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It's Time to Establish Permanent Museum(s) in Bristol

August 04, 2010

BORDERNEWS: The Twin-Cities have come a long way in the past 20 years in efforts to preserve the heritage of the city. The accomplishments are many, which include the Paramount Theatre, Bristol’s Union Railway Station, the Bristol Tennessee Post Office, facades in downtown Bristol, a host of country music endeavors and much more. We have turned the corner to again value the history of the city. Many historic buildings and just the thriving atmosphere in our downtown verify that efforts decades ago are now bearing fruit and the entire region now sees Bristol as the place that preservation & community pride is working effectively. It is no longer a secret what is happening here!

That being said, though we have turned the corner we are faced with the reality that a segment of those heritage projects are endangered. Yes, I’m referring to the development of museums in both Bristol’s. Cities much smaller than our own have profited greatly by tourism dollars and have found greater value by documenting a communities past and enrichment of the arts. It is not that worthy projects have not been envisioned or begun, but rather have stalled due to the lack of planning or funding, or both. There are at least five proposed museum projects currently in the works in Bristol. Foremost, the Birthplace of Country Music Museum on Cumberland Street on many levels will be the most visible and most apt to be completed in upcoming years. This project, which will bring national visibility to the Twin-Cities must receive adequate support from the community and the cities or risk the impression of complacency. We can’t let that happen!

Other efforts include the Bristol Fire Museum, which already has property leased from the city of Bristol Virginia on the corner of Moore and Scott streets. Dr. Michael Fleenor and a dedicated group of retired fireman regularly meet in an effort to make this happen, but funds have not materialized. The E.W. King Mansion on Anderson Street is a project spearheaded by the Bristol Historical Association. This beautiful 1902 Queen Anne was the home of one of Bristol’s most prominent business leaders. It is estimated that this project will require in excess of two million dollars to restore the massive house. This project was begun a number of years ago by removing apartments and replacing the roof which cost approximately $90,000, plus recent reconstruction to several massive chimneys. Another historical association property is the notable Robert Preston house at Exit 7. This circa 1790 residence was designed after the Smithfield home in Central Virginia and home to one of Southwest Virginia’s most prominent families. Robert Preston was appointed surveyor of Washington County in 1779 by President Thomas Jefferson. This homestead could tell the story of late 18th Century life along the old Island Road and be a fabulous educational retreat for students similar to Exchange Place in Kingsport and the Carter Mansion in Elizabethton. This dwelling is owned by the association, but the property will have to be purchased or the house moved to an alternate site. There is also an effort to develop a museum in the Bristol Train Station focusing on rail history and commercial & agricultural development in the region. This endeavor has vision and also needs appropriate funding to make it a reality.

This list does not include other potential projects in the community or a few noted accomplishments, like the Tennessee Ernie Ford birthplace or the Peacock Museum that is dedicated to African-American history. It does include valuable projects that would give tourists, students and the community a place to go to learn about our heritage. We have hundreds of thousands of tourists that visit Bristol for race weeks and the Rhythm & Roots festival but there is not a museum or public attraction open regular hours to tell our story or to entice savvy tourists to spend their time and money in the Twin-Cities. That continues to be one of the greatest complaints of our city. It has been an oversight throughout the years, but now is the time that we consider the benefits and make some viable and concrete plans. We need to support worthy projects and see them to their successful conclusion; and possibly pass on others. In fact, it wouldn’t hurt at all if we supported each other’s projects just to make them happen — success breeds success. Funding dollars have not been tighter, yet Bristol has the opportunity to take the next step and build upon the heritage projects that we already have under our belt. It’s time that we plan for the future!

BorderNews/Tim Buchanan — August 1, 2010
The E.W. King Home/Anderson Street