Lights add Christmas spirit to downtown Elizabethton

Published 10:18 am Monday, November 10, 2014

Photo by Brandon Hicks For more photos visit

It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas in downtown Elizabethton.
Every year, shortly after Halloween, several light displays are installed at various areas surrounding the historic downtown district. Treasurer of the Holiday Lighting Committee, Joe Alexander, estimates over 100 displays are attached to the street light poles and close to 12 larger free standing displays are set out during the holiday season.
“For some people, it is just not Christmas until the lights are on in downtown,” Alexander said. “The people do enjoy the lights. They give a warm and festive feel to downtown during the Christmas season.”
Alexander said the lights have been a part of the downtown area for many years. The displays were given a makeover in 1998 after Harvey Anderson, who was a member of city council at that time, felt that the decorations were in need of repair. Alexander explained the previous lights had a plastic tinsel-like material attached to them that made them age faster in the weather.
“The older lights were worn out and they looked horrible,” Alexander said. “Harvey spearheaded the effort to get new lights in downtown. He secured a donation from the city and the county and several businesses and individuals made donations for the lights.”
The displays were replaced after Anderson approached city council — and what was then the Elizabethton Electric System — and asked for funding to help cover the cost. City Council appropriated $10,000 and the electric system contributed $5,000 the first year.
To help cover the remaining costs, local churches, businesses, individuals and organizations gave donations. Alexander said several churches made donations to purchase the nativity scene on display at the Elizabethton/Carter County Chamber of Commerce.
“People were generous with their donations,” Alexander said. “We had several donations that were $500 and $1,000 all the way to $1,200.”
Alexander also noted that Cleo Reed, Larry Verran and Richard Tester were heavily involved with the light displays. Verran, who worked with the electric department, mapped the location of all the poles where the lights could be attached.
In 1999, the committee added some new displays but has been focusing on maintenance and repair ever since.
It takes around $6,500 per year for maintenance and storage of the lights, Alexander said. He noted that while the city and the people of Elizabethton own the lights, they are stored and cared for by Charles Rotenberry and his son, Jerry Rotenberry, of Twin City Decoration and Novelty Company in Bristol.
“He stores them and refurbishes them if they need repair,” Alexander said. “He does a lot, and he is always really good to help out if we need him.”
To help cover the cost of the lights, the committee makes requests for donations. The committee starts focusing on fundraising efforts in late summer and throughout the fall months, soliciting contributions through ads and letters to those who have previously donated to the committee.
“We also solicit the downtown businesses,” Alexander said. “I send out letters every year to people who have contributed in the past. We try to keep it low key because they are hit with fundraising requests year round. We have always met our goal though.”
Alexander noted there are several individuals and community groups that make regular donations to the Christmas light fund — many before the annual letters are mailed.
Donations to the Christmas light fund can be mailed to: Holiday Lighting Fund, 612 East Elk Ave., Elizabethton, TN 37643. Donations can also be dropped off at the same address.

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