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Bristol's Heritage

Address Dedicating Bristol's Confederate Monument - W.H. Rouse   Top Of The Page

Hotel Porter Recalls 50 Years In Downtown Bristol -Gene Brown 

The Sweet Music of The Burson Bell - Tim Buchanan                 

A Short Introductory History of Bristol - Tim Buchanan              

The Founding of Bristol - V.N."Bud" Phillips                                

The Centennial of 1956 - Tim Buchanan                                    

Some Recollections Of Bristol Around The Turn Of The Century -James H. McCrary 1892-1990

Address Dedicating Bristol's Confederate Monument
Bristol's Confederate Sentinel
May 1920
Presented By W. H. Rouse
 
Colonel Barker, Daughters of the Confederacy, Confederate Veterans, Citizens:
 
I am speaking for Mayor King and his people of the Tennessee side as well as for Bristol Virginians in accepting this monument for our people.  Out of the depths of a great emotion, out of the warmth of a keen appreciation, out of a sense of spontaneous gratitude, do we recognize the generosity of Colonel Baker, in donating this marble emblem to the people of his city.  It is not intended to be his own monument; never-the-less, there is no power on this earth that can prevent these and succeeding generations from enshrining him in grateful remembrance as they look upon its shining surface, read its inscriptions and feel its inspirations.  The thought and spirit that conceived and gave this costly memorial are as beautiful as the charming daughter of the donor and her assistants who are about to unveil it.
 
Fitting is it that the memory of the great deeds and heroic sacrifices of the marvelous men and women of the Confederacy should be quickened on this May Day when grasses and grain and leaf and flower are attesting the resurrection and the life.  It is fitting that here amid the perfumes and breezes and stimulations of the spring time, this occasion should be directed and sponsored and hollowed by the Daughters of the Confederacy.  Impressive is the stillness resting upon your souls as this monument is unveiled here in the very presence of a remnant of those veterans to whom it is dedicated, some who passed through those dread days of the Civil War, all of whom are now wearing a cost of gray bestowed by friendly years, and will soon be telling the story of this day's event to that host of their comrades who have laid aside knapsacks and sword and musket and hardship and are bivouacked on the fields of a lasting peace and glory.
 
Monuments are never needed by those for whom they are erected.  It was regarded as necessary to inscribe on the Bunker Hill Monument only the word "Here" indicating the place.  No work of praise or recital of deed was needed to perpetuate knowledge or memory of the great event. Can any luster be added to the memory of the great event.  Can any luster be added to the name of Washington, Lincoln, Lee, Jackson, John Howard Payne, or to confederate armies or the Mothers of the Confederacy by monumental Shaft?  Oh, no, their lives and deeds and sacrifices and services are recorded in history and country and character and memory more lasting than if in marble and carved wood, yet monuments are erected as a visible, tangible mark of our recognition and veneration of high emprise and in the hope that little children will stop and ask and learn the story and emulate and grow in mental and moral stature.  A monument after all is history and love and admiration and inspiration.
 
That figure of the lonely rebel up there at the top is tongue-less and voiceless and silent, yet so eloquent that across the stretch of almost sixty years we hear the tramp of serried columns and footsore battalions, and the drum beat of a hundred battle fields and the sorrowing and suffering wail of many mothers and wives and sisters and daughters in Confederate homes scattered all the way from Maryland down through these hills and valleys, on down through palmetto and pine, the cotton and the corn, to Texas and the Gulf; hence here are story and history and tragedy and oration and poem and song and sermon and funeral dirge loudly proclaimed.
 
But I am not to speak on monuments and wars and Confederate heroes and heroines, that duty has been entrusted to a distinguished speaker, eloquent, familiar with the theme, soon to follow.  I am only commissioned to accept the monument on behalf of the people and that I do fully sensible of the unanimity and sincerity and appreciation and gratitude of the whole people of the city. 
 
This beautiful triangle of the public square will proudly wear upon its bosom this scintillating gem of marbled glory.  Standing here in the full blaze of day, as do the valorous lives of those it commemorates, private citizens will stop here and utter the name of Lee and Jackson and Johnson and Stuart and Hill and remember the patriotism of unnamed generals and colonels and captains and sergeants and private soldiers and the mothers of the Confederacy and resolve highly to love and die for home and country and government.
 
