This story was updated at 7:18 a.m. Jan. 20, 2020, to reflect that the Works Project Administration program was part of President Franklin D. Roosevelt's New Deal.
ENGLEWOOD, Tenn. — At more than 80 years old, the water tower in Englewood, Tennessee, is the target of preservation efforts and could become the state's first such structure listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
The tower is on the list of nominations for 2020 to be reviewed by the Tennessee Historical Commission on Jan. 29 in Nashville. It was built in 1937 from funds provided by the Works Project Administration program under President Franklin D. Roosevelt's New Deal, according to Beth Sizemore, chairwoman of the Englewood Water Tower Preservation Committee.
"It's our icon," Sizemore said Thursday as she sat drinking coffee with fellow committee member Catherine May and town manager Richard Clowers at a cafe in the town's business district. "Whenever you see anything about Englewood, you see that water tower."
Folks in town are fond enough of the tower that there's a tiny replica of it next to the Englewood Textile Museum just down the street.
The tower was used for the town's drinking water until 2018, so it hasn't been dormant too long.
"There's water in it now, but I don't know that you'd want to drink it," Sizemore said.
Since the water tower isn't used anymore, the water utility can no longer maintain it. Sizemore said a preservation committee was formed to seek funding, and permission to pursue the idea was given by the city commission.
"We're applying for every funding source we can find," she said.
May — a lively 92-year-old who has lived in the area since 1962 and is overseeing the technical portions of the project — said the first step is meeting state and federal construction standards for the work. That will include removal and testing of any lead from the soil at the site and containment and testing of sandblasting work to remove the tower's lead paint. Workers will have the air monitored and a shower facility will be attached to a sealed plastic enclosure that will surround the tower completely.
That ensures neighboring homes are protected during the work, May said. The work will produce thousands of pounds of sand and hazardous materials that will have to be disposed of under state and federal guidelines, she said.
Officials said the estimated tally for preserving the exterior and interior of the tower is about $400,000. That includes work to restore the concrete cistern that stands beneath the tower. Some welding work is needed to provide "painter hooks" for crews to attach a work platform, according to May.
Once the preparation work is finished, the exterior of the tower will get two coats of an aluminum paint and the interior of the tank will be coated with tar to preserve the metal, May said.
HOW TO HELP
The Englewood Water Tower Preservation Committee is collecting donations to put toward the preservation of the town's icon. Donations can made online or dropped off at the Englewood Textile Museum. Checks should be made payable to East Tennessee Foundation with a memo line stating: "Water Tower Preservation."
Donations can be mailed to:
East Tennessee Foundation
520 W. Summit Hill Drive, Suite 1101
Knoxville, TN 37902
For more information, call 423-829-5331.
"It won't be usable when it's finished but it will be preserved," she said. May and Sizemore said the final design of the tower's paint job will be determined, while Clowers joked about painting it pink. May and Clowers will act as project managers while Sizemore focuses on fundraising.
Clowers, town manager for the last 13 years and a local resident for two decades, said the old tower has a 75,000-gallon capacity. He said an old fire truck is being restored to be displayed on the tower site.
The trio of tower fans said lots of stories are attached to the tower.
"There are boys who have swum in it and there's at least one female [who] has admitted swimming in it," Sizemore laughed, but she wasn't naming names. "We have one girl – she's 16 now – when she was 5 years old she was convinced King Kong and the 'squiggles' lived in there."
The tower is not only the town's icon, it represents a fading tradition of the way people got their water.
"The Englewood water tower is the tallest and most recognized structure in the town," said Englewood resident Joe Guy, the McMinn County historian who has written a number of books on local and regional history and is also the county's sheriff. "In many ways it has become our town symbol. It has stood over the town our entire lives.
"Englewood was founded as a mill town over 100 years ago," he said. "The mills are long gone, and so are most of the buildings. But the water tower has stood the test of time."
Guy said the tower itself is also very rare.
"Elevated 'tower' water systems were once in place in many communities, where water was pumped up into the tower, and gravity provided pressure for the town's water system," Guy said. "But as bigger utilities and cooperatives have improved water quality as well as extended their lines into small towns, water towers are no longer used.
"Today, they are pieces of history."
And that's the point, according to Sizemore.
With the clock ticking, the tower needs work soon, and to do the work the project needs funds, May and Sizemore said.
Contact Ben Benton at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6569. Follow him on Twitter @BenBenton or at www.facebook.com/benbenton1.