BROCTON - Those traveling through the center of Brocton this week will experience a sort of "culture shock." No your eyes don't deceive you; Brocton is missing its four corner arch.
Originally placed in the summer months of 1913, the signature iron arch was purchased from a French manufacturer and erected in the center of town as a welcome greeting to passersby in honor of the Town of Portland's first 100 years. The total cost of construction for the structure was estimated at just $1,300. Three hundred dollars were contributed from the Village of Brocton, and the remainder was raised through private donations.
As of Monday night, support of all kinds, contributed by the village and countless private donations, as well as a greatly needed Historic Preservation Grant, allowed for the structure to be taken down in pieces so that it can be refurbished and restored to its original state and subsequently raised back up in time for the Town of Portland's 200th birthday celebration.
OBSERVER Photo by Ann Belcher
Workers from Buffalo Iron Corp. lower the “halo” of the four-corner arch in Brocton Monday evening. Crews planned to work into the evening shoring up each arm so they could be dismantled. Many took advantage of the closure of traffic downtown and came out to view the progress. Others gathered in the newly reopened St. Stephen’s Hotel, where up close views could be seen from the second and third floors.
Flagged by Department of Transportation officials for suffering structural damage resulting from automobile accidents, and darkened due to the vintage lighting components becoming obsolete, the arch needed help.
With the assistance of CHRIC, the village was incredibly fortunate to receive a sizeable grant from Historic Preservation in order to take the structure down, fully restore it and raise it back up. Part of that grant award was being able to come up with a matching share. In-kind services donated by village streets and electric crews and again, generous donations from inside and outside the community achieved that matching dollar amount to put project in full swing.
Mayor Dave Hazelton, as well as other board members joined dozens of people Monday night to witness the tear-down work. When asked if he would have believed he would be witnessing this piece of local history as mayor, he stated "If someone would've told me even last year, I wouldn't have believed it!"
As a watchful eye in the crowd, the mayor took note of several things Monday night. First, "obviously, people's donations are such a big portion of what we're doing here. If there is anyone who donated that couldn't be here to see the tear-down, I sincerely hope they can be here to see it put back up."
Secondly, the mayor was impressed by the dedicated hours of labor put in by village employees. "These folks are obviously very dedicated to this community. They do everything they are asked and more," he said.
Village crews, as well as local fire police, had to prepare for a lot of tasks and pave the way for Buffalo Iron Corps., the project's bid winner, to move in and set to task their tear-down work. Monday evening, dozens watched from the newly-reopened St. Stephen's Hotel as Electric Lineman Joe Majkowski carefully insulated each electrical line in preparation for the dismantling of the arch.
Hazelton commented, "A number of people were out here to watch this, and all of them were very well-behaved and cooperated with crews to ensure their own safety and the safety of the workers."
The workers, consisting of a handful of skilled iron workers made the work look effortless.
"The actual work involved here is very minor compared to what we're used to dealing with. On a good day, we handle 100 or more pieces of iron. Tonight we have four to five," stated Patrick Hanley Jr., company owner.
"But obviously there is a lot of pressure in the planning of this work."
Accustomed to working in a metropolitan setting in much more crowded neighborhoods on much larger structures, Hanley took note of the small town, cooperative feel of Monday's event.
"We usually never have any help from a municipality on the job, but here everyone seems to be all-in, and totally excited about this process. It's very nice to be here working. Everyone's very welcoming and it has that typical small-town feel," he said.
His wife, Erica, who was on hand to share the experience, noted, "We're ecstatic to have been chosen to do this job this is very big for us."
The two compared the job to another notable project of theirs, the Roycroft Power Station in East Aurora. Hanley and friends are no strangers to restoring historical structures.
"It's really pretty similar. The project was funded through people providing the donations where there wasn't some big investor, which is really impressive," she said.
Hanley and his crew began by bracing each arm of the structure to counter the tension of the iron material. Once Majkowski completed his insulation process, the iron workers removed the arch's halo, or center ring, which garnered applause from all of the onlookers. Then each arm was carefully removed in pieces until the entire upper portion was completely torn down. The crew worked into the early morning hours of Tuesday, even through rain and lightning, until the bases were carefully measured and removed.
"Luckily the lightning was far enough away that it didn't pose any risk to the workers," noted Hazelton.
With each part removed, they will be shipped to Hanley's workshop for the restoration work and repainting. Bases for each arm will need to be designed and fabricated in the meantime, and all involved are very positively looking toward an early spring re-dedication of the newly placed structure for Portland's bicentennial celebration.