Judges, officers, lawyers, jurors, litigants and witnesses will assemble there in the Court House with a renewed sense of faith and justice and value of the right as they go in and out under the protesting aegis of this symbol of the Confederacy.  City Councils will enact ordinances to prevent, if necessary, the cankering, consorting, defacing, despoiling head of a sacrilegious and thoughtless vandal.  The entire population will hope and pray that earth quake may never disturb its foundations; that frosts may never crumble it; that storms may deal gently with it; that winters may never chill this lonely sentinel; that moon beams may rest lovingly upon it; that the dews of night may only refreshen it for the touch of the rosy-fingered moon;  that the sun's rays may kiss it, so long as Bristol shall stand, with a warmth kindred to our affection for it; that the flight of years may never show up on its face; and that electric light and rumble of wheel and purr of motor and shriek of whistle and hum of industry, may only reflect and bespeak the glow and glory of a new South trying to be a worthy successor to that old South, which could produce the mighty race of brave men and fair women of the Confederacy.
 
Now, with gratitude in our hearts, with sincerity upon our tongue, with uplifted hand, we became wedded to it and promise to love, honor, cherish, obey and protect it while it shall stand.  We take it unto ourselves as our own hence forth with gratitude to the patriotic donor.
 
Editors Note:  There has been increasing interest in the preservation of this statue over the past year.  A recent inspection of The Bristol Sentinel has found substantial deterioration to the statue which could eventually destroy it.  Several historical and civic organizations have noted the urgent need and are looking for ways of preserving one of Bristol's most visible historical treasures.  It is 86 years old as we celebrate Bristol's Sesquicentennial.
 
The address was given by W.H. Rouse (1875-1937), mayor of Bristol, Virginia.  The Bristol Sentinel was originally placed in front of the Old Bristol Virginia Courthouse in 1920 and later moved to its current location following the demolition of the courthouse.  The inscription on the platform reads: "Presented By Col J.M. Barker to the Chapter of The U.D.C. in Memory of the Brave Men and Noble Women of Tennessee and Virginia from 1861 to 1865."                                                           -Tim Buchanan

 

Hotel Porter Recalls 50 Years In Downtown Bristol
An Interview with Gene Brown
 
Gene Brown, a well-liked and respected McDowell Street resident, recalls his years as porter at the St Lawrence Hotel, Hotel Hamilton & the Hotel General Shelby.  He was born on a farm at Glade Spring Virginia and attended the Plum Creek public school.  Working for a short time at Glade Spring he came to Bristol in 1906 at the age of 21.  He got a job as a waiter at the old St Lawrence Hotel, a large frame building that once stood at the corner of Cumberland and Front Streets in downtown Bristol.  The structure was torn down in the late 1920's and on the same site the Hotel General Shelby was erected a short time later. 
 
Brown remembered well that the old St Lawrence Hotel, which was operated at the time by Jake Harrell, "had a big meal business and employed six waiters".  The price of the regular hotel meals in those days ranged from 25 cents to 50 cents and the price for Sunday dinners and for holidays was 75 cents.  "There were only a few good restaurants in town and hotel guests and most other people wanting a good meal ate at the hotels.  The hotel rates were on the American plan, ranging from $1.50 to $2 a day and night, including three meals a day, with .50 cents added for a room with a bath."  In those days the hotel noon and dinner meals were three-course affairs, with the menus including several kinds of meats and vegetables and desserts, salads and drinks, with homemade bread.  Mr.. Brown related that "nobody was in a hurry; people lingered over their meals taking their time at eating, talking and swapping stories as they enjoyed the good food.  The tips to the hotel waiter or porter usually were not more than a dime or a quarter, but it would buy as much as what a couple of dollars or more would bring today."
 
In 1908 the head waiter at the Hotel Hamilton down the street on Front Street, later the Hotel Virginia, and the wife of the hotel proprietor, Mrs.. W.P. Hamilton "asked me to take a job there as waiter, and I soon became the hotel day porter."  Brown said.  "The night porter at the time was Crockett Johnson and there were several bell men.  A that time the hotel employee who took charge of the guest and the luggage, starting at the railroad station, was the porter, and the bell man did the room service."  Later all the service men were classified as bell men.  He related that a number of years after he began his career as the hotel porter, a major source of income for the hotel porters in Bristol was in helping make marriage arrangements for the young couples who came here because the  marriage laws across the state line in Tennessee were more lenient than in various other states.  In Tennessee they could gat married without parental consent or "waiting periods" and other restrictive requirements if the boy and girl were over 16.
 
