Grapevine's Atlas

Florence, Y’all

Florence y’all

The text looms over the town of Florence, Kentucky. Driving through this Cincinnati suburb, none are free from the message writ large on the local water tower: FLORENCE Y’ALL. Innocuous, if a little dumb, the water tower’s broadcast southern greeting has a deeper history.

The tower was built by the town on land provided by the soon-to-be-built Florence mall. The mall’s marketing gods offered it up with one stipulation: the town had to put their name on it. It was a small ask for a deed that ultimately quenched the thirst of however many people a water tower feeds, so Florence followed through. The FLORENCE MALL water tower went up in 1975.

Now that it’s up, almost everyone’s happy: the mall gets publicity, the town gets water, water gets to see what the sky is like, but at the core of it all, this harmless erection was a criminal act.

According to Kentucky state law, you can put up as many ads as you want, as long as the thing you’re advertising exists. The Florence Mall was going to exist, but at the time the water tower went up, the building was still in the hypothetical stages of being. If you build it, they will come. If you advertise it before you’ve built it, they’ll drive around aimlessly looking for the thing you’re advertising until they die. No amount of airborne water can stop that.

So the town of Florence had a natural dilemma: remove the advertisement or destroy the water tower. A tough choice made tougher by the fact that paint costs money. Luckily, the mayor had a plan.

With painstaking effort and precision, he put pen to napkin and showed the town’s governors his master plan for amending the issue: replace the “M” in Mall with a “Y” and an apostrophe. A clear and indisputable advertisement for the non-real Florence Mall became the folksy and entirely sensible “Florence Y’all”.

It was a spur-of-the-moment decision levied in the interest of keeping their water tower, but when the mall came shortly thereafter, the Y’all stayed. It actually has to – since the tower’s now on public land, officials are legally prevented from slapping an ad on it.

In the years since, the Florence Y’all water tower has become something of a Florentine icon. The icon of Florence, really, as far as outsiders like us are concerned. Within the city, locals are happy to play into the joke: the town’s minor league baseball team changed their name last year from the gutwrenchingly patriotic Florence Freedom to the more representative Florence Y’alls. Their mascot is an anthropomorphized cartoon rendition of the tower.

In the wake of the name change, some folks close to the story worried that, with a baseball team sharing the “Florence Y’all” title, the tower painted to sidestep advertising regulations would now find itself in renewed conflict by way of inadvertently advertising the baseball team. According to local authorities, their fears can be put to rest. The tower isn’t going anywhere any time soon, y’all.

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