100 years and counting: Kingsport officially opens Centennial Park

Rick Wagner • Updated Aug 26, 2017 at 1:52 PM

KINGSPORT — From almost 1 year old to almost 101 years old, thousands turned out for Saturday morning’s ribbon cutting at Kingsport’s Centennial Park and the unveiling of its kid-friendly water fountain.

“I was born and raised in Kingsport,” said Lou Hawk, who is to turn 100 in November and sat on the front row of lawn chairs in front of the stage for the event.

Jo Morrison, wife of the late Hall Morrison, a former Tennessee Eastman CEO, and Hawk had impromptu interviews with emcee Josh Smith of Newschannel 11, WJHL.

Morrison will turn 101 on Sept. 10.

“It’s all up to the good Lord,” Morrison said of her longevity, saying she’s had support of her friends and family. “I’ve been blessed.”

Smith said, “You look better than I feel.”

Those who attended could view the circular walk around the fountain that highlights Kingsport milestones as well as a wall of tile representing the city’s transportation history. Students from Lincoln Elementary and Dobyns-Bennett High schools made the tile displayed on the side of the restroom and pump house building, explained Jim Harlan of the Kingsport Community Foundation.

People also got free Moon Pies from that Chattanooga-based business and Cheerwine from Salisbury, N.C. Both brands, like modern Kingsport, date back to 1917 and are celebrating their 100th anniversaries. A food truck rodeo also was part of the event, as was a church choir performance, face painting and a D-B band and Carla Karst performance of the national anthem.


Students who made the tile and Mayor John Clark cut the ribbon on stage, followed by the formal activation of the water fountain that quickly drew children and a few adults to take a walk on the wet side. 

Jackson Baker, who turns 1 on Sept. 2, experienced the fountain with some help from Kingsport Chamber of Commerce CEO Miles Burdine.

“It’s all about improving the quality of life for people in this town and the surrounding area,” Clark said before the ribbon cutting at the $1.8 million park, which he said is a gift to current and future city residents. It was funded with city money, grants and private donations.

“This park is a very special accomplishment,” Clark said.

He credited the “Kingsport Spirit” and a “can-do attitude” of aiming high for the project’s completion.

“We are One Kingsport. We appreciate you. Enjoy your park,” Clark told the crowd.

Brenda White-Wright, chairwoman of the Legacy Committee, also known as the Park Committee, said the initial suggestions for a feasible and sustainable project included placing a statue as the dominant and only feature in the park.

“We didn’t want it to be a statue,” White-Wright said of what became the fountain. “This park is for the young at heart.”


Another kid-friendly addition will be showcased Nov. 17. A “Spirit of Generosity” sculpture, including a life-size Santa from the Santa Train, will be unveiled a day before the annual Santa Train and Christmas parade. It will include a caboose on which people can have a photo opportunity with Santa. It will be funded with help from the families of Santa’s helpers who over the years donned a red hat and suit to ride from the coalfields of Kentucky and Virginia to the Model City.


City Manager Jeff Fleming thanked, among others, the current and past Boards of Mayor and Aldermen for the project, for which planning began under the administration of former Mayor Dennis Phillips. Former Mayor Jeanette Blazier also was involved. 

“No single thing gets accomplished in one term,” Fleming said, adding that officials “carry a baton” for one section of the race and then pass it off to the next runner. Fleming said it also was fitting that Armstrong Construction, which won the bid to build the park, also celebrates its 100th anniversary this year.

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