"While the Reverend Alfred H. Burroughs became famous as the "marrying parson" and he married thousands of runaway couples and also profited by renting rooms to them, first at the old Nickels House on State Street and later at his boarding house on Third Street, he didn't get all of the marrying business." Brown related.  "When a young couple got off the train at the depot, Parson Burroughs would always be there ready to take them in town, but lots of times the runaway couple would pass him up and approach one of the hotel porters.  They usually were ready to pay pretty good for help in arranging for the marriage ceremony."  One couple that Brown remembered, each about 16 years old from Oklahoma City were Methodists and wanted to be married by a Methodist minister.  Brown took them over to the lobby of Hotel Hamilton and the young man gave me the information that was needed, such as their ages, and while he went to get the license from Squire J.H. Swan on Sixth Street the couple hired a livery stable two-horse buggy and were waiting for me in the buggy when he returned to the hotel with the marriage license.  They were taken to the home of Rev. R.T. McDowell, where the wedding was performed.  Then they came back to the hotel, where the bride and groom spent the night before returning by train to Oklahoma City. 
 
At this period in the history of Bristol the hotel porters were standing on designed spots on the railroad station platform as each passenger train arrived in the city.  As the passengers preceded from the trains the porters would call out the names of their hotels, sometimes with a few additional words describing the advantages of their hotel services, ready to receive the luggage and guide the prospective guests to their hotels.  "My first calls at the depot, were Hotel Hamilton. . . ladies and gentleman, this way for Hotel Hamilton.  Once they stopped in front of me, I would take their luggage, put it in the Hotel Hamilton push cart and lead the way, pushing the cart ahead of me.  Sometimes I had as many as 16 pieces of luggage in the push cart and were escorting as many as a dozen guests to the hotel."
 
Gene Brown also stated that in those days prior to advanced motor travel and highway motels, when most traveling was done by train, the hotels were usually filled to capacity.  "A large percentage of the rooms were occupied by traveling salesmen, 'drummers' they were called, and the hotels had sample rooms, where salesmen could display their wares to prospective buyers."
 
Gene Brown was employed at Hotel Hamilton for 19 years.  When the Hotel General Shelby was opened for business in 1927, he was employed as head porter, a position he held for 28 years, until his retirement in 1955.  He also had activities outside of his work.  He was a member of the board of John Wesley Methodist Church on Lee Street since coming to Bristol in 1906.  He sang in the choir and for a long period of time he was a member of the "Over The Top Jubilee Singers" a mixed group of singers that gave concerts, including performances at the University of Tennessee and other similar institutions for 18 years.
                                  -Courtesy of Angie Weatherly, Newland NC

 

The Sweet Music Of The Bristol Burson Bell

By Tim Buchanan

  

Hidden from sight and yet an auditable reminder of an earlier time in Bristol is the historic Burson Bell, which has sounded the call to worship in the Twin Cities for over 130 years.  Reverend Zachariah Burson, one of the cities most colorful and industrious citizens, donated two bells which still bear his name a century after his death. One bell is in the belfry of the First Baptist Church in Jonesborough Tennessee.  Burson was one of the 35 charter members of the church in 1842 and donated the bell that has been in the same facility since 1852.  The second bell, and the larger of the two, can be heard from the belfry of Calvary Baptist Church on Broad Street for Sunday morning worship services.  This church has been the custodian of this historic bell for nearly 100 years.

 

Zachariah Burson was of Quaker descent whose family came to America with William Penn.  He was born at the foot of the Peaks of Otter near what is now Roanoke, Virginia in 1817 and the son of a Baptist minister.  As the youngest child of his family he left home early to find his fortune.  Being fascinated by wagoners his first venture was in the hauling business, with wagons traveling between Philadelphia and Atlanta.  Zach, as he became known, established warehouses for delivery and exchange of his goods.  It was not long, according to his daughter Amy Louise Burson Cotter, that his wagons and warehouses made his a wealthy man.  During the Civil War Burson’s fortunes dramatically changed when his warehouses in Atlanta were destroyed by General Sherman’s army.  With his property confiscated he had nothing left except a trunk of worthless confederate money.

 

After the war he went with friends to Washington DC to seek a pardon, according to an interview years later with his daughter.  “When President Andrew Johnson saw him in line of persons waiting to be received he took Burson aside for a lengthy talk”.  Zach and Johnson were longtime friends, for Andrew Johnson years earlier served as Burson’s tailor in Greeneville Tennessee and Burson was influential in the election of Johnson as vice-president of the United States.  It was President Johnson that advised Burson to come to the Tennessee-Virginia border at Bristol & Goodson to take advantage of the growing business climate.  It wasn’t long after his relocation here that Burson was wealthy once again.  He soon became one of Bristol’s first industrial leaders.  He owned Virginia Door and Lumber, leased property though out the community, served on the Goodson Virginia town council and was one of the first members of Exchange Bank of Goodson.  Although he had very little formal education he had a sharp business sense and constantly studied, later becoming an ordained Baptist minister.

