Otis Eldridge looks over a replica still in this file photo. Jeff Bobo.
ROGERSVILLE — After a three-year hiatus, Memory Lane owners Otis and Kathy Eldridge are ready to start making some new memories by reviving their annual Memorial Day weekend car show and 1950s nostalgia festival.
The two-day Memory Lane festival, which hasn’t been held since 2010, is back on the calendar for the Friday and Saturday before Memorial Day, May 23-24.
That Friday evening kicks off downtown Rogersville’s annual monthly Cruise-In season — but with so many classic cars in town for Memory Lane, it’s also one of downtown Rogersville’s most anticipated events of the year.
On Saturday, the classic car/nostalgia show at Memory Lane lasts all day, with live music, open access to the entire grounds, and of course, a lot of cool cars. Memory Lane is located on Caney Creek Road just north of Rogersville.
The last festival was in 2010, and that was also the biggest show in the history of Memory Lane with more than 1,000 show cars in attendance and an estimate 10,000 spectators.
The show was called off 2011-13 for various reasons. In 2011, a hail storm inundated the Eldridges’ auto body shop with damaged vehicles, and he didn’t have time to organize. By the next year, Random Rods’ membership was beginning to decline, which meant there weren’t enough volunteer workers to pull off the event.
There was an attempt to revive the festival in 2013, but the Eldridges ran out of time.
This year all the pieces are back in place.
“The main reason we had to cease the show was we ran out of help,” Otis Eldridge said. “Random Rod Car Club ran the show, and membership kept declining year after year. The car club is having meetings monthly, and we grew enough members to bring back the big show.
“Hopefully it’s a fun event for a lot of people, but it is also a good fundraising day for some of our nonprofit organizations — fire departments, Boys and Girls club, Cancer Society — different things. I really hated that our hiatus affected their fundraising, but we think we’re back on track, and God willing, we can keep it going for many years to come,” he said.
The seed that sprouted Memory Lane can be found on display in the old country store. In the late 1990s, Otis Eldridge bought an antique coffee grinder from a country store he visited frequently as a child in Blackwater, Va.
That prompted him to build a replica country store in his back yard to put the coffee grinder and other antiques on display.
The country store was stocked with everything that an old country store would have sold in the 1950s.
After the store was built, the Eldridges began moving existing buildings, as well as adding new construction to Memory Lane.
They relocated a stainless steel diner that was built in 1941 in Marion, Va., followed a Texaco Station built in 1952 in Bristol, Va.
Slowly, Memory Lane began evolving into a living museum, with a new attraction added every year.
They moved a 1949 model Lustron prefabricated home from Rogersville to Memory Lane and furnished it with antiques.
Every attraction on Memory Lane is stocked full of antiques.
A few examples include a Ford dealership showroom, a Plymouth dealership, a Quonset hut airport, a country church, a school house, antique Ferris wheel, a carousel, a UFO of unknown origins, a real moonshine still donated by a previous Hawkins County sheriff, a junk yard that would make any car collector drool and a Sputnik sign that used to be at a truck stop in Bean Station.
“Main Street” includes a body shop, TV repair shop, City Hall/police station with a Mayberry-style two-cell jail, a bowling alley and the Roxy Theater complete with the marquee from the original Rogersville theater.
The Memory Lane festival started as a get together of friends on the Saturday before Memorial Day. When the Rogersville-based Random Rod Car Club got involved in the early 2000s, the festival started growing. The first year with Random Rods on board had 150 show cars, and the number grew every year to 300, and then 450, 500, 800, topping out at more than 1,000 in 2010.
Otis Eldridge admits you don’t always realize what you have until it’s gone.
“When we ceased having the show, the phone started ringing from (car show participants in) Alabama, Georgia, Wisconsin, Indianapolis, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, South Carolina — the last year we held it we had 19 different states represented, including one car from California,” he added. “This show attracted show cars from all over. I thought people were telling me how much they enjoyed the festival to make me feel good because it’s on my property. But after we quit having it, we really sincerely saw how much they did enjoy it.”
Admission to the show is free. Nonprofit organizations sell food. More details about the show will be released to the press around the end of April.