Demolition of Curtis Mill smokestack paves way for new park in Newark, Delaware.

Posted: Friday, March 8, 2013 12:42 am By Al Kemp

One of the oldest structures in Newark, the former Curtis Paper Mill smokestack off Paper Mill Road disappeared last week.

In a demolition that seemed gradual and sudden at the same time, crews with steel pry bars ascended on hydraulic lifts and pulled the centuries-old smokestack down – along with the flue inside – sending crumbled bricks crashing to the ground.

By the end of the week, nothing remained on the fenced-in site but a pile of rubble.

The demolition of the former smokestack was a big step forward in Newark’s plan to build a vast network of parkland and trails, city officials said.

While completion of all three phases of the parkland project is years away, officials hope to complete a preliminary plan for the former Curtis Mill site within a week, according to Parks & Recreation Director Charlie Emerson.

“It’s been a long time in coming,” Emerson said. “It’ll really clean up the site, and we’re really excited about what it’ll look like when it’s done.”

Emerson anticipates contracts to build Phase 1 of the park will go out this summer, with work beginning in the fall and continuing into 2014.

Part of that process is the implementation of a remediation plan approved by the Delaware Department of Natural Resources & Environmental Control.

The Curtis Mill property is a brownfield site, a name given to former commercial or industrial properties whose redevelopment may be complicated by the presence of environmental hazards.

The Curtis Mill remediation plan involves excavation and relocation of contaminated soil, followed by “capping” with a layer of asphalt.

By late 2014, Emerson said, the seven-acre site on Paper Mill Road will have a parking area, an interpretive kiosk, trail access to White Clay Creek and a restored meadow area planted with native flora.

Phase 1 will cost the city $1.1 million, which was included in the capital budget.

The paper mill was built in 1789 and went through a succession of owners before production ceased in December 1997.

The red-brick smokestack was viewed by some as an eyesore and by others as an icon of the town.

Mayor Vance A. Funk III remembers well the day the smokestack quit smoking.

“Some people would say it’s something worth saving because of the historical value,” he said.

However, structural problems as well as hazardous materials made restoration of the smokestack a losing proposition, financially.

Emerson said a lot of thought was given to saving the red bricks from the smokestack, but most of them were far too fragile.

Still, some vestige of the old smokestack will be salvaged, he said.

“We are saving about four pallets of bricks for use in the plaza area,” he said.

The second phase of the master park plan will include improvements to Kershaw Park, a small piece of land directly across the creek from the paper mill site. The land is currently home to a gravel parking lot.

The third and final phase is the most ambitious and consists of the development of a large piece of land off Old Paper Mill Road, which was bought by the city decades ago but has remained an open field.

Slated for the site is a 45-car parking lot, a multi-use turf field, a ball wall court, a playground, a bicycle jump park, walking trails and a picnic pavilion. It would also include a skate spot, which is a small area with concrete jumps for skateboarders.

Follow reporter Al Kemp on Twitter: @Al_NewarkPost

Check out photos on Newark Post Online.