Demolition of garment factory stirs memories

March 23, 1998|By DON AINES

by Joe Crocetta / staff photographer

see the enlargement

Schoeneman Demo.

CHAMBERSBURG, Pa. - On hot summer days over the past 65 years, scores of workers, mostly women, would gather outside the entrances or under nearby trees during breaks at the J. Schoeneman Co., escaping the more oppressive heat inside the men's garment factory.

"It was 109 degrees at my press," said Rita Naugle, 53, of Fayetteville, Pa. She spent almost 25 years with the company before being laid off last March.

For 65 years the building stood at the corner of Stanley Avenue and Fourth Street and for many of those years the company was one of Franklin County's biggest employers. Now the brick and concrete block walls are giving way to bulldozers and cranes.


At one time there were 2,100 people working there, Naugle said. The number declined rapidly in recent years until the plant closed last fall.

"We hope to have it finished by the end of April," Richard Bender said Friday of the demolition. The Chambersburg Area School District's building and grounds director said the demolition and cleanup will cost about $150,000.

That's on top of $1 million the district paid the Plaid Group of New York in 1996 for the 16.5-acre site, although Bender said half the purchase price was reimbursed by the state.

"The immediate plan is to plant it in grass to use as athletic fields until the district decides exactly what they're going to do with it," Bender said.

About 250,000 square feet of building space is being torn down by Lycoming Supply Co. of Williamsport, Pa. Bender said a newer part of the factory, a 37,000-square-foot addition built in 1966, will be renovated for administrative office space.

A 51,000-square-foot metal storage building will also remain standing, he said.

Bender said a committee of administrators and teachers is working on a plan for the site. He said one possibility is to build an intermediate high school.

In the meantime, the property has given the district some much-needed parking space, he said.

For many of those who worked there, Schoeneman was the only employer they ever had.

"I started there when I was 18 years old. It was the only place I worked until I got laid off," said Connie Haulman, 57, of Chambersburg.

She started on sewing machines, later moving on to trimming and cleaning coats before they were pressed.

After being laid off last March, Haulman took advantage of dislocated worker programs to take a computer course at Wilson College. In September, she was hired by Adecco Employment Services in Chambersburg.

Haulman became a temporary worker in the Franklin County Voter Registration Office. Now she's doing clerical work at Wilson College.

Naugle began work as a custodian at the county courthouse last summer.

"I think it was the best thing that ever happened to me," she said of losing her factory job. "It was a very stressful job."

LaWanda Wilson, 57, of Fayetteville, now works for Mr. First Aid, a medical supply company in Fayetteville. She was with Schoeneman more than 33 years but, "It got harder as the years went on. They wanted more from the girls."

Wilson said she was paid piece rate, but the company kept asking for more work at lower rates.

She has a retirement plan from the company but, "I won't get rich from it, believe me." Wilson said it will pay about $112 a month when she reaches retirement age.

While they said the working conditions were less than ideal, the women said they miss the people they worked with.

"I wasn't sorry to leave at the time ... but it's kind of something you lost," Haulman said.

"You lose contact with a lot of people you really become close with," Naugle said.

The Herald-Mail Articles