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Kingsport creating new park along Holston River

KINGSPORT — The Model City is expanding its recreational reach to the banks of the Holston River later this year with the creation of a 24-acre park.

Riverbend Park will be built behind the Walmart Supercenter on Fort Henry Drive, stretching from Riverbend Drive to Wesley Road, according to conceptual drawings provided by the city.

Riverbend Park is a project that’s been in the works for more than six years, dating back to 2015 when First Southeast Development, an Alabama company that built Riverbend Villas apartments, donated 24 acres to the city. In return, Kingsport built a road to the property and installed a traffic signal at the intersection with Fort Henry.

Kitty Frazier, the manager of the city’s Parks and Recreation Department, recently gave an update on the project to the Board of Mayor and Aldermen, telling city leaders she hopes to go out to bid on the first phase of the park in August.

That phase will include a half-mile walking trail along the river, a fishing pier, parking spaces near Wesley Road, and emergency access to the site. Construction could begin between October and December and take about 120 days to complete, according to information provided to the BMA.

The estimated cost of Phase One is $725,000.

“If we can go out to bid by late summer or early fall, we hope folks can be able to use the park by next summer,” Frazier said.

Kingsport has designed Riverbend Park to be a multi-phase project, one that can be developed over a 5- to 10-year period. Conceptual drawings show the park having roughly 2,646 feet of riverbank access with gateway entrances at both ends of the trail. The drawings also show the park with various play areas, pavilions, restrooms, benches, scenic spots and interpretive signs spaced at various locations along the river.

“What makes it exciting are the components: the fishing pier, boardwalks, nature play spaces. It will be different from anything else we currently have,” Frazier said. “Riverfront Park has been so popular and one of the premier areas to go for recreation for many decades. This (park) provides another park with that same special, recreational experience.”

Watch now: Restoration of Rogersville's historic Powel Law Office is now underway

ROGERSVILLE — Workers got quite a bit done in one day as Phase One of the restoration of the historic Powel Law Office began Wednesday and then was interrupted by rain on Thursday.

An archaeologist is required to be present when excavating takes place on the job because the 1800s-era log building is directly adjacent to a historic cemetery on Washington Street in downtown Rogersville.

Jeff Bobo — jbobo@timesnews.net 

An archaeologist is required to be present when excavating takes place at the Powel Law Office because the 1800-era log building is adjacent to a historic cemetery on Washington Street in downtown Rogersville.

Rogersville Building Inspector Steven Nelson told the Times News on Friday that the contracted archaeologist isn’t available to be in town until next Wednesday, which is when work is expected to resume.

Nelson, who oversees historic preservation in Rogersville, met the Times News at the Powel Law Office Friday to explain what work has already taken place and what will happen next when Phase One continues.

The first objective was to shore up the log walls, which was accomplished by attaching weather-treated 2-by-6 boards with large metal screws.

Rogersville building inspector Steve Nelson, who oversees historic preservation in Rogersville, met the Times News at the Powel Law Office Friday to explain what work has already taken place, and what will happen next when Phase 1 of the restoration continues.

“Now it’s really locked together,” Nelson said.

The wall stabilization was needed so that crews could begin working underneath the building.

“We went down into the basement and there was quite a few broken floor joists that were logs,” Nelson added. “We’re going to be putting three beams in, but we went ahead and already got some of those up, which took a lot of sag out of the floor. When they do come back, they’ll be putting the beams underneath and more posts holding the beams up to stabilize the floor, because the floor is not really locked into the logs.”

Later workers will remove all the loose foundation stones all the way around the building, except for the four corners, which is what is actually still holding the walls up.

A person who specializes in historic masonry will then put the foundation stones back in place.

“We’re going to be putting in as much of the original limestone as we can, and we’ve got some more limestone coming so it will look just like it did in 1804, or whatever year it was built,” Nelson said.

Nelson added, “A lot of the rocks have come loose, slid out, and the mortar is gone between them. We do have a fellow working on this project who specializes in this, and he’ll be putting those stones back exactly the way they would have done it in the 1800s. The same mortar. The whole nine yards.”

Last month the Rogersville Board of Mayor and Aldermen approved a low bid of $49,666 from RJR Management Inc. to restore the Powel Law Office’s foundation and stabilize the walls.

The city received a Tennessee Historic Commission grant for the project, which requires a 40% local match. That puts Rogersville’s portion of the cost at approximately $23,500.

