Audrey Nolan has spent a century looking to the steam stacks of this town’s paper mill to tell her what the weather will be.
If the steam dances up the Potomac River toward the mountain, rain is coming. But should the clouds of pillow-white vapor skip down river, it’s going to be a nice day.
“It’s part of my life,” said the 106-year-old woman, whose house is just 50 yards from the belching blue behemoth. “And part of my living days.”
On Friday at 11:59 p.m., the churning pulp and paper machines of Luke Mill went silent. The towers will release steam no more.
The last holdout of an industrial era that made Western Maryland and eastern West Virginia prosperous for generations of papermakers is succumbing to what the owners call global economic forces, upending the lives of townspeople whose identity is intertwined with the mill.