Elizabethton is home, this is where we belong

Published 8:07 am Monday, June 10, 2019

As the summer season gets into full swing, there will be a lot of activity downtown, beginning with the Covered Bridge Festival next weekend. This year’s festival will be held on Friday and Saturday, only.

The festival began as Country Music Days in Elizabethton and was a weeklong festival, consisting of music on the Elk Avenue Bridge each night in addition to a variety of other activities.

In addition to the festival, the Elizabethton Twins will be coming to town this month and will kick off their season Tuesday, June 18. Following the game, there will be fireworks at the park.

Subscribe to our free email newsletter

Get the latest news sent to your inbox

Also, there is the downtown car show each Saturday evening, beginning at 5 p.m. And, the Concerts in the Park at the Covered Bridge are back for another season. All concerts are scheduled for 7 to 9 p.m. and Stem Winder is scheduled to perform this week.

Also, Evenings on Elk will return Friday evening, when there will be music with many of the stores staying open until 9 p.m.

The first Evening on Elk in May drew a large crowd to the downtown to check out the sights and sounds and to eat and socialize.

Although the Elizabethton downtown is not what it used to be it has new shops, sights, and sounds, and even new flavors.

Many remember the days when Elizabethton was the place to go on Saturday evenings with S.H. Kress, F.W. Woolworth’s, Parks-Belk, JC Penney, Watson’s and numerous other stores to shop at on Elk Avenue. There were movie theaters to catch a show on Saturday mornings and each evening. But then something happened. Shopping centers, malls, and bigbox stores lured not only customers from the downtown but many of its businesses. And, small towns like Elizabethton have had to remake themselves.

Small towns such as Elizabethton are vital threads in America’s fabric. Not only is it a place to shop, to gather on Saturday evening and show off old cars and socialize, it’s a place of good will, neighborliness, courage, tolerance, and a place where people still wave and speak to one another. It’s in a small town such as ours that these traits are best transmitted from one generation to the next.

Elizabethton can trace its roots back to a man named Col. Charles Toncray, who was a politician at heart and served in the Tennessee General Assembly. After the Civil War, the Colonel directed his efforts toward building a town in Elizabethton. He was a merchant and real estate agent and more than any citizen of Elizabethton was responsible for bringing the Cooperative Town Company to Elizabethton. Elizabethton was a mecca of social activities. Even though the town was small, the people did things in a big way. It was not unusual for the train to make special runs to Elizabethton from Johnson City and Bristol, carrying party-goers to and from special events.

Col. Toncray, as he was known around town, spent a fortune and gave untiringly of his time, energy, and thought to the Cooperative Town Company. His home on the east side of town was a social center, and he and his wife entertained all the promoters of the Town Company.

The Cooperative Town Company bought up property for development, giving as much as $75 for an acre. It was during this period that the Line and Twine re-located to Elizabethton from Rhode Island and for the next 60 years operated here. A bank was opened on Elk Avenue, telephone service and electric lights were acquired for the town, and special excursions from Washington, D.C. to Elizabethton were planned for the Cooperative Town Company to visit Watauga Valley, the Cranberry Mines, the Doe River Gorge, Iron Mountain, and the city of Elizabethton “to see what a wonderful city we have.” A hotel — the Watauga Inn — was built, and later, the Lynnwood Hotel.

During this period, new businesses and industries were recruited to the town, and for about 10 years the Cooperative Town Company flourished. Although the land company folded, the town remained a vibrant and commercial business center until the Sixties and Seventies when the bubble began to burst for many small downtowns like Elizabethton.

But, every town needs a reason to exist. Humans come together where geographic conditions are favorable to particular enterprises. But over time, places change as their reasons for existence change. That is the story of every city — Elizabethton included.

Our small town of Elizabethton has gone through big changes: most notably, the decline of the industries that the city was founded upon, and the influx of residents who work in neighboring cities or moved here after retiring from jobs elsewhere.

The first people who lived here didn’t come for the scenery, nor because there were jobs, or a vibrant place to shop. For the Indians and American pioneers, the Doe River and Watauga River, and the mountains were transportation and food sources. They were settlers, immigrants, and people looking for a new life and a place to call home.

It still is the place we call home. We were a good place in the past and our best hope for the future lies not in raising the price of entry, but in sending invitations to those who will make our town and community better.