Kingsport Mayor Dennis Phillips, center, and others prepare to cut the ribbon on the Allandale Amphitheater on Sunday. (Photo by Jeff Bobo)
KINGSPORT — With hundreds of people lining the grassy hillside behind Allandale Mansion Sunday evening, the Symphony of the Mountains christened Allandale Amphitheater with a stirring rendition of the national anthem — officially launching a new era for the Kingsport landmark.
Construction of an amphitheater has a been a goal of the Friends of Allandale (FOA) since 1996.
What really kick-started the project, however, was a $150,000 contribution made in 2008 by the late Dr. Harry Wesley Coover Jr., a longtime Eastman chemist, inventor of “Super Glue” and a former FOA board member.
Coover, who passed away in 2011 at the age of 94, wasn’t seeking gratitude for his donation.
In the final lines of a poem written and recited by Coover’s grandson Dr. Eddie Paul during Sunday’s ribbon-cutting ceremony, Paul said, “To build a place of substance was his desire; a stage for oratory, theater and melodies bright; that you all enjoy this special eve, is all the thanks Harry and his family need to receive.”
Coover’s generosity inspired many other people to contribute to the amphitheater project as well. Whether that contribution was financial, or in the form of services, Sunday’s inaugural “Music at the Mansion” was in their and Coover’s honor.
“A lot of blood, sweat and tears by a lot of folks, but the greatest thing about it is it brings a new venue to Kingsport,” said Monty McLaurin, chairman of the Kingsport Chamber of Commerce. “It brings the arts to Kingsport, and I know that it’s something we’ve looked forward to for so long. (In the) beautiful setting of Allandale, and through the commitment of so many people, this now is going to happen.”
Kingsport Mayor Dennis Phillips was on the program as a soloist during Sunday’s concert.
The mayor also helped dedicate the new amphitheater prior to the concert, wielding the big scissors during the ribbon cutting and identifying another major contributor to the project.
“This whole facility was in need of repair, and I made the statement at the BMA meeting one time that we had to do something because it was going to take millions of dollars to get this facility back anywhere close to where it needed to be,” Phillips said. “After they told me it would not take nearly that much money, Leland Leonard of Armstrong Construction came down here for a fraction of that and improved this facility tenfold. Leland, I want to say I know you went the extra mile, and I know you spent money out of your pocket, and I know you made the city look good.”
The amphitheater was designed by Kingsport Architect Alan Dryden, whose father designed Allandale Mansion.
During Sunday’s ribbon-cutting ceremony, Dryden introduced Paul, who spoke on behalf of the Coover family.
“I can only say that Dr. Coover is smiling up there,” Paul said. “This is the realization of a great project, and thanks to everybody who has been involved. ... As an old Kingsporter, I’m glad to see this day has come.”
Prior to the ribbon cutting, Paul read a poem he’d written in honor of the event titled “A Double Sonnet Upon a Stage at the Port of Kings.”
A video including Paul’s recitation of that poem, as well as highlights and extra photos from the ribbon-cutting ceremony and concert, can be viewed online at www.timesnews.net.
“Any time you do something that involves this many people, it has to be good for the city,” Phillips said. “I hear people say occasionally there’s never anything to do in Kingsport. I would challenge those people to follow me around for about two weeks and let me show you how many things there are to do in Kingsport. This is just another example of the many, many things we have to do.”