Downtown Bristol shows off rich history

Published: Apr. 13, 2023 at 5:47 PM EDT
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BRISTOL, Va. (WDBJ) - Bristol is making headlines as the home of the new Hard Rock Hotel & Casino. But its rich history and resilient spirit are also catching the attention of visitors.

Driving on State Street or exploring alleyways downtown, the stories aren’t hard to find. Some are rooted in the city’s history as the Birthplace of Country Music.

Others are built on the businesses that persevered through hard times and are now fueling a downtown revival.

Clint Holley with The Earnest Tube said, “I love it. I love the history. I’m a country music fanatic. And this is it. This is ground zero.”

Consider The Ernest Tube just around the corner from the Birthplace of Country Music Museum. With a nod to country music pioneer Ernest Tubb, Holley uses vintage equipment to record musical performances on lacquer discs, much like the recording sessions in 1927 that produced the Big Bang of Country Music.

“The idea that you have to sit down in front of the microphone and record your song, and you can’t change it after it’s done, appeals to a lot of people,” continues Holley. “It scares a lot of people at first, but once they get into it they realize it’s this moment in time and I think that part of it’s important.”

From there, it’s just a short walk to the Paramount Bristol, once a classic movie palace.

“In 1981, they vanished. They didn’t let anybody know, they just left,” said Mark Andrews with Paramount Bristol, now a concert venue and performing arts center that has played a starring role in downtown revitalization.

Andrews continued, “We’re eight years shy of a hundred years. I don’t know how you don’t think of Paramount Theater and the beauty and the history of what it’s brought to downtown Bristol.”

If you’re hungry for more history, and a memorable meal, said Joe Deel with the Burger Bar, “A lot of history here at the Burger Bar. We’ve been here since 1942.”

Perhaps best known as the place where Hank Williams was last seen alive, the Burger Bar is popular with locals and visitors alike.

“Not many places like this around,” said Deel. “And I’m going to keep it running as long as I can.”

And then there’s L.C. King Manufacturing, still family-owned after four generations.

Jack King with L.C. King Manufacturing said, “So we’re really excited to have a 100% made-in-the-U.S. clothing garment that we offer our customers.

More about that as we follow up Bristol’s history Friday.