Olney, Ill., is famous for its dray of albino squirrels. Greensburg, Ind., claims the aspen tree growing from the county courthouse tower is "World-Famous." Those oddities have given their communities something to crow about. Meanwhile, Gwinnett County, Ga., has become inextricably linked to a pair of water towers.
For the last 40 years, millions of motorists have careened - or crawled, depending on time of day - past those towers along Interstate 85. For a good many of those years, the proclamation: "Gwinnett is Great" has been emblazoned across the belly of one of the tanks.
We agree Gwinnett County has a lot going for it and has justified the slogan. Great schools, great parks, great amenities and great people, etc. all bring us to that conclusion. In more recent times, "Success Lives Here" was painted on the second tank. Those towers of power have been referenced on countless occasions and have become a landmark in Gwinnett and a symbol of its development.
Today, rendered obsolete by the upgrade of a pump station in Norcross, these above-ground cisterns serve no other purpose than being two giant, very-expensive-to-maintain billboards.
The county commission tells us that by the end of the year, the twin towers will come down to be sold for parts and/or scrap metal.
After four decades, the time has come.
In this economy when the county is scraping for every dime, County Administrator Jock Connell said, "Decommissioning all these tanks and pump stations will save about $100,000 in annual operating costs and about the same in annual capital costs. So the dismantling cost of about $350,000 would be paid back in cost savings in less than two years."
Some have scoffed that our county symbol has became two water tanks, which have served as the butt end of many jokes. Still, we'll miss those canary-yellow (formerly sea-flower green) twin cylinders that have greeted and bid us adieu for so many years.
Here's a little history on how we got to "Gwinnett is Great."
There are two 120-foot tall water towers at the site just north of the Jimmy Carter Boulevard exit. The south tank was constructed in 1968. The slogan-carrying north tank was erected four years later. The first slogan painted on the tank was "Growing Gwinnett."
Later in the '70s, Commissioner Ray Gunnin suggested the current motto. Gunnin said the slogan was changed during a time when Gwinnett was in steep competition with neighboring DeKalb County for industry, population and development.
"Their slogan was 'Dynamic DeKalb,' and we wanted to come up with something better. Everybody knew Gwinnett was growing. And 'great' is better than 'dynamic,'" Gunnin explained.
He also pointed out that the water tower was the first thing motorists see as they entered the county. "It's like a 'welcome,'" Gunnin added.
Upon hearing of the towers' fate, the former commissioner agreed it's time to move on.
"Even though the slogan served its purpose - it is sad to see progress taking down the old tanks - I shall not guard the old tanks or their message ..." he said and then cited the Belgian poet Maurice Maeterlinck: "At every crossing on the road that leads to the future, each progressive spirit is opposed by a thousand appointed to guard the past."
Once the towers are tumbled, Gwinnettians coming north on Interstate 85 can no longer use them as the milepost that calls "you're almost home."
There are more pressing matters facing the county, but we couldn't let the demise of these icons pass without comment. They obviously served us well. After all, look how much we've grown while they stood watch on our county's border.
J.K. Murphy is the publisher of the Gwinnett Daily Post. E-mail him at email@example.com.