New 'legacy' project displays history of Rock Hill Celriver plant

The new Celriver Legacy Plaza was unveiled at the former site of the Celanese Celriver plant Wednesday adjacent to the Giordana Velodrome in Riverwalk. The plaza honors the men and women who worked at the textile plant in Rock Hill that employed t
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The new Celriver Legacy Plaza was unveiled at the former site of the Celanese Celriver plant Wednesday adjacent to the Giordana Velodrome in Riverwalk. The plaza honors the men and women who worked at the textile plant in Rock Hill that employed t
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Rock Hill’s new Celriver Plaza honors hard work of Celanese plant workers

By Andrew Dys

adys@heraldonline.com

November 08, 2017 03:13 PM

ROCK HILL

The giant Celanese textile plant that employed thousands in Rock Hill for six decades is gone. But Wednesday, Celriver Legacy Plaza was unveiled there. The site honors the men and women who worked hard at a good job to earn a decent wage.

Nobody was prouder than Marie Brady, age 85.

“Twenty-eight years I worked at the Celanese,” Brady said. “Worked my way up to supervisor. Great place to work.”

Brady was asked about Celanese workers. Her eyes shone.

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“Great people,” Brady said. “The best. I am proud to be one of them.”

Brady used a cane to walk to a sidewalk paver that had her name etched on it. The paver is set where the Celanese Celriver plant once stood, so huge that it was among the largest plants in America.

“There’s me,” she said. “I worked right here. We all did.”

The plaza is next to the YMCA at the Riverwalk residential and commercial development, which holds Rock Hill’s Giordana Velodrome and BMX track along U.S. 21 not far from the Catawba River. The Celriver plant made cellulose acetate and operated from the late 1940s until it closed in 2005. At least 5,000 people worked there over the years, three shifts a day, in an era when textiles were a main employer in the South.

Men and women, all races, all ages, worked at Celanese. They worked together and raised children together away from work and helped Rock Hill grow.

Their shoulder-to-shoulder, hard and honest labor, now is on display to remind everybody of the value of work.

They came together Wednesday among metal sculptures.

The plaza features artwork, historic photos and other items that celebrate the blue-collar heritage of the city of Rock Hill, York County, and its people. Dozens of former workers, their descendants and relatives went to the grand opening Wednesday. Money was raised over several years to make the plaza happen, said Mack Bailey, secretary of the Celriver Legacy Project and a longtime plant worker.

Plans are underway for the project to sponsor endowed scholarships at York Technical College and Winthrop University, Bailey said.

“Honest pay for honest work,” said Harry Tune, who worked at the plant for years then came back later in life as a consultant. “This place that honors the workers and their contributions is a stunningly good idea. Celanese was here for 60 years and the people who worked here were hard working, good people.”

Bek Hemelsine, a former plant manager at Celanese, said the community of Rock Hill and the plant were intertwined for decades. Plant management and workers gave to recreation leagues, schools, civic projects, the United Way, and other causes.

“The contributions of the plant and its workers to Rock Hill was so far reaching and continues to this day,” Hemelsine said. “Celanese and its workers contributed to every part of life.”

Hemelsine said a great legacy of Celanese is that, through a good job and wage, it afforded its workers an opportunity to raise families and send children to college.

Dan Hollingsworth and his aunt, Nancy Jane Whisnant, showed the etched name on a sidewalk paver: “Jean G. Hollingsworth.”

They talked of how she came to Celanese from the North Carolina mountains to find work, then found a husband and started a family. She stayed at Celanese 41 years.

“That was her life, 41 years at this plant,” Whisnant said.

Dan Hollingsworth, Jean’s son, said his mother is ill and could not attend. But her life’s work being remembered at the Celriver Plaza, along with remembering the thousands of others honored for their toils, is a great tribute, Dan Hollingsworth said.

The plaza is steel and concrete and stone and brick. It is a tribute to the working men and women who built Rock Hill.

Andrew Dys: 803-329-4065, @AndrewDysHerald

Want to know more?

▪ Visit the Celriver Legacy Project on Facebook at facebook.com/CelriverLegacyProject.

▪ Visit the project Web site at celriver.org.

▪ Email: celriverlegacyproject@gmail.com.

▪ Phone 803-329-2321

▪ Mail Celriver Legacy Project, P.O.Box 11134, Rock Hill, S.C. 29731.