The Bizarre Attraction Found In The Peach Capital Of South Carolina

Fans of the classic children's book "James and the Giant Peach" are likely to do a double take if they happen to be traveling along Interstate 85 through Gaffney, South Carolina. That's because a giant peach rises from the landscape adjacent to a stretch of the interstate highway that traverses 667 miles from Petersburg, Virginia, to Montgomery, Alabama (via I-85 Highway).

With a population of less than 13,000 (via World Population Review), Gaffney is about an hour southwest of Charlotte, North Carolina, and lays claim to the title of the "Peach Capital of South Carolina," according to Atlas Obscura. For such a small town, it lays claim to a number of significant historic landmarks including three designated historic districts, per Discover South Carolina

It's close to two major Revolutionary War battlefields — Cowpens National Battlefield and Kings Mountain National Military Park. It's also the terminus for the Overmountain Victory National Historic Trail, a drivable 330-mile route connecting noteworthy locations along the route patriot militia followed from Virginia to South Carolina to engage in a pivotal battle Thomas Jefferson said turned the tide of war in favor of the colonies (via American Battlefield Trust). However, the giant peach tower takes the cake.

Why the peach tower was erected

The unusual landmark, located between I-85 exits 90 and 92, is actually a water tower in disguise. According to South Carolina Picture Project, the peach façade was the brainchild of longtime Gaffney resident, Jack Millwood. A community activist that served on the Gaffney Board of Public Works, Millwood was an enthusiastic advocate for upstate South Carolina's burgeoning peach industry (via Historical Marker Database).

When a 1978 study revealed Gaffney needed an elevated water tower, Millwood seized the opportunity and rallied support to finance a tower shaped like a peach. After reviewing designs and construction bids, the Board of Public Works hired Chicago Bridge & Iron to build the whimsical tower at a cost of $969,000. That's about $3.9 million in 2022 dollars. 

The project was especially challenging because the water tower isn't just painted to look like a peach, it's actually shaped like a peach, cleft and all. Completed in 1981, according to the South Carolina Picture Project, the one-million-gallon water tank showcases the work of artist Peter Freudenberg, who used 50 gallons of paint in 20 different colors to mimic the nuanced shading of a fresh peach. 

In 2021, WSPA 7 News reminisced with Freudenberg about the unique structure. The interview showcased vintage footage from the 1981 dedication ceremony including a clip of Freudenberg stating, "We're celebrating the first water tower in history that has a personality." Indeed, it does.