Gaffney and the Giant Peach

Since 1981, a giant peach-shaped water tower, known as the Peachoid, has welcomed motorists to South Carolina as they’re driving along I-85. And the Peachoid got wider exposure a couple of years ago in the first season of the Netflix series, House of Cards.

While it’s not unusual while driving along American’s highways to see a unique water tower, there may not be a more famous one in the country. Kevin Spacey, star of House of Cards, posed for a picture in front of the peach to celebrate his Emmy nomination in 2013. When TV personality Mario Lopez snapped a selfie in front of it and posted it on Twitter, one commenter asked, “Gaffney is real?!?!” And the Peachoid's recent a face lift received press in such publications as the LA Times and the Wall Street Journal.

For all its newfound fame thanks to Frank Underwood, the Peachoid is impressive in its own right. Originally, city officials wanted to build some kind of tower as a landmark and an homage to the peach, to let people know that although Georgia might call itself the Peach State, South Carolina—and Cherokee County in particular—actually grows more peaches.

 

When a long-range planning study pointed out the need for a large-capacity water tower, an opportunity to kill two birds with one stone surfaced: The million-gallon water tower would increase water pressure and upgrade fire protection in the area around I-85, and it would be built in the shape of a peach.

After looking at various plans and proposals, Chicago Bridge and Iron was selected for the construction, and muralist Peter Freudenberg was the artist who transformed the plain water tower into a giant peach, complete with cleft, stem, leaf, and a realistic paint job that mimics an actual peach. Freudenberg spent hours inspecting peaches to get a sense of the color and texture of the fruit so that he could recreate those color variations on a large scale.

The structure itself is massive: at 135 feet high, it is supported by a foundation that contains 10 million pounds of concrete; there are a mile and a half of welds holding the steel plates together—enough to stretch from the Peachoid to the nearby Best Pizza in Town Buffet in Gaffney. The leaf alone is 60 feet long and weighs seven tons. Fifty gallons of paint—mixed into more than 25 colors to get the shading just right—coat the peach.

The project was completed in 1981, and last year, after nearly 35 years of proclaiming the primacy of the peach, a face lift was due. Another large-scale mural artist, Eric Hinn, was chosen for the job.

In the initial phase of the renovation, the peach looked as if it was wearing a white chef’s hat, generating a lot of curiosity. The initial yellow coat of paint had some residents worried that the peach was being replaced by a lemon, but soon more paint was added to bring back the familiar peach.

The work is not quite done, says Kim Fortner, assistant manager of Gaffney Public Works. “This past summer, before it was done, we had to get [the water tower] back in service,” she says. “You can’t paint it completely when there’s water in it, and with the rise in temperatures, we had to put more water in it. The artist had to pull back, but he’s back this winter working on it to put final touches on it.”

Photo credits: Banner—Drone Media Solutions, Charlotte, NC; Upper right—Kevin Spacey; Middle left—Mario Lopez; Bottom right: City of Gaffney

Sharon Purvis is a freelance writer and editor who makes her home with her husband in Duncan, South Carolina.    

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