 

For years Zack was a member of the First Baptist Church where he became embroiled in controversary with his view of public dancing and open communion.  He split with the church in 1871 and gathered a congregation of people who generally shared his views.  By early spring the Rev J.G. Talbert was chosen as pastor and bids were taken for a brick church, which Burson spared little expense to make the finest in the city.  In October 1872, the Burson Church was completed at a costly sum of $5,000, which fronted on Main Street at the present site of Service Mills & Kentucky School Supply.  After building the church Burson donated the bell, which he purchased for $539 from the Menelly Bell Foundry of West Troy, N.Y.  Put into position Friday, November 7, 1873, it was inscribed in bold roman letters, “This Bell donated by Z.L. Burson, In the year 1873, To the Holiness of the Lord, free.”  It was noted by the Bristol News upon arrival that “it was the largest and finest one in the country” and “the tone of it is superior to any other in town”.

 

The bell remained in the Burson Church until shortly after his death in 1894, when it was removed to the old First Baptist Church.  A coincidental conclusion to earlier hard feelings between Burson and the First Church.  Its stay there was short because plans for the new First Baptist Church sanctuary had no belfry, and it was moved once again to a Baptist mission on Chalmer’s Street, located near the present YMCA on Edgemont Avenue.  When the mission closed the bell was given by Burson’s widow to a new upstart church, the West Bristol Baptist Church, which just completed new facilities on Shelby Street.  Since then, for 100 years, the bell has remained with this congregation, later named Second Baptist Church, then Calvary Baptist Church.  This was not the Burson Bell’s last move though, as the congregation moved in 1932 to larger accommodations on Broad Street. 

 

Ole Zach had a sense of humor that rivaled his business and religious convictions.  He would tell people that the inscription on the bell read, “The Byrds may twitter and Kincannons roar, but I’ll make sweet music forevermore.” Many people, knowing his firm convictions and maybe his stubbornness, believed this inscription was engraved on the bell.  It was no secret that deacon Byrd and Rev Kincannon of the First Church would not easily be forgiven for the earlier confrontations.  Over the decades a version of the poem has become associated with Burson’s bell, and again thought to be engraved on the bell.  “Birds may twitter, and cannons roar, but the Burson Bell will ring forever more”.  A version that he would be no less proud of!

 

A man remarkable in life for his industrious nature was again remarkable in his death.  “He had a mild stroke in the spring of 1894 and though he regained full use of his body, and although his mind was never impaired in the slightest, his heart was never strong again,” according to his daughter.  He made arrangements for his funeral, picked a minister to conduct the service and stocked the smokehouse, pantry and coal bin to save his wife trouble when the time of his “going away” would come.  On the evening of September 11 he looked up at the clock and said, “When the clock reaches half past 9, I shall have gone to meet my maker.”  By order of their ages, the family proceeded by him to be blessed and to bid their goodbyes.  After the last of the children had left his side he laid down fully clothed to rest, and never awakened.  Looking at the clock, it was half passed 9.

 

Although his voice has been still for over a century, he, through his forever bell, is still reminding us of our past and calling the people of Bristol to worship, to service and to salvation.

 
A Short Introductory History of Bristol
As Presented At The Opening Ceremonies - March 3, 2006
Presented By Steve Hawkins, Master of Ceremonies
 
Had we been here 150 years ago, we would have had an incredible view.  From this vantage point in the early 1850's we would find livestock grazing on the meadow bottom known as King's Meadows, bordered by Beaver Creek just down the street (on the Virginia side).  There were many springs and areas along the creek convenient for the landowners field hands and servants to wade into the shallow water and get a refreshing drink and bath.  Standing out on State Street (on the Tennessee side), you could easily visualize rows of corn planted as far as the eye can see, supervised by the landowner, the Reverend James King.  Watching the daily progress of his field hands with his telescope from a brick house on the knob above Beaver Creek.
 
The historic Shelby Oaks can also be seen just yards south of this spot.  Sheltering the graves of the valley's first white inhabitants and revolutionary war hero, General Evan Shelby.  This ancient and hallowed oasis of that time was back dropped by the remnants of Fort Shelby, Evan Shelby's original settlement.  It was from this fort that the region was defended, began its commerce and welcomed the early frontier families.
 
It was on this very spot in 1852 that the son-in-law of Reverend James King, Joseph R. Anderson, began his endeavor of surveying this plush meadowland to build a town.  He was not shortsighted in his plans, as he anticipated the laying of track of the Virginia & Tennessee Railroad.  Not to be forgotten in this vision was Anderson's neighbor north of Beaver Creek, the colonel Samuel Goodson, a legislator from the Commonwealth of Virginia, who used his influence to be credited with the eventual route through Goodson's new town of Goodsonville and Anderson's Bristol.  In some form, these two neighboring communities were a marriage made in heaven, or maybe more appropriately Paradise.  In fact, a relationship better than most, which through the years of give and take on this state line of Virginia & Tennessee, established the Twin Cities that we love and honor in Bristol's Sesquicentennial year. Today, we celebrate the incorporation of Anderson & Goodson's vision for a community of equals, faith and commerce.  It is that vision that we commemorate and desire to perpetuate to upcoming generations.

