hgazette.com, Haverhill, MA

March 21, 2013

A second chance

By Don Toothaker
The Haverhill Gazette

---- — Recycling is critical for the future of Haverhill.

We have worked hard at recycling household items, but efforts now go well beyond bins of paper, glass and plastic. Our downtown is going through an exciting and much-needed revitalization. Revitalization is nothing more than recycling on a larger scale. Our once-proud shoe factories, long disregarded and in disrepair, are finding new life as condominiums, apartments and retail space. Several empty, dilapidated buildings destined for decay have gotten a second chance. Their continued transformation will give Haverhill a second chance as well.

Haverhill was once a shoe-manufacturing giant. Our downtown is full of old mills that reflect the city’s economic history. Shoes were produced in great quantity during Haverhill’s glory days of the 19th century, but changes in the manufacturing industry and the effects of the Great Depression left Haverhill struggling by the mid-20th century. Sadly, at the time our city leaders chose the drastic option of destroying historic downtown buildings instead of finding new uses for them. Under the guise of urban renewal, they tore down our history and our identity. They had no vision. Let us hope that we never make that mistake again.

One old building that never fails to catch my attention and imagination is the Stevens Mill at the corner of Winter and Stevens streets. Once proud and prominent, that mill now stands as a monument to urban decay. Abandoned, boarded up and covered with graffiti, the building is an eyesore.

I photographed the mill last winter and could not help worrying about its future. From the outside, the mill appears ripe for demolition. However, a recent article in The Eagle-Tribune gave me and the city a glimmer of hope for this grand old mill. An investor is looking into renovating the property for a housing project. The exterior may look rough, but this mill was built to last. The strength and character of this building and others like it remain the foundation of Haverhill’s history and future.

Recycling has proven to be very successful, but in today’s mainstream society we still regard too many things as disposable. Electronic devices, furniture and houses are routinely thrown out or torn down. The cost and inconvenience of repairing things serves as justification for our thirst for something “new.’’ Going Green is the current, necessary mentality to ensure the sustainability of our environment. Green is good, but old red brick and mortar mills are good, too. Haverhill once relied on these mighty structures for our economic prosperity. Many years later, we still do.

Email suggestions of Haverhill people and places to photograph to Don Toothaker at toothakerphoto@gmail.com.