They're finally home.

Residents of Hamel Mill Lofts waited nearly 48 hours to return to their apartments after lightning hit an old brick smokestack on the property, threatening to drop it on the apartments.

Lightning struck the smokestack June 30 during a fast-moving storm, forcing about 100 residents of the apartment complex to be evacuated. Most of the crumbling smokestack was removed by early last week, allowing the residents to return to their apartments.

Work to remove the smokestack ended on Friday of last week. The base of the stack, about two stories tall, remains.

The property owner started contacting the 100 displaced residents at 8 p.m. on Tuesday of last week, telling them they could return home, after the city's fire chief, structural engineer and inspector decided the building could be occupied again, according to a spokesman for Mayor James Fiorentini.

After the historic brick smokestack bearing the words "L.H. Hamel Leather Co." was struck by lightening, brick fragments were sent crashing to the ground.

Officials immediately evacuated the apartment building next door, fearful that the towering structure would collapse on the roof of the loft apartments.

An emergency shelter was set up at the Citizens Center on Welcome Street for those displaced, but no one showed up, according to maintenance worker Robert Dunford.

In the days that followed, workers removed the upper part of the smokestack brick by brick. Fiorentini said the removal is not a city project, so the owners of the lofts are footing the bill.

Fiorentini said it's sad to see the tower destroyed, especially because of its historic significance to the city. It is part of the Historic District.

"This was such a great symbol of our city," Fiorentini said, "(but) safety has to come first.

Dorothy Forrestall, 69, of Bradford explained that her maternal grandfather, Louis H. Hamel, who owned the tannery in the current spot of the lofts, began his business career selling popcorn balls in the sixth grade to help pay bills and provide food and clothing for his mother and siblings after their father left the family.

According to Forrestall, Hamel then found scraps of discarded leather and would sell the re-purposed scraps back to nearby companies. At that time, he rented the basement of what's now The Tap Brewing Company and started his tannery there before moving to the smokestack's current location. Forrestall's father John J. Heffernan was a tanner at the location for 40 years.

Forrestall said she is a little sad to see the smokestack go, because "another great tribute to my grandfather will be missing from Haverhill."

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