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Kingsport turns 100

Tatum Metcalf, Staff Writer

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Kingsport, sometimes called the “model city” or “magic city,” has turned 100 years old. Citizens attended many festivities to celebrate this anniversary.
Jeff Fleming, the city manager of Kingsport, believes the city is celebrating its birthday in style.
“There are four signature events,” he said. “A New Year’s Eve Party, the city’s actual birthday on March 2, the ‘Kingsport Pops’ with a symphony and fireworks on July 4, and the Centennial Park dedication in November, just in time for the Santa Train and parade.”
Vince Staten is a freelance writer who has written manyarticles and books about Kingsport’s history. He is interested mostly in the stories from the past.
“My interest comes from growing up here in Kingsport,” said Staten.
Brianne Wright is the City of Kingsport’s archivist who started her interest in history early on in her life.
“History was always one of my favorite subjects in school, but in college I chose to study Anthropology,” she said.
“I knew that I wanted to go back to school, so I started exploring post-graduate studies and came across a program in archival studies and I knew that was going to be my next path. It was the perfect program for me as far as combining so many of my interests in history, especially local history, and preserving that history.”
Brianne Wright and Vince Staten both stated that the name “Kingsport” is attributed to either James King or William King. Both Kings built shipping ports on the Holston River. There is still an ongoing debate about which of the two gave Kingsport its name.
“George L. Carter was the first to see Kingsport’s potential,” Wright said. “Without his land and his work to bring the railroad through here, Kingsport as we know it may have never of happened.”
Kingsport was founded by George L. Carter, and later, J.Fred Johnson and John B. Dennis Carter was not very happy with the way he was treated in Bristol, Tennessee, so he bought some land, which is now part of Kingsport.
“George L. Carter had to sell his stake when his investments in Kentucky and elsewhere went sour,” Staten said. “J. Fred Johnson would be the builder, since he took over development after Carter sold out. John B. Dennis would be the rich uncle, whose New York firm ‘Blair and Company’ backed those early developments.”
Carter was then broke, so he gave his plans to J. Fred Johnson and John B. Dennis to finish planning and building the city.
“Kingsport was the first thoroughly diversified, professionally planned, and privately financed city in twentieth century America”, according to “Kingsport, Tennessee: A Planned American City” by Margaret Ripley Wolfe.
The people who founded Kingsport aren’ t the only ones who made an imprint in the history of Kingsport. One of Kingsport’s most famous stories actually focuses on an elephant.
“Mary, the star attraction of the Spark’s Circus, was leading the elephants down East Sullivan toward Mad Branch for water when she spotted a watermelon rind in the ditch.” Staten said. “She stopped to pick it up. Her trainer, who was new with the company, was riding on her and poked her behind the ear with a sharp stick to get her moving.”
This lead to quite the reaction from Mary.
“She didn’ t like it, reached up with her trunk, wrenched him off, threw him to the ground and stomped on him,” Staten said. “He died instantly.”
This wasn’ t the first time Mary had been behind someone’s death.
“Newspaper accounts from the time suggest that Eldridge was Mary’s eighth victim,” Wright said. “There were attempts to kill ‘Murderous Mary’ by gunfire, but it would not put her down. It was decided that Mary was to be hung, but Kingsport didn’ t have the means to carry it out. The railroad in Erwin had a derrick large enough to do it, so Mary was shipped to Erwin to be hung.”
Wright’s favorite story from the history of Kingsport is of the Eastman Aniline Plant explosion in 1960. The explosion killed 16 people and injured 400 more. “The stories of people rushing to the hospital to volunteer and donate blood and the general response from the community,” are her favorite part of the story.
“It was a terrible disaster but what followed showed the nature of this community and how everyone came together,” she said. “The explosion has become one of those moments in time that people remember where
they were and what they were doing when it happened.”
This is one of the times that Kingsport truly showed the “Kingsport Spirit”.
“‘Kingsport Spirit’ essentially meant ‘all for one and one for all’ : cooperation among locals on everything to build the best city they could,” Staten said.
Why should middle-schoolers care about Kingsport’s birthday and the ‘Kingsport Spirit’?
“Students should know that they are only a few generations removed from the people who actually created something: a city, a city that endures and prospers,” Staten said.
Wright thinks it is important for Sevier students to care abouttheir city because it is a good time to be involved with the community.
“I think a lot of the plans for Kingsport’s next 100 years willbe rooted in the last 100,” Wright said. “Kingsport is continually growing and strengthening itself as a thriving community. Kingsport is highly focused on education and bettering the lives of its citizens. I cansee that sense of pride and community dictating what is to come. I hope in another 100 years, people will look back and continue to treasure this community and its beginnings.”
According to city manager Fleming, Kingsport is on track to have another great one hundred years in the future.
“With increased technology, broadband, and satellites, rural areas are becoming popular to young people,” Fleming said.“They’ re looking for places where they can have a great quality of life, excellent schools, unlimited outdoor recreation options, and access to the outside world. Kingsport is well-positioned
for the next 100 years.”+

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Hundreds of students. Thousands of stories. The Sequoyah Scribe.
Kingsport turns 100