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Farewell to Murray’s landmarks

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The smokestacks in Murray are coming down. Legal wrangling not withstanding, their fate is certain. They soon will be a pile of bricks on the ground. So it is appropriate to pause for a moment and ponder history.

Why have a pair of dirty old cylindrical towers, once used as part of a smelter that would not pass federal muster in today's world, caused such a stir? The answer is simple. They are the last vestiges of the old Murray — a city that once was dotted with smokestacks.

Until the 1950s Murray High School's sports teams were known as the "smelterites." To this day, they wear the colors orange and black, symbolic of the smelter's slag in liquid and solid form. Smelters played a hug role in Murray's creation and evolution as a city. Near the end of the 19th century, smelter workers were gaining a reputation as a rowdy bunch. Several saloons were doing a robust business in the area. A local newspaper editor, worried about this trend, began pushing the area to incorporate as a city to get a better grip on the problem. He succeeded when voters approved the new city in 1902. That spirit of independence persisted and eventually led to Murray forming its own independent school and library systems.

Two years ago, Murray voters defeated a measure that would have saved the smokestacks. It was a purely practical matter. The stacks aren't particularly attractive, and they were standing in the way of developers anxious to build projects close to I-15. But the arguments in favor of preservation were compelling for one simple reason: Once the stacks were gone, there would be no reminders of the city's past or of its reason for being. To any newcomer driving down the freeway, Murray would be just another suburb blending into the landscape.

Cities grow and evolve. Each new generation leaves its own stamp, and each has a responsibility to remember the past. The smokestacks themselves do not accomplish this. Few people today look at them and remember or understand Murray's beginnings. To some, they are reminders of a time when the air was polluted and people did not understand the consequences of that. To others, they are simply familiar landmarks with no particular significance other than that they symbolize home. Murray will have to find other meaningful ways to keep its past alive.

There are many valid reasons why they now must come down. But everyone is entitled to a moment of nostalgia as they see them rise above the city for the last time.