The water tower is frequently the highest structure in the small Southern town. Here, the towers in Chiefland and Trenton. Spare in design, with duct tape-like lettering, they are the sentinels of slow-growing cities and towns. In Chiefland, the tower rises above a city that now has its own Wal-Mart, meaning that Chiefland’s residents no longer need to drive the 30 miles into Gainesville to access a big-box store. Even though the 2000 census figures report that 36.8% of the population is below the poverty line, the water tower doesn’t seem to be sending out distress signals. On a Monday afternoon, under the Tinman-like tower, Main Street traffic was slow and the line at the McDonald’s drive-through long. The Wal-Mart parking lot was jammed, but once inside the store, most of the customers seemed to be heading to the in-store McDonald’s and not to the lycra/satin party dresses merchandised towards the front of the Juniors area.
Trenton, which is a straight shot northeast of Chiefland on the 129, is smaller and decidedly less lively. Aside from its own water tower, its main identifying feature was an old railroad station. The tower was directly in back of a bar that seemed to have a decent amount of trade for the middle of the afternoon; without casting doubt upon the County of Gilchrist, a couple of its linemen bid each other a beery adieu in the bar’s tiny parking lot. Their faces flushed with a Budweiser glow, they slapped each other on the back, promised to get together again on Friday, got into their county vehicles, and went back to installing electrical equipment.