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Ladder Factory Demolition Bittersweet For Former Workers

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The former ladder factory in Newark Valley is set to be demolished after sitting vacant for 24 years. The village has secured a $500,000 grant from the state to tear down the old plant and has hired LCP Group from Vestal to do the job. The demolition could start as soon as Tuesday morning.

"The roof is collapsing. If we waited long enough maybe in ten years the whole building would collapse, but that's not good for the neighborhood or the fire department who worries about that building daily," says Newark Valley Mayor James Tornatore. 

Before the roof started caving in, and before the doors and windows were boarded up, the Gold Medal Ladder factory was the largest employer in northern Tioga County. 

The factory doors were shut for good in 1993.

"It was just one big happy family. Really and truly," says former employee Sharon Weed.

Weed is talking about the tight knit nature of the employees there, but it's true in a literal sense as well. When Weed took over the books in 1963, she was the third generation of her family to work in the business. She's not the only one who followed family tradition into the factory. 

Standing in the Town Historian's office, Ray Shaver points out his uncle in a photograph of workers taken in 1925. Shaver would go straight from high school into his uncle's old stomping grounds where he worked his way up to engineer. 

Ray Shaver points to his uncle in a picture of ladder factory workers taken in 1925.

The ladder factory opened up in 1922, but before that, the 4 acre lot was used to manufacture several things including a manure spreader and, after the first World War, it housed a failed attempt at building airplanes.

"They shipped wood and propellers and so forth," says Shaver, "Everybody in town has a wooden propeller."

That particular venture never took off, but the lumber shipped to town was used to build the ladder factory. 

"We had a machine on the second floor, it was a merry-go-round is what they called them," says Shaver.

It was a moving conveyer belt, installed after the owner of the factory saw the system being used by Ford Motor Company. 

A ladder factory employee works on a ladder as it comes down the 'merry-go-round.'

"Somebody would put the rail in, somebody would put the steps in, somebody else would nail the thing," explained Shaver.

Then the ladders would be shipped out all across the country. 

"It was a very prosperous business for many years," says Weed.

In 1987, the company was bout out by RD Werner, who then shut down several plants including the one in Newark Valley.

Shaver and Weed, the last two standing, packed up their things and locked the doors behind them on December 17th 1993. It's a day branded in Weed's memory. She even remembers the exact time she shut the doors: 3 o'clock in the afternoon. The building has been vacant ever since.

It may be hard to say goodbye, but the memories and friendships will long outlast the factory walls.

Tornatore says he would like to see the land used as a solar farm, but whatever the future use may be, the village can not legally be involved in that development.