The Founding of Bristol

By V.N. "Bud" Phillips

The heart of present Bristol Virginia/Tennessee is located upon land purchased in 1852 by Joseph R. Anderson from his father-in-law, Rev. James King.  It was bought for the express purpose of founding a town at the junction point of two railroads that were soon to come. 
 
The actual survey of what would long be known as the Towns of Bristol began just after sunrise on August 1, 1852.  The surveyor was Henry Anderson, a cousin of the town's founder.  One of his assistants was old Si Goodson, a slave of Rev. James King.  His legendary slave was reputed to be 120 years old at the time.  It was long told in the Anderson & King families that old Si had prophesied the founding of Bristol at least ten years before he assisted in this notable survey.
 
Soon after the survey maps were made and lots offered for sale.  Several contracts were made in the latter part of that year for town lots but deeds were not made until the purchase prices were paid two or more years later.  I consider this survey and offering of lots to be the real beginning of our city.
 
This town of Bristol was about evenly divided by the state line, with Bristol Tennessee lying to the south and the original Bristol Virginia located to the north.  This northern portion of the town joined a development known as Goodsonville, which lay to the north of Beaver Creek.  This latter development was founded by Col. Samuel E. Goodson.  In 1856 the original Bristol Virginia and Goodsonville were put together to form the composite town of Bristol, and was so incorporated that year.  In 1890 all the Virginia side of the city returned to the name Anderson had given his development in 1852.
 
This year we are celebrating the sesquicentennial of Bristol.  Many careful observers have noticed that though we are having a 150th anniversary both Bristol's are actually 154 years old.  This deserves an explanation.  The centennial celebrated in 1956, and I remember it well, was based on the incorporation date rather than the actual founding of the city.  For harmony sake the sesquicentennial was based on the date of that earlier celebration.
 
After that early beginning the growth of Bristol was rather rapid.  That growth has continued until we have the thriving cities that we know today.  Truly a great oak has from a little acorn grown.
 
Commentary on History: There has been considerable confusion over the years as to the founder, or founders, of present day Bristol Virginia-Tennessee.  No debate exists, that I am aware, of Joseph Anderson's founding of Bristol Tennessee, as can be documented in city records.  In addition to the above historical sketch, Joseph Anderson purchased 100 acres of land that was part of Evan Shelby's Sapling Grove tract which extended across the state line into Virginia to Beaver Creek.  This includes most of present day downtown Bristol Virginia extending one block east of the Bristol trainstation lot.  
 
Over 50 years earlier, in 1799, John Goodson purchased the other portion of Sapling Grove from the heirs of Isaac Baker.  This survey begins north of Beaver Creek and downtown Bristol Virginia.  His son, Colonel Samuel Eason Goodson, formed a community named Goodsonville Virginia on that tract of land adjourning Anderson's Bristol Virginia.  The original 1852 plats of Bristol & Goodsonville are clear on the borders of each community.  In 1856, due to complications with having an incorporated city in two states, Bristol Virginia and Goodsonville combined and were incorporated as Goodson Virginia, in honor of Colonel Goodson.  Controversy in recent years are the result of the confusion held in early Goodson.  Many citizen's in the town were still loyal to Anderson, whom they originally purchased their property from.  Who founded current Bristol Virginia, Goodson or Anderson? Technically both did, as both surveys overlapped in the same year.  The founding over the years has casually been attributed to Colonel Goodson, who definitely was the founder of Goodsonville. In spite of this, Anderson laid-out most of the land in urban Bristol Virginia & Tennessee.   More Later!                                                                                         -Tim Buchanan

 

The Bristol Centennial Of 1956

 by Tim Buchanan

 

The 1956 Bristol Centennial was one of the largest events in the history of both cities.  A Centennial Committee was headed by Dr. Guy Richardson and Mac King became the president of the board of directors of The Bristol Centennial Incorporated.  The giant celebration was under the direction of a professional production company, the John Rogers Producing Company, and climaxed for a ten-week celebration, May 26 – August 4.  The theme was “The Tale of Two Cities” taking the title from classic literature and the theme in the history of Bristol, Double Destiny, a book written by newsman Robert Loving.  The Centennial highlighted three major events with three parades, plus the Southeastern Band Festival, with hundreds of smaller citywide events. 

