Elizabethton treasures worth preserving

Published 8:22 am Monday, October 21, 2019

Elizabethton has some treasures worth saving and protecting. They include the historic Covered Bridge, the Bonnie Kate Theater, and the large Fraser fir located across from the Courthouse on the lawn of the Carter County U-T Extension Office.

This evening an event is planned downtown to raise funds for the restoration of the Bonnie Kate Theater. The BBQ, Blues and Brews Festival will be held in the Covered Bridge Park, beginning at 5 p.m. Money raised from ticket purchases in addition to donations will be used to apply for matching grant money to restore the old landmark to a beautiful and useful space for Elizabethton and Carter County.

The Bonnie Kate was built in the Classical Revival style of architecture and opened in the spring of 1926. It was owned by Mrs. Olivia “Ollie” Hogue Brown, a coal baroness from Bluefield, W.Va.

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The theater opened to a full house of 500 enjoying the showing of a silent film. During the 1930s and ’40s, a live local music show called “Barrel of Fun” was broadcast by two radio stations to a listening audience reported to be in the millions in the southeastern United States. The theater was later converted to a split screen and rocking chair seating was installed in 1969.

Many have fond memories of the theater…it was where they saw their first movies, spent Saturday morning at matinees, and was a place to go on Friday and Saturday nights with your best girl.

Slowly, but surely the Bonnie Kate is being made into a showplace again, and is already hosting events for all ages. We look forward to the time when it once again will be the place to meet up with friends on the weekend for a night on the town.

Another treasure that this summer has received the attention of City leaders is the historic Covered Bridge, which is visibly leaning. The estimated cost to repair the bridge is $1 million.

The Covered Bridge, which connects Hattie Avenue with Third Street, is considered by many to be the quintessential part of the city itself. The bridge was built in 1882 for a total cost of $3,300. A large sum, especially in today’s dollars. However, the bridge was needed at the time because of Doe River’s frequent flooding hampering expansion to the south to create what is now the downtown section of the city.

The bridge has long survived its functional use. It is closed to all but foot and bike traffic and is the scene of many public events, such as weddings and musical gatherings. The bridge is also celebrated for one week each June during Covered Bridge Days.

The bridge is among fewer than a thousand like it remaining across the country and requires constant maintenance. This requires constant fundraising and vigilance. If we just accept it as a given part of the landscape and we don’t actively maintain it, it’s going to go away.

Built to meet a need — crossing over the Doe River — now the covered bridge serves the community in a different way. It is a calling card for the counties’ tourism industry.

Now, an effort is underway to save the historic Fraser fir, Elizabethton’s official Christmas tree. The nearly 80-foot tall Fraser fir located across from the Carter County Courthouse in Elizabethton has become infested with balsam woolly adelgid, tiny bugs that can kill fir trees.

The tree, which was first planted in the 1860s, is lit up each year for Christmas.

County Commission took steps this week to save the tree with certified arborists examining the tree and taking tissue samples for study, which will be used to assess how much damage has been done to the tree, the best way to attack the problem and ongoing treatments over the next few years to ensure that there are no further problems.

It is hoped the tree can be treated with pesticides, and that the treatments can be completed before the annual Christmas Tree Lighting in just a few weeks.

Saving the tree would be a great Christmas gift to the community.

All three — the Fraser Fir, the Covered Bridge, and the Bonnie Kate have a special place in our community’s history and are worth preserving.