‘On borrowed time’: historic 123-year-old chimney in Plymouth to be demolished

The Cordage Company, founded in 1824, was once the largest manufacturer of rope and twine in the world and the largest employer in the city. The company built the chimney around 1899, and although the factory closed in 1972, it has long been a symbol of the town’s industrial past. Since the Cordage factory closed, the sprawling campus has seen several incarnations, including as a shopping mall. Today, some of the surviving factory buildings house medical practices, startups, and restaurants.

“Everyone thinks Plymouth is the Pilgrims, but that’s Plymouth’s other story,” said Lucile Leary, who heads the Plymouth Cordage Historical Society.

The 55-acre Cordage Park is also the site of the Harborwalk apartment complex adjacent to an MBTA commuter rail station that has been inactive since last year due to budget cuts, but is expected to resume service in July.

For some, the demolition of the chimney seemed to happen suddenly. But owners of the land had been wary of its stability for months, said Kristin Ligouri of Cordage Commerce Center, the site’s property manager. Janco Development, a private real estate and development company, owns Cordage, including the land on which the chimney sits.

Ligouri said the center contacted Best Chimney Services in September to inspect the chimney due to the large crack near the top of the structure.

The Cordage Chimney in North Plymouth is falling. The city decided it should be demolished immediately due to safety concerns regarding its unstable structure.Jonathan Wiggs/Globe Staff

Best Chimney visited the site in October and provided its report the following month. Ligouri said Rope contacted Mayo in March after evaluating the results.

Mayo told town officials that Janco’s Joseph Jannetty called him to discuss the process of dismantling the chimney, as part of plans for the future development of the property, a plot with spectacular views of Plymouth Bay . A city bylaw delays the demolition of buildings for 75 years or more unless it has determined that a safety issue warrants emergency action.

Jannetty then shared the results of the fall report and Mayo asked her to get a second opinion from a structural engineer.

When the results of that review became available last month, Mayo determined that the structure needed to be demolished immediately and issued a demolition order.

Security fencing surrounded Cordage’s chimney in North Plymouth.Jonathan Wiggs/Globe Staff

Leary said she knew the fireplace “was on borrowed time.”

Demolition is now scheduled for the week of May 9. Ligouri said the company doing the demolition, Costello Dismantling, is still figuring out the logistics. An implosion is not an option due to the chimney’s proximity to neighboring buildings, she said.

“It looks more like an isolated demolition. . . done very slowly from top to bottom so it’s as safe as possible,” Leary said.

News of the impending demolition appalled some Plymouth residents, including Janice Drew, whose grandfather, two uncles and stepfather worked for Plymouth Cordage.

“For those of us whose families worked hard in the mills, this pile is a memorial to them,” she said in an email.

Despite the engineering reports, some people in the town suspect that the chimney is collapsing to make way for more development on prime waterfront real estate. A rendering on Janco’s website shows a plan for new development, including waterfront apartments, where the fireplace is located.

On the left, a screenshot from Google Maps shows the North Plymouth seafront, including the chimney next to the pier. On the right, a rendering by Janco Development shows a plan for new apartments on the beachfront.Screenshot

Ligouri said the render shows a “very early” concept and that no plans have been approved.

The city says it will work with the Plymouth Community Preservation Committee and the Cordage Commerce Center to commemorate the chimney.

Leary said she takes comfort in knowing that her demise will not affect the adjacent renovated Rope Mill which is now occupied by businesses including doctors’ offices and Atrius Health rehabilitation services.

“That’s where the people were; they weren’t working in a chimney,” she said. “But again, she’s an icon – you can see her everywhere, and I get it.”

Anissa Gardizy can be reached at anissa.gardizy@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @anissagardizy8 and on Instagram @anissagardizy.journalism.

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