 

The opening activities on Governor’s Day, May 26, 1956, featured the Century of Progress Parade, and commenced with the grand entrance of Tennessee Governor Frank Clement on the Best Friend of Charleston, a replica of an old wood-burning Southern Railroad locomotive.  In commemoration of the completion of the railroad from Lynchburg to Bristol in 1856, and adjoining the Tennessee line, the cities staged the Driving of the Golden Spike with Governor Clement & Virginia Governor, Thomas B. Stanley.  On the same day Sullin’s College hosted a horse show, the Centennial Committee held a Cap & Ball Shooting match & citywide barbecue dinner at Monroe Park. The day ended with a street party on State Street emceed by Archie Campbell.

 

The Centennial celebration continued with a weeklong pageant, The Tale of Two Cities, depicting the history of the Twin-Cities, with a cast of a 1000 citizens.   The activities concluded on August 4 with a fireworks spectacular and the burial of the Centennial Time Capsule on the grounds of the then new Bristol Memorial Hospital.  This same capsule was removed to the Bristol Public Library decades later at the completion of the new Bristol Regional Medical Center located at their current site further in West Bristol.  Again it was unearthed and re-entered behind the new Bristol Public Library in January 2006.  A rededication of the Centennial Time Capsule will be held during the cities Sesquicentennial activities.  Fifty years after the Bristol Centennial many Bristol citizens still remember with much fondness the citywide celebration and forever label the event as the most successful production in the cities history.

Some Recollections of Bristol Around The Turn of the Century

By James H. "Jay" McCrary

1892 – 1990

Edited By Tim Buchanan

 

I was born in Bristol in the year 1892.  Our home at that time was at 410 Goodson Street and was near the planning mill operated by my father, James McCrary, and his brother, Samuel.  This mill was located on the corner of Goodson and Williams Streets, the present site of the Virginia Woodworking Company.  The McCrary brothers were also contractors and house builders, many of which are still standing today.  The mill site was leased from Major A.D. Reynolds and one of the early products of the mill were wooden caddies for plug chewing tobacco from the Major’s factories on Fourth Street.  The mill was water powered from the then relatively unpolluted Beaver Creek.  Having no facilities for burning them here was a troublesome accumulation of sawdust and wood shavings.  This was taken care of in part by the Diamond Ice Company for use in insulating carload shipments of block ice made in the plant located on Goodson and Virginia Streets along the sidetracks of the Norfolk & Western Railroad.  Another outlet was for the wood shavings were in local stables. Many families owned cows and stables on the back end of lots were a common sight.

 

I remember the first electric lights installed in our Goodson Street home – a single drop light from the center of the ceiling in each room.  No meters, a flat rate per light.  The current came on in the late afternoon and went off in the morning.  The light bulbs had a carbon filament and were of low candlepower.  In the early 1900’s Bristol was recovering from the collapse of the boom, which promised to make the area an iron-producing center.  Numerous furnaces were built in Southwest Virginia and East Tennessee.  The one at Bristol was owned by the Virginia Iron Coal & Coke Company and was located in the general area of the present Commonwealth Avenue.  I recall seeing the sky light up at night when a blast was made.  There was a roller mill in connection with the furnace, which produced shapes.  The coming of the high-grade ore from the Mesabi range spelled the doom of the industry in the area as the low-grade ore of this region did not permit competition. 

 

After the dismantling of the furnace area, which was known as the “Furnace Bottom,” became the favorite site for circuses.  I remember seeing “Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show” there – the highlight of the day was the street parade, in which our own Mr. Mack Cody rode at the head of the procession with his distinguished cousin (Wild Bill Cody).  After the closing of the furnace there was a considerable accumulation of slag which both sides of town used for street paving.  It was not very satisfactory, being only slightly better than mud.

 

A word about Bristol’s streetcars – the system known as the Bristol Belt Line Railway Company, was owned by Ben L. Dulaney, who was also interested in the Washington, DC system.  Bristol’s cars were largely one retired from the Washington system.  Some had wheels that were out of round so there was ample notice of their coming.  Some of the curves on the line were so sharp – as to require a liberal application of axle grease before they could be managed.  In later years Mr. Dulaney’s son, Fred, managed the lines, which ran from the end of Windsor Avenue via Main Street, Pennsylvania Avenue, Spruce Street and Georgia Avenue to the Holston Valley Railroad Station near the office of the present Cortrim Lumber Company.  On the Virginia side there was a line, which ran up Goodson Street and on Mary and Moore Streets, to the “Institute” (V.I. College) then back to Main Street, via Commonwealth Avenue.  No rapid transit – perhaps a little better than the Toonerville Trolley.

