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Straight Down The Middle

The state of Virginia has a long southern border, going east from the Atlantic, the major length of the border being North Carolina. It touches many states and next to the west end there is a special connection to the state of Tennessee and that’s an awesome point of interest.

The last several years, Bristol has become noted for having the NASCAR Speedway, thus, many more people have become familiar with the city.
The most unique thing is that right in the middle of downtown Bristol is the Virginia /Tennessee border so the main street is called State Street. One side adheres to the laws of Virginia; the other follows the laws of Tennessee. When cigarettes were popular, everyone went to the Virginia side to buy for they were about 25 cents a pack… more in Tennessee.

One year we heard that State Street, the main drag, had the traffic set to be going one-way. That would make it nearly impossible to stop a traffic violator for all he would have to do is move into the next lane… that belonged to the other state. Needless to say, if they tried that, it failed for traffic is both ways now, as usual.

On the east end of State Street is a sign originally erected around 1910. It was always there and finally, with it’s new motto, it was placed high across State Street at the railroad crossing. It reads: BRISTOL VA. TENN. A Good Place To Live.

This is the town where Tennessee Ernie Ford was raised. He was a radio announcer there at one point in his life. Whenever there was a fire, the whole town heard an alarm. Then all you had to do was turn on your radio and hear Ernie say something like: “Robert C. Boswell and Company brings you the location of the fire for which the alarm sounded a few moments ago.”

He would give the location and residents would wonder if people rushed to where the fire took place.

During winter snows, there was a big difference in how each state reacted. On the Virginia side of town, out came the snow plows as soon as snow became a problem. On the Tennessee side, snow plows weren’t av-ailable to come to the rescue.

Your friends in a town like this are wonderful! You do things together, like sharing an outdoor barbecue on a nice breezy day, going to Crystal Pool… (wonder if it is still there?), hiking through the mountains, going to Abingdon for a Barter Theatre production.

Oh, and speaking of the Barter Theatre, many famous stars had their beginning there… like Gregory Peck of To Kill A Mocking Bird. The theatre began in 1933, in the middle of the country’s great depression. The idea grew from Bob Porterfield, when on Broadway, theatres went dark and actors found themselves out of work. Farmers were stuck with crops they could not sell. That’s when Porterfield came up with a plan to bring actors to Abingdon to barter their performances for farm goods. Admission was paid by locals with their farming items. Hence, the name Barter. He said, “with vegetables you cannot sell, you can buy a good laugh!”

Actors were kept busy onstage and off. If they weren’t a part of a current play, they contributed to the theatre’s success working on scenery, collecting props, directing, and working in the cafeteria at the Barter Inn where members of the troupe boarded.

There’s so much more to a town like Bristol, and surrounding areas. It was a great place to grow a family. I… a long time resident of central Florida… love where we live and often say of Bristol…  “It’s a great place to be from!”


Kitty Maiden is a staff writer for Seniors Today.