The Great White Way came to Georgetown 100 years ago

  • Wednesday, February 19, 2014

gcdigital.org/Morgan-Trenholm Collection Although Georgetown had electricity since 1896, the new street lights shown here were a real improvement on Front Street. The lights led to the sobriquet “The Great White Way” to denote Front Street. This photo is dated March 14, 1914. The outline of the tops of stores in the 700 block makes an interesting pattern, and shows individual taste was prevalent here. (Night photo, looking west; taken near intersection of Front and Queen Streets.) With the loss of many buildings from the Sept. 25, 2013 fire, is it adding insult to injury to call for removing the lights that have added grace and charm to the city for more than 100 years?


On January 14, 1914, the city fathers and the people of Georgetown had a lot to celebrate.

The Georgetown Times of that date had a front page story about “The Great White Way.”

Electric lights were turned on along Front Street two days earlier.

A front page story in the Georgetown Times announced the major accomplishment:

“From the corner of King to the corner of Screven, Front street for three blocks, with ten standards of three lights each to the block, or ninety lights in all, presented a most beautiful aspect. Throngs of people were on the streets to inspect and admire the scene.”

Above is a photo taken two months later that shows how the three-globe poles lit up the night.

Now — today — members of Georgetown City Council are seriously discussing doing away with the lights.

On the front page of this issue of the Times we show a color photo from a booklet “Facts about Georgetown” published in 1948 by the Chamber of Commerce.

We also have a picture from 1930 that shows “Bay Street,” later known as Front Street. The globe lights are visible, along with the iconic Town Clock.

Of course, progress is important. We don’t want Georgetown to be stagnant. But we also don’t think it’s right to do away with a style of lighting that’s been a mark of the city for a century.

Maybe the globes on the existing lights should be cleaned, or even replaced.

An idea has been floated that the bulbs could be replaced with LEDs. Many lighting sources now use Light Emitting Diodes. They are efficient, use much less electricity than incandescent bulbs and they’re durable.

That’s good, but our first thought is that we agree with several people who have written letters to the editor and posted comments on Facebook.

Two of those letters are on this page today.

There are many more-pressing issues that face Georgetown. At a projected cost of $100,000 to replace or redo the lights, it’s certainly not cheap.

The reality is that an evident need to perform some costly repairs or redesign to the Georgetown Wastewater Treatment Plant — estimated to cost $11 million — is much more important and much more expensive than “fixing” lights that really don’t appear to need fixing.

There’s also another expensive idea to build and equip a new fire station in Maryville at the former Eagle Electric property.

Extending the streetscape into the West End of the city is needed, long past due and also expensive.

We’re not so sure about the need for costly traffic cameras that many consider to be an invasion of privacy.

Mayor Jack Scoville is correct in a comment he posted on our Facebook page that the loss to fire of eight buildings along Front Street is a major blow, but that it’s only a small part of the overall city and its economy.

East Bay Park, Morgan Park, a water feature at Ben Cooper Park, potholes, sinkholes, water lines ... and many other issues call out for work and such work costs money.

If the globes for “The Great White Way” need to be cleaned, fine. That should be a routine maintenance task and one that ought not cost six figures.

We trust that continuing and new members of City Council will see the light and not fix something that isn’t broken.

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