With a tug of a cable and a puff of dust, the iconic elevated water tank beside the old Chicopee Mill south of Gainesville came tumbling down.
A crew from SMG Inc. pulled it down in a matter of minutes on Thursday; residents and workers in the Chicopee Village neighborhood across Atlanta Highway were jolted out of their chairs when the rusty metal structure fell over.
"I heard it fall. I was like, ‘What was that?’" said Terri Armour, office manager at Gainesville Action Ministries, which has its offices across the street from the old mill complex. "It sounded like an explosion. I actually thought that a tractor trailer truck had hit the bridge. That’s what the impact felt like when it hit the ground." Workers disassembling the water tower said it was relatively easy to take it down — they simply attached a cable to one of its supports, cut it away from its concrete footer and made sure the street was closed in case the water tower did anything unpredictable.
But it didn’t. On Thursday afternoon it sat in a neat heap, waiting to be recycled.
Workers with SMG said the water tower was empty and all the bolts on the bottom were rusted out. They noted the riveting holding its panels together, though — that kind of metalwork hasn’t been seen since the 1920s.
That would make sense, since Johnson & Johnson built the Chicopee Manufacturing Co. mill village in 1927. The elevated water tank that’s now torn down was one of three originally built to serve the company and its employees who lived across the street. One water tower was near the original Chicopee Mill school, located in a wood frame building behind the mill; it was torn down when the school moved to a new building. The second elevated water tank was located where Chicopee Woods Golf Course is now located.
Today that school, Jones Elementary, has closed indefinitely. Changes continue across Atlanta Highway, too, on the old mill property, where there are a few new buildings, according to Danny Scroggs, co-owner of DLS Properties, which manages the site.
"It’s all rental, light industrial property," Scroggs said. "I have tenants moving in, tenants moving out. Some have been there a long time and some are newer. It’s just a big property, with 800,000 square feet of space."
The crew working on the water tank have been cleaning up other scrap metal in the old mill buildings, too, Scroggs said, and mentioned the water tower would be a good candidate for their work as well.
"They said they could take it down, and it was getting pretty rusty," he said.
Robin Pickerill, who moved to the Chicopee neighborhood in 2006 from South Florida, said he’ll miss the rusty water tank. It was a reminder of the neighborhood’s beginnings, he said, noting how he was instantly attracted to the brick cottages that line Chicopee Village’s streets.
"It’s like them closing the elementary school; it’s another passage of time," he said. "It’s a new century, it’s a new everything. And that’s just another sign we’re moving on."
Armor said she’ll miss the tower, but mainly because it helped her give directions to the Gainesville Action Ministries office.
"I used it as a landmark to give people directions to get here," she said. "Right after the old rusted-out water tank on your right. So now I don’t have that landmark to give."