Otis Eldridge looks over an antique coffee grinder from an old country store in Blackwater, Va. Eldridge was fascinated by the coffee grinder as a child, and when the country store closed, he bought the grinder. Lacking a place to display it, he built a replica of a country store in his back yard, sparking the construction of the town of Memory Lane. Photo by Erica Yoon.
ROGERSVILLE - For two days later this month, Otis and Kathy Eldridge's "Memory Lane" on Caney Creek Road north of Rogersville will be the most populated community in Hawkins County.
On May 26-27, the Saturday and Sunday of Memorial Day weekend, the Eldridges will open up the 1950s nostalgia town they've built in their back yard to the world.
Otis said last week he has added a second day to this year's sixth annual "Cruising Down Memory Lane" car show and nostalgia fair because the attendance has been so high the last couple of years.
In the past, the event has been on the Saturday of Memorial Day weekend. But with about 10,000 spectators making their way to that rural section of Hawkins County, Otis and Kathy decided it would be best to spread it out over two days.
"We don't know if two days will work, but there were quite a few people who said they couldn't make it on the Saturday," Otis told the Times-News last week. "I think a two-day event will bust it up and make it not such a huge crowd on Saturday. And there's a lot of people who said they have plans one day or the other, so by making it two days hopefully we can get more people up here while at the same time cutting down the crowd size a little bit."
Every year Otis and Kathy like to add a couple new attractions to Memory Lane to give their visitors something different to look at. That will be the case again in 2007, although Otis admitted he hasn't done as much as he'd hoped to.
The family has been dealing with some illness this year, which has kept them busy. And with less than two weeks before the actual event, they're squeezing a year's worth of work into only a few days.
The most prominent new addition this year is a vintage 1940s carousel that was donated by a woman in Charlotte, N.C.
The carousel is located on the hill above Memory Lane behind the Ford dealership and beside the Ferris wheel.
Visitors will also notice a shiny flying saucer on the grounds, which Otis said he built "for the fun of it."
He's also added a little log cabin that formerly sat out in front of a hotel in Gatlinburg and will now serve as Memory Lane's official schoolhouse - complete with vintage desks and other old-timey school furnishings.
The schoolhouse is located along the little gravel road below Memory Lane beside the field where the car show takes place.
That little gravel road is also home to a reproduction of an old church the Eldridges built three years ago, as well as a reproduction of an uncle's house where Otis was born in Blackwater, Va.
The house, which was constructed last year, has also been newly filled with the actual furnishings that Otis' family had when he was growing up. Otis said many of those furnishings had been passed on to family and friends over the years, and when he began building Memory Lane those family and friends donated the antique furnishings back to be put on display.
Otis and Kathy began building Memory Lane in 2000. As a child Otis was fascinated by the antique coffee grinder in an old country store in Blackwater.
When the store closed he bought that coffee grinder, but he didn't have a proper place to put it on display. So he built a replica of an old country store in his back yard, and aside from the coffee grinder filled it with other antiques that would have been found in a country store in the 1950s.
That coffee grinder was the seed that sprouted Memory Lane, which continues to grow every year.
Otis and Kathy's home is at the top of the hill facing Caney Creek Road, and Memory Lane is secluded on the back side of that hill out of view from the modern world. Memory Lane is literally stuck in a time warp where the calendar never reaches 1960.
There's a long list of vintage attractions that have been added since the country store was built.
A 1942 model stainless steel diner where Otis ate breakfast while serving in the military in Marion, Va., was moved to Memory Lane and is fully functional complete with jukebox. There's also an actual 1950s Texaco station originally built in Bristol.
Otis and Kathy saved from destruction a post-WWII prefabricated Lustron home that had been in Rogersville. They moved it to Memory Lane, furnishing it with vintage antiques.
The Lustron home sits on the hill flanked on one side by the "Eldridge Motor Court" - several antique mobile homes - and on the other side by Rogersville's old Roxy Theater with the original marquee.
A few other attractions include the covered bridge that connects the parking area to Memory Lane; Ford and Chevrolet dealerships complete with vintage automobiles in the showrooms; a "commercial district" complete with jail, bank, doctor's office, body shop and TV repair shop; and countless other antique attractions too numerous to name.
"I know it's crazy, but we really love the '50s and I guess that's the main reason we did all this," Otis said. "People seem to enjoy it. For people who lived in that time it might help bring back some good memories, and for younger people it gives them an idea of the way the country used to look.
"We just enjoy showing everybody a good time."
The schedule for Saturday is pretty much the same as it has been in the past. Visitors are welcome to start arriving around 10 a.m., and the car show will be ongoing throughout the day along with continuous live music.
Two special performances include a Patsy Cline impersonator and an Elvis impersonator. Elvis begins at 8 p.m., and after his show there will be a "hot rod" movie shown at the Memory Lane Drive-In Theater.
Everyone is also invited to attend church services at Memory Lane Sunday morning. Otis is especially proud of the "circuit rider" he has coming in Sunday for the morning service - "motorcycle preacher" Vick Young who will hold a service at the country church beginning at 10:45 a.m.
Gospel music will be the main entertainment for Sunday, as well as another full day of car show activities.
The Striggersville Volunteer Fire Department will be providing food concessions, with all proceeds to benefit the fire department. Any profit made from the car show registration fees will be donated to the American Cancer Society. Last year the Eldridges turned over about $3,000 to the American Cancer Society.
Admission to the event is free.
Memory Lane is located a few miles north of Rogersville. From Highway 11-W turn north on Route 70 and continue for about a mile to the Caney Creek Road intersection, which is a left-hand turn from the northbound lane. Memory Lane is about four miles west of the Route 70 intersection.