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Historic Bristol Sign turns 100!

January 20, 2010

Historic Bristol Slogan Sign Reaches Century Mark in 2010

In recent years Bristol has had many reasons to celebrate. In 2006 the city commemorated with year-long events for its sesquicentennial, in 2007 we commemorated the eightieth anniversary of the famous Bristol Sessions, and just last year the 100th year of the Bristol Chamber of Commerce. With the New Year comes news that Bristol’s most unique landmark will be reaching the century mark and a city-wide party is in the works. Since last fall, representatives of the business and civic community have been meeting to organize the festivities.

The Bristol Sign has an exciting history dating back to some of the very earliest electric signage in the region. Erected in 1910 the sign was originally perched on the top of the Interstate Hardware Building on Third Street by the Bristol Gas & Electric Company as a gift to the cities. The original letters had a similar placement to the current one, except the slogan read, PUSH, THAT’S BRISTOL. This slogan was coined by then Bristol Board of Trade president, Charles M. Brown. This advertising slogan was confirmation to all that Bristol was a progressive city, “pushing” business and industrial development. Within a few years, in 1915, the sign was moved intact to its present location over State Street. In 1921 the sign had a make-over and the slogan was changed to “BRISTOL, A GOOD PLACE TO LIVE” after a city-wide campaign to rename the sign by the Bristol Advertising Company. Jim Cecil, the president of Interstate Hardware, had the winning entry out of over 200 submissions. Though there have been efforts to dismantle the aging sign over the years, the historic sign remains and has become an endearing and a unique landmark in the region. In 1988 it was accepted to the National Register of Historic Places, one of only 30 signs nationwide, and it was reconstructed the following year.

The sign is unique to the region as the most recognized illuminated sign in the Mountain Empire, but nationally it would also be unique as a rare example of early electric signage promoting a nationally recognized city slogan. According to Tod Swormstedt, director of the American Sign Museum in Cincinnati Ohio, it is also “unusual for a sign as large as this to be self-standing” and not mounted on a rooftop as most early signs. He noted that there are many early electric signs still in existence, primarily “early rooftop examples along Broadway (the theatre district) in Los Angeles”, but the Twin-City sign is also noteworthy for its condition. Most vintage signs of this era have long passed their usefulness and either rusting away or kept for their antique value, but the Bristol Landmark continues its purpose in downtown Bristol as it did 100 years ago, promoting one of Bristol’s advertising slogans. For nearly ninety of those years it has boasted “Bristol, A Good Place To Live”. “There is nothing out of date with this message”, according to Tim Buchanan, chairman of Celebrate Bristol, who is organizing the Bristol Sign Centennial Celebration. “This is a sign that came from the brink of demolition in the 1970’s and now is more valuable in marketing the city than anytime in its history.” Buchanan reiterated that “the sign, irregardless of its national significance, is of enormous value to the Twin-Cities as it is the one structure that ties the community together in the heart of the city.”

Plans for the citywide celebration will be unveiled in February, but organizers are looking for vintage photographs and memorabilia using the image of the sign and city slogan. They are searching for images of the Bristol Sign from throughout the years, especially photographs of the earlier slogan (1910–1921), “Push, That’s Bristol.” If you have access to such memorabilia or if there are questions on the upcoming celebration, please contact Tim Buchanan at (276) 669-3885 or drop by the Bristol Chamber of Commerce during business hours. Copies can be made if originals need to be returned. If your business is interested in becoming a sponsor of the upcoming celebration request a sponsor package. A number of businesses are actively participating and sponsorships will be accepted until the first of February.

Bristol Slogan Sign Centennial Committee:

Tim Buchanan Celebrate Bristol

Les Hilbert Celebrate Bristol

Bethany Wilson Believe In Bristol

Lisa Meadows Bristol Chamber of Commerce

Jennifer Wilson Bristol Chamber of Commerce

Joyce Kistner Bristol Historical Association

Mike Browder Bristol Tennessee Essential Services

Clayton Dowell Bristol Tennessee Essential Services

Wes Rosenbalm Bristol Virginia Utilities

Gail Childress Bristol Virginia Utilities

Terrie Talbert City of Bristol Tennessee

Kevin Dye City of Bristol Virginia

Merle Dickert Paramount Center for the Arts

Shelby Edwards at large

Ann Goodpasture at large