 

My earliest employment was as a helper in Carrico’s grocery store on Virginia Street next to the bridge across the creek  -  a far cry from today’s supermarkets.  No self-service.  You called for what you wanted and it was dispensed across the counter.  Very little pre-packaging – most items were sold in bulk.  Items such as lard, sugar, crackers, dried beans were weighed out to order.  Eggs were bagged, entailing quite a risk.  Mr. Herman Hecht had just started his bakery on Sixth Street and delivered his bread unwrapped – the popular name for his product was “bum bread”.  No big variety of detergents – you took your choice between Octagon and Fels Naphtha.  No cigarettes, but plenty of smoking and chewing tobacco – the favorites being Duke’s mixture and Brown's Mull (Brown Mule).  No variety of Cheeses – one brand “rat” cheese sliced to order.  If you used margarine you had to buy it in the white, the coloring came separately.  No dressed poultry, you had to buy your chickens live.  Fat back and streaked bacon could be had but for fresh beef and pork you had to go to the meat markets.  You may find it hard to believe but I recall my mother sending me to Moore’s meat market on numerous occasions to buy .15 cents worth of round steak.  Valleydale’s predecessors was Gauthier’s Abattoir located in the Willey Boom section.

 

The item I most disliked to handle was lamp oil pumped from a barrel into the customer’s container – it was hard to get the scent of the kerosene off your hands.

 

Another victim of the supermarkets is the wholesale grocery business.  At one time Bristol had several flourishing concerns among them being Huntsman Brothers, Faucette’s, Joe E. Lockett Co., and J.L. Crumley & Sons.

 

In the fall, covered wagons from Shady Valley brought apples to Bristol’s famous Jockey Lot for sale to the apple butter makers.  During the cabbage harvesting season the N & W railroad ran a special cabbage train from Rural Retreat to Bristol  - a larger part of this moved on south but a substantial amount found its way into local kraut barrels.

 

Some of the early Main Street merchants, Cody & Hedrick, later Hedrick Brothers, was the source of my early clothing needs – the purchase of a suit of clothes entitled you to a free pair of suspenders.  Mr. Joe Baker was the head clerk and a very popular gentleman.  Other clothing stores were operated by the Radunsky’s & Shuman and Perry’s.  Of course,  Kings (H.P. Kings) was the leading department store and I remember going there with my mother and being greeted by Mr. H.P. King.  King’s principle competition was the Farmers Protective Union, which was owned by the Nickels family.  Mr. Frank (Darby) Bunn’s newsstand and tobacco store was my source of supply for the funny papers and hot roasted peanuts - .5 cents a bag.  My father bought the Sunday New York American, which carried my favorite comic strips – Buster Brown, Katzanjammer Kids and Happy Hooligan.

 

A favorite evening pastime was a trip with my father to the passenger station for the arrival and departure of No. 42, known as the Vestibule.  This was before the erection of the present station and the building was a wooden structure known as the “Car Shed”.  At that time Bristol was the dividing point between the Eastern and Central Time zones, consequently the trains departed an hour earlier or an hour later then their arrival depending on the direction in which they were going.  There was a twin dial clock in the lobby of the St. Lawrence Hotel  - later on it was in the Johnnie Campbell’s barbershop in the General Shelby Hotel. 

 

Hotels were the Hamilton and the St Lawrence.  Both were on Front Street, facing the passenger station.  Bristol’s resort hotel, The Fairmount, was destroyed by fire in 1901.  In company with a number of other Virginia Hill Boys, I witnessed the burning from a vantage point on Graveyard Hill (East Hill Cemetery)Eating out was not common and there were few restaurants.  Billy Sandoe’s and Buck Everett’s Tip Top Restaurant was the leading establishments, originally on Front Street and later on Lee Street was Everett’s Café.  There were a few Greek restaurants.  I well remember the Busy Bee on State Street, between 4th and 5th streets, where you could get an egg sandwich for a nickel – with onion – if you wanted it.

 

A now vanished institution is the shoeshine parlor.  Hunter Edward’s establishment next to Buntings (Buntings Drug Store).  The price was .5 cents but many of the young blades got the feeling of being generous by paying a dime.  Hunter was quite a promoter and was the business manager of the Slater High School football team.  One year the team had an unbeaten record when the team went to Pulaski they lost by a lop-sided score.  When he was kidded about his team losing to the Pulaski boys, he retorted – “they weren’t boys” – when one of the Pulaski players was slow getting up, a little boy ran down the side lines and cried out “Did it hurt you, Papa?”

