History of downtown Christmas lights dates back to 1934

Published 9:17 am Monday, December 8, 2014

Photo by Brandon Hicks Christmas lights are already in place and ready to greet visitors to downtown Elizabethton.

December 1934 was an exciting time in downtown Elizabethton as merchants for the holidays decorated Elk Avenue and the Monument area with Christmas lights.
When the call went out the first week of December, 16 merchants (according to the Elizabethton Star) quickly jumped on the bandwagon to decorate the complete length of Elk Avenue with strings of red and green lights — at least 15 or more strings.
The plan, initiated by the Chamber of Commerce, put initial expenditures at $300. The East Tennessee Power Company agreed to install, remove and care for the lights each year.
Among merchants jumping on the bandwagon early were Sterchi Brothers, Montgomery Ward, J.C. Penney’s, The Vogue, Harville’s, Taylor Drug, S.E. Nelson Jewelers, Ritz Theatre, Elizabethton Hardware, Carriger and Ledford, Gov. Taylor Hotel, Slagle’s, Hathaway Funeral Home, Harry Burgie’s Drug, and the Elizabethton Steam Laundry. (All of the stores are gone with the exception of Burgie Drug and Hathaway Funeral Home, both of which have different owners).
Others joining in the effort were Rikard’s Style Shop, City Drug, Citizens Bank, Bill Shop, Red Store, Goss Furniture, Watson’s, City Market, C.W. Schmitt Jewelers, Jack’s Lunch, Carter Furniture, Texas Studio, Brumit’s Service Station, Perry Bros. Meat Market, Gas Co., Parks-Belk, Watauga Chevrolet, Paty Lumber, East Tennessee Light and Power, Tom Speropulus, Jerry Thomas, Pin Money Shop, J.L. Moore Department Store, Mountain Spring Water Co., and Intermountain Telephone Co.
The strings of lights stretched from building to building across Elk Avenue from the Monument to the intersection with F Street. Also, two strings were placed across Sycamore Street in front of the Bonnie Kate building. Power lines were attached to the strings of lights and the main switch was attached to a light pole at the intersection of Elk Avenue and Sycamore Street.
T.J. Rikard, local merchant and originator of the idea for holiday lighting for the downtown, was selected to turn the lights on, “giving downtown Elizabethton a touch of holiday atmosphere that it never had experienced before.”
Under the direction of Mrs. J. Frank Spires, enough donations were collected in the eastern part of the business district to place colored lights on and near the Monument and to place a Christmas tree in the circle around the Monument.
Among those in that part of the town who contributed to the cause were Elizabethton Steam Laundry (additional subscription), Smith and Chambers, George Edens, George Angel, Matson Folsom, F.H. Anderson, G.D. Hayes, R.L. Bowles, Smith Furniture and Elizabethton Star.
The lighting of the downtown for the Christmas holidays has continued each year — a tradition that has continued for 70 years and has been expanded with the Merry Christmas greeting atop Lynn Mountain, the Fraser fir lighting and lights in the historical district, on E Street and Sycamore Streets.

Editor’s Note: This story was first printed several years ago in the Elizabethton STAR, but is being re-printed at the request of a reader who wanted to know the history behind the downtown lights.
The present decorations, which include the lights mounted on the utility poles, came at the urging of Harvey Anderson, former councilman and Elizabethton School Board member. The lights were increased to include E Street, parts of Main Street and Sycamore Street, and the displays in the downtown area.

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