Father's Day was last weekend and my family treated me to a cool restaurant, The Pump House Restaurant. I'd been wanting to try it out for some time due to the history (and you guys know I'm a history buff, right?) but just hadn't made it down to Rock Hill.
The food was fantastic, no doubt... And the outdoor views overlooking the Catawba River are some of the most unique in our region. But here's the history, as posted on their ground floor.
In the booming economy of post World War II America, Rock Hill prepared for the opening of a new plant that would bring jobs to thousands of local residents. Maryland-based Amcel, the company that would eventually become the Celanese Corporation, chose the banks of the Catawba River for its third cellulose acetate plant. Known as Celriver
, the plant would be a fixture in town for nearly sixty years.
Celanese Celriver Plant, Rock Hill, SC.
Manufacturing these synthetic fibers, which were sent to textile companies to be made into an affordable, silk-like fabric for clothing, was a laborious process that required tremendous amounts of water to power and cool the operation. Construction on the pump house began in 1946, and by the time the plant opened in 1948 its five pumps were supplying some 4.7 million gallons of water from the river each day. The massive water supply was delivered throughout the plant for various uses and then filtered again before being returned to the river downstream with only a small net loss to evaporation.
Celriver was a large campus and the need for water went beyond cooling operations. The five pumps of the pump house, located twenty feet underground, funneled water to the private filtering facility on the property. From there, it went to various areas, including the company's private power station where it was fed to boilers to make steam, which then generated electricity to run the plant. Filtered water from the river was also used in campus drinking fountains, the cafeteria, and wastewater operations. Seventy percent of all electricity used to power Celriver came from the river itself via the pump house. The nature of manufacturing cellulose acetate meant that the plant had to run 24 hours a day, seven days a week. To stop running unexpectedly meant the material in the plant pipes would solidify and cause catastrophic damage. Even to shut the plant down on purpose required a detailed process that could take days. The pump house was mission critical; it simply had to work, without fail.
Former plant manager Ed Ewald recalled visiting the plant in the aftermath of Hurricane Hugo in 1989
. When he arrived at the Cherry Road entrance, he noticed the traffic light was still working. It was powered by electricity generated by the water being pumped from the river. Maintenance engineers kept the pumps in good working order, and the pump house kept Celriver operating for almost six decades.
After the plant closed in 2005, the main buildings were demolished and the abandoned pump house fell into disrepair. It was eventually sold along with the land for the new Riverwalk development. In 2014, partners Colby Mosier and Elliott Close purchased the building and began an extensive renovation to restore it and turn it into a one-of-a-kind waterfront dining venue. The new owners of the building partnered with Charlotte restauranteurs Jeff and Paula Conway to manage the day to day operations and to help with the functional design of the restaurant. The original structure, with its bow-shaped western wall (a safety nod in respond to the devastating flood of 1916) was enlarged by 50% and includes state-of-the-art kitchen and dining areas. Alongside the modern upgrades, interiors wear original heart pine salvaged from the Monaghan Mill cotton warehouse in Greenville and custom wall boxes display Catawba Native American pottery, highlighting the historic craftsmanship of the region.
A custom, 987-bottle wine cooler by European woodworker Viorel Teodorovici takes pride of place in the main dining area and a private, 4th floor dining area for groups and special events has a bird's eye view of this area, along with stunning river views. The rooftop deck and dining area is the ultimate in riverside ambience, featuring both enclosed dining and fireside open space perfect for enjoying a breeze off the water and a beautiful night view of the Catawba River Bridge.
Co-owner colby Mosier recognized the pump house as the diamond in the rough it was before renovation. "It was an iconic building and there were few options for people to dine on the river." Ell Close agrees, "We feel this will be a destination restaurant." Their vision became a reality with the March 17, 2016 opening of The Pump House. Once again, the venerable structure on the Catawba is helping to bring commerce and a sense of community to the area.