, and groans rung through the air dusted by debris stirred by the worker’s advances.

Around the back, away from the excavator, the bulldozer and winch continued to pull at the large gauge steel wire until, after hours of weakening the building’s structure, it gave out a last breath …

… and came down …

… and the tower was no more.

Afterwards Johnny and I walked around to examine the wreckage.

Around us lay the rubble of a building that has stood through more than a century of my town’s history. It was strong and fought hard against the workers, but did finally succumb.

It is sad to see something like this go, but it was a liability to the owner. Evidence of trespassers had been found in the building, and even though it was so sturdy, it was still dangerous to explore.

I hope that in the future other antiquated buildings in the town can avoid being town down. These structures are bastions of our past and need to stand to remind us where our town has been and be inspiration for where our town can go. It’s well and good to build new/modern structures; but there is plenty of room for both modern and older buildings of the past to stand.

After being at the site for a couple hours watching the tower fall it was time to go home. I walked back around to the front and, even with the top of the building gone, a lingering window stared down at us. It would take the crew additional days to tear down the lower portion and haul off the debris.

I hope these images will help the town remember this important part of its history.

All images and text under copyright by Joe Donley