TUSCALOOSA, Ala. (WIAT) — A group of young adults recorded footage of their climb to the top of the Tuscaloosa grain elevator in 2013. Almost a decade later, the structure, considered a hidden highlight of the town by locals, was demolished.

The grain elevator, referred to as a silo by locals, was commissioned in 1970. It has been defunct since the 1980s, but its structure loomed over the Black Warrior River, clearly abandoned and almost 200 feet tall.

Parker Towing Inc., one of the largest family-owned barge lines in the U.S., purchased the property where the grain elevator sat in 2020. The company plans to create a river port facility on the land. To accomplish these plans, the grain elevator had to be removed from the property, and Parker Towing started demolishing the structure on July 19, finishing it the first week of August.

Some commuters may not have noticed the structure’s absence on the skyline as they drive down Hugh Thomas Bridge, but local thrill seekers have.

Silo Climb

In January of 2013, University of Alabama students Jared Downing and Myranda Bennett gathered a group of their friends to film an entry for the Campus Movie Fest, a film festival that showcases independently made short films made by students.

Downing and Bennett’s vision for their entry would be a documentary-style project that showcases young people in Tuscaloosa who climb the abandoned silo.

Downing offered to help with the film’s producing and writing. Despite not being a film major like Bennett, he had made a short film in the past. This would be his first attempt at making a documentary.

Since Downing and Bennett were the ones behind the camera, they needed locals who were familiar with the silo to be their film’s main characters. He said he recruited the short film’s stars from friends he knew who lived in town.

Heather Roach, dubbed “The Newb” in the film’s byline, was a close friend of Downing, who she said was “much more adventurous” than her. She said that he had tried to talk her into climbing the silo numerous times, but the only time she agreed was for the ‘Silo Climb’ project.

“I think I was just convinced that I would regret it if I didn’t, that it would be an experience worth remembering,” Roach said. “Like, if I don’t do this. I may not ever have the opportunity at some point, so I’m going to just go ahead and try it.”

Another friend of Downing’s who joined the experience was Chris Snell, a young man seen wearing a green beanie in the film. He was Downing’s college roommate who had played characters in his previous works and climbed the silo “once or twice” before.

The trio admits the decision to film themselves climbing the silo was dangerous, not only due to the unsafe condition of the structure, but due to local authorities who would routinely patrol the area.

However, members of the group also feel like there is a certain allure that draws young people’s interest in exploring abandoned and prohibited areas.

Downing mentioned having a fascination with abandoned locations during his time living in Tuscaloosa, which included frequent trips to Old Bryce Hospital, the underground tunnel system on UA campus, and a waterworks facility alongside the river that was later demolished as well.

“I was just one of those people that just really got a kick out of that kind of thing,” Downing said. “I would bring other people because it’s like once you go after the first time, you wanna go find other people that haven’t gone up and bring them. It just sort of spreads that way.”

Roach describes herself as a history nerd and said that exploring an abandoned place felt like connecting to the past.

“To me, any place that old, and especially if it’s been abandoned for a long time, it’s got that feeling of like you’re discovering almost a treasure of the past,” Roach said. “It feels like you’re sort of almost time traveling in a way.”

The three adults admitted the demolition of the silo is bittersweet, but an understandable conclusion.

“Whenever I walk by or drive by [the area] and happen to notice it on the skyline, I’m like, ‘Yeah, I remember that. Those were good times,’ Roach said. “So that’s a little piece of like personal history that’s going to not be there to remind me of those memories.”

“It’s a little bit sad. It’s such a hallmark of the skyline, you know, you come across the bridge, you can always see the silo,” Snell said. “But time moves on, it’s like the passing of an age or an era and it’ll just be a memory, which a lot of these things are anyways.”

“It was a piece of what made Tuscaloosa Tuscaloosa, for teenagers and for college students. I mean, my own mother went up there,” Downing said. “So you hate to see it go down, because it just means that little piece is not there anymore.”