Newcomerstown Mayor Pat Cadle said the old Heller/Simonds file company at 641 Heller Drive on the south side of Newcomerstown reminds him of pictures he’s seen of the remains of bombed out cities in World War II.
And there are similiarities.
There are the half-standing walls reaching up two or three stories. There are burned out areas with floors covered in charcoal and ashes. There are gaping holes in walls and roofs. There is glass from hundreds of broken windows crunching underneath footsteps.
What can’t be seen is the proud history of the file-making industry in Newcomerstown but Mayor Cadle said the village hopes to restore some pride in the location by demolishing the existing walls and creating a park, a boat launch for the Tuscarawas River, and other possible uses for the vast grounds that once hummed with the activity of over 500 file-making employees.
Simonds Industries closed its doors as of the end of 2006 and moved their operations out of the country. Simonds Industries is [was] America's oldest manufacturer of files and rasps since 1832.
Heller Brothers Tool Company started in Newcomerstown in 1917 after a fire at the former Rex File Company. The peak of employment came in 1943 when 1,476 workers were employed at the factory during World War II. In 1955, it became Heller Tool Company. In 1988, it was acquired by Greylock Management and Chuck Doulton. It then become Simonds Industries.
And now, Mayor Cadle and village leaders are hoping that there can be a renaissance for at least the property, since the building is beyond any hope of repair.
Current plans are under way to demolish the existing structure through a combination of village and county efforts, that will also include the demolition of the former Cooley Hotel building on Canal Street in Newcomerstown.
Mayor Cadle said companies are submitting bids to tear down the structure based on being able to salvage the vast amounts of steel and huge wood beams that still exist.
William Casteel, Newcomerstown News correspondent, wrote in 2016: "At present, the property is not only considered unsightly, but is also considered a danger to the community. The huge abandoned structure that once housed the former Heller Tool Company and later Simonds, has the village and members of the community concerned due to the potential dangers. The structure has been repeatedly vandalized and was also previously set on fire by vagrants that were staying inside the structure at night time. Even though the property is private owned with no trespassing signs posted, youths, adults, and vagrants have been noted to break-in. The structure reportedly has many unsafe issues. The overhead area is loose, unstable from vandals attempting to remove wire, and pipes. The floor has unlevel surfaces with a multitude of deep shafts in the floor where previous machinery and boilers were once located."
In 2013, there was a major fire at the location. Newcomerstown firefighters worked more than 24 hours in trying to extinguish the fire that consumed approximately half of the abandoned factory. The fire, which started at approximately 3:15 a.m. Sunday, June 23, was spotted by a newspaper delivery person in the area. The blaze ignited in what was used as the shipping area of the building. That area was constructed of large wooden beams which made the fire harder to extinguish as well as allowed the fire to burn much longer. At the time, Newcomerstown Fire Chief Bobby McGarry said the fire was intentionally set, noting "abandoned warehouses just don’t catch fire by themselves."
Firefighters from Newcomerstown were assisted by those from Delaware Valley (Port Washington), Gnadenhutten and Tuscarawas-Warwick fire departments. No one was injured in battling the blaze. Food and drinks were given to the firefighters from those at April’s Country Kitch’n, located directly across from the street.
There was an earlier fire, in 2011, but it was reportedly contained to a van that was parked inside the facility, caused only smoke damage to the facility. The van was a total loss, according to Chief Bobby McGarry. However, the owner of the van was not identified, according to Newcomerstown Chief of Police Chief Gary Holland. He said the license plates were registered to a pick-up truck and the vans vehicle identification number (VIN) was destroyed in the fire.
Members of the Heller family attended an event in 2010 that was a tribute to the tool-file company that was founded by Elias Heller. They included Edna Heller Meek, Carry Heller McAllister, Jenny Heller Welsch, Alfred "Duke" Heller and Frances "Fanny" Heller.
The company provided jobs for many local residents over the years which in turn help Newcomerstown’s population and increased revenue for many other business in the area.
The Newcomerstown Historical Society hosted the open house to pay tribute to the company and its many employees. Earlier in 2010, the Community Improvement Corporation (CIC) was able to purchase handmade replica of the floor layout inside the factory and donated it to the Newcomerstown Historical Society. The purchase was made possible through the Tuscarawas County Convention and Visitors Bureau. The replica was made by Russell Marquand, a former employee of Heller’s for many years.
The replica, now dedicated to the memory of Alfred Heller, is extremely detailed and displays a scaled-down version of each department inside the 185,000-square foot building. Former employees spent about two months cleaning and securing the tiny plastic pieces of the replica -- including miniature equipment. The replica had been in storage for many years, with the pieces in disarray.
Jack Ellis, a former Heller employee, gathered some of his former co-workers together and the group met every Tuesday restoring the scale model. Some of those participating were Paul Morrison, Charlie Rine, Kenny Parks, Fred Lehman, Jim Lehman, Ray Heston, Dode Welch, Milford Addy and Ron Criss.
Harold Huff, a former employee for 43 years, provided a historical timeline of Heller’s from Elias Heller’s start at making files by hand in New Jersey in 1836 to the closing of the company decades later. Heller Brothers Tool Company was acquired by Wallace-Murray in 1965 and the name was changed to Simonds Cutting Tools.
Hellers not only employed men, but also employed many women, especially during World War II when many local men were away in the service.
And now, the property may once again be a source of pride and achievement as the village works towards cleaning the site and making it a useable part of the community.