When Mother Nature unleashed her fury on the 125-foot tall smokestack of the former Foust Distillery in Springfield Township, the resulting damage was devastating. Twin lightning strikes obliterated the upper portion, leaving a large section precariously teetering on the verge of collapse.
Built in the 1940s and not used one time, the stack proudly featured the Foust name, but that was before the damage was inflicted. Citing safety concerns, the owners made the difficult decision to raze the historic landmark so there was no chance of injury to passersby. York County, Pennsylvania would be losing a piece of history.
I didn’t know what to expect when I arrived at the demolition, but there was already a great deal of activity taking place. A large crane was in position on the roadway while a front-end loader waited nearby. People gathered at two separate locations to document the event with cameras and video recording equipment, while several local newspapers and television stations reported from the scene. Township officials, shown above in bright vests and shirts, were also on hand.
The plan devised by the demolition crew seemed simple enough: hoist a piece of hardware made from 8″ by 8″ pieces of wood to the damaged area of the stack, connect a cable to the loader, and pull it over. Below, you can catch a glimpse of the hardware and cable as they begin pulling it tight.
The exterior of the smokestack appeared very smooth and offered very little ”grip” for the wood to grab onto. This caused the hardware to slip down and crash to the ground on the first attempt, likely a fall of nearly 100 feet. The wooden contraption broke and the demolition crew began to work on their second attempt.
Hoisting their damaged hardware back up for another try, the wood eventually broke even more causing them to work on a third attempt. By now, there was very little wood left to work with, but they were determined to make it work. While maneuvering the crane and the front-end loader, the cable slipped from the crane causing the wood to fall to the ground, as shown below. The cable, still hugging the stack, was then used to try to pull the stack over but eventually snapped.
After the fourth, or was it the fifth attempt, you could see the frustration on the crews faces. Without any usable wood to work with, they focused on the cable to do the job. To ensure that it stayed in position, they lassoed the stack and then snaked it around the bricks containing the remaining lettering from the word Foust. Those letters were not supported on the sides, and only the lower part was holding on. This would prove to be the beginning of the end as you can see below.
With a mighty tug from the loader, the remaining letters crashed to the ground, but not before snapping the cable in the process. Luckily, nobody was in the way of the cable which boomeranged back towards the front-end loader. Below, you can see the falling letters and the cable, milliseconds after it snapped.
By now it was noon, and more than four hours have passed since I arrived. I had witnessed the remaining pieces of the Foust name being stripped from this iconic landmark, and it just didn’t seem important to witness the rest of its destruction.
As the day passed by, more of the smokestack was removed until the structure was finally deemed stable once again. A third-great-granddaughter of Billy Foust was present and while speaking to her, you could sense a bit of sadness in her voice. It was a long day and like me, she had seen enough. The owners gave her pieces of the fallen stack, including a white ceramic brick from the Foust lettering. It was a bittersweet moment, but one that managed to put a smile back on her face.
Before I left, the property owner’s son offered me one of the white bricks to be included in this story. It didn’t fall that day, but was one that was blasted from the stack by the original lightning strikes. I’m extremely grateful for his generosity, and will enjoy sharing this piece of history at future Preserving York events.
I would love to learn more about the method in which the brick was manufactured. The piece shown below measures 5″ high, 4″ wide, and is broken at 4″ in length. I’m not certain how long it was originally. The white side on the left is what countless people have read over the years, when it proudly spelled the Foust name.
I plan to return to see how much of the old girl remains, but I’ll certainly miss seeing her standing in the distance as I drive nearby. Many have used the stack when offering directions, while others knew seeing her standing there meant they were almost home.
Tuesday’s demolition of the former Foust Distillery smokestack was like a life-size game of chess. One group of players tried again and again to topple the mighty queen, but she held her ground fighting off each attack. Eventually, weakened from their many attempts, she could bear no more and fell to the ground.
Farewell your majesty.
View Preserving York – story locations in a larger map
Read the Dispatch article here.
- There is an entire chapter devoted to Foust Distillery in the book “Bottles & Jugs With A York, Pennsylvania Perspective“, published by Fred Rosenmiller and edited by Don Hartman.
- My friend Jim McClure wrote several stories about Foust Distillery, including “Glen Rock-area demolition team attacks Billy Foust’s stack“.