 

The old Harmeling Opera House was one of Bristol’s early cultural centers.  The principal offering was repertory companies offering a nightly change of schedule at the popular prices of ten, twenty and thirty cents.  My oldest brother, Joe, was a volunteer fireman and when he was on duty I got a free seat in the peanut gallery.  There was an occasional show of quality – the one I remember was the appearance of Henrietta Crosman, a star of that day.  For a time there was an open-air theater at the foot of the knobs at the end of Windsor Avenue owned and operated by Oliver Taylor and Jim Abe Cross.  This was known as the Airdome Theater (Clifton Heights).  For a few years the Bristol Chatauggua held forth in an open-air pavilion in the Fairmount Woods near the site of the present Fairmount School.

 

Bristol had several areas which could be rated as slums.  The principal ones were James Row, Burson’s Grove, Hell’s Half Acre, Buffum’s Stalls, Graveyard Hill and Hogtown.  The kindest thing you could say about them was to label them as substandard.

 

Bristol was the birthplace of Reynolds Metals.  After the discontinuance of tobacco manufacturing in the several buildings on Fourth Street, owned by his father (A.D. Reynolds), R.S. Reynolds had several promotions going there.  The first I believe was the production of Spotless Cleanser, a scouring powder the principle ingredient of which was white sand from the deposits near Mendota, owned by his father.  He employed a number of young high school and college graduates of the area as salesmen until he sold out to a nationally known competitor.  He then turned to the production of foil wrappers for Eskimo Pies, which continued until he moved his headquarters to Louisville, Kentucky.

 

Bristol lost its opportunity to become a tobacco market with the burning of Winston’s warehouse, which was located on Moore Street, near Cumberland.

 

The current interest in liquor by the drink brings to mind Bristol’s early involvement, which ranged from wide open to bone dry.  At times one side of the town would be wet and the other dry and there were other periods when both would be wet.  The total involvement was when E. Gouge operated a distillery, which was located in northwest Bristol.  One of the products was Happy Valley Corn Whiskey – not as famous as Jack Daniels’ Sour Mash but an area favorite.  Among the saloonkeepers were Mr. M.B. Rush, Joe Berry, Sam Keller, Abe McClellan, Miller and Will Lea.  Mr. Rush’s Phoenix on Front Street was perhaps the most pretentious while Abe McClellan’s First and Last Chance on West State Street excited the most interest.

 

Hospital services were meager and confined to two old residences on 10th Street under the supervision of Miss McGoldrick.  But there was a Pest House for the care of smallpox patients located in the woods in North Bristol in the general area of the present Virginia High School.  Survivors of the disease, being immune, were available to act as nurses.

 

From the age of twelve years I had a continuing experience as a carrier boy for Bristol newspapers.  My first was with the Bristol News, a four page afternoon newspaper published from a one-room plant on Moore Street, one block from the Main Street.  The equipment was basic and limited, the type being hand set.  The publishers were A.C. Smith and his son S.W.C. Smith, and Frank M. Bickley was the lone reporter.  Incidentally, the subscription price was ten cents per week.

 

My next venture was with the Bristol Courier, which was being published from a two story building on Shelby Street next to the Elks Club.  The first floor was given over to the pressroom and business offices – the second floor to the composing room and linotype machine, but the rest of the equipment was anything but modern.  The press was an old flatbed hand-fed affair, requiring a double run to get both sides of the paper printed.  When I first started to work, the carrier boys had to fold their own papers but later a folding machine was added.

 

The editor was Charles M. Slack, a very articulate gentleman with an outstanding command of heavy rhetoric.  Others in the editorial department were Napoleon B. Remine and Charles J. Harkrader.  Charlie Harkrader was destined to become a dominant figure in Bristol newspaper life but at the time he was a reporter at the munificent salary of $15.00 per week.  I recall that there was a lot of activity around the Courier at the time of the San Francisco earthquake, the only time that I recall when an extra edition was printed.

 

Life as a carrier was not easy.  I had to leave home around 4:00 a.m.   Street lighting was meager, consisting of a single light at scattered corners, making it necessary to carry a lantern.  Rubber boots were a necessity in the winter.  When the Courier was sold to the Herald, I went along and continued my association in various capacities – mailing room employee, collector, etc., well into my King College days.

In closing, I would like to make a comparison between King College from 1908 to 1911 when I was enrolled there and the college of today.  The college was located on Fifth Street, the present site of Beecham Laboratories (King Pharmaceuticals).  There were two buildings, with an enrollment of around 75, with a faculty of five.  King College of today has achieved status as an outstanding Christian institution under the able leadership of Dr. Donald R. Mitchell and Dr. Jack Snider.  The enrollment is more than 500 and the campus is impressive and the E.W. King Library is second to none.  The college today is one of Bristol’s greatest assets.