Samuel Powel

The Powel Law office was built by congressman, judge and Rogersville attorney Samuel Powel (1776-1841) who was one of Rogersville’s most important early residents.

In 2019. Tennessee State Historian Dr. Carroll Van West from Middle Tennessee State University completed a study on the Powel Law Office, stating that the building is historically important because it represents a family that significantly impacted Hawkins County and Tennessee history.

This is the view of the Powel Law Office from the grave of Samuel Powel. Powel's son, Robert Powel, is buried in front of him (with the Confederate flag). Robert Powel was the first Tennessee Confederate soldier killed in the western theater outside of Virginia during the Civil war. He as shot off his horse by a Union sniper in Barbourville, Ky. in 1861.

Van West said the structure has many important stories to tell, and he described it as a rarity.

Although there are no surviving records, West estimates the date of construction at 1806 based on the year Powel began his law practice in town.

Powel, as well as many of his family members, is buried in the adjacent Presbyterian cemetery, about 100 feet from the building. There are links to previous articles with greater detail about the history surrounding Powel and his family in the online version of this article at www.timesnews.net.

City leaders were hoping to get a new 1800s style roof installed with the Phase One grant funding, but the increase in building material costs caused by the pandemic made that impossible.

Later phases will involve completely gutting the interior and rebuilding it in the original 1800s style, including the removal of electrical and plumbing hardware.

As a result, Phase Two will likely include the new roof, replacement and repair of logs that can’t be salvaged, and replacement of the chinking with a substance identical to what would have been used when the building was constructed.

Later phases will involve completely gutting the interior and rebuilding it in the original 1800s style, including the removal of electrical and plumbing hardware.

Although the first phase should be completed within the next few weeks, future phases will depend on the availability of grant funding.

Once completed, the building will be used for tourism, although specific uses haven’t been decided.

Assignment inspires ETSU nursing student to push for KATS improvements

An assignment in a class at East Tennessee State University turned into an opportunity for Kingsport native and nursing student Aaron “Max” Chesser to advocate for additional seating options and sheltered coverings at Kingsport area bus stops.

During the spring semester, Chesser was enrolled in ETSU’s Community and Public Nursing course, taught by Dr. Cindy Phillips. In this class, Phillips requires students to complete a “windshield survey,” in which they conduct an informal survey of people in an environment or community of interest. Usually these reports are used by health care professionals to propose a targeted plan for something the community needs or wants to improve upon.

“This is an important assignment for nursing students because it gives them the opportunity to critically evaluate communities and things that impact the health of communities they live in,” Phillips said. “Students tend to focus on health care, but this literally takes them outside the proverbial box and lets them evaluate businesses, construction, food sources, schools, transportation, health care access and more.”

Chesser, who wants to pursue travel nursing after he graduates from ETSU in December, decided to focus his attention on his hometown.

“My windshield survey allowed for me to dive deeper within the Kingsport community and make organized observations that I never noticed while living there,” Chesser said. “I realized that one way it could improve is by adding more seating options and sheltered coverings at the Kingsport Area Transit Service (KATS) bus stops.”

He observed that additional shelters and seating could offer physical safety and promote health and wellness by protecting citizens from weather and providing a place of rest for the aging or those with disabilities who are waiting for the bus. He also noted that adding sheltered coverings and seating options could increase community engagement amongst diverse social backgrounds.

As he completed the windshield survey, his observations became more than just an assignment to Chesser.

“After conducting research for the assignment, I learned of all the negative effects that not being able to use public transportation has on the physical and mental health of a person, especially if that person has a disability,” he said. “I also thought about how I would feel if I saw a loved one sitting on a curb in the rain with a handful of groceries waiting for a bus, and that was very upsetting to me. Many people who use public transportation have a disability and can feel vulnerable at times, so I thought this could be one way of showing them that they matter, and they aren’t alone.”

So after he presented the assignment to his class, Chesser decided to find out if he could do more. A graduate of Dobyns-Bennett High School, he reached out to a former teacher to find out the best contacts with whom he could share his research. Through this contact, he was invited to present his findings to the Kingsport Neighborhood Commission.

On April 29, Chesser was invited to present to the commission and to the transit planner of the Kingsport Area Transit Service. As a result, a Kingsport alderman asked Chesser to send his presentation so that she could present it to the Kingsport city manager and to other community leaders.

“We look forward to meeting with Mr. Chesser regarding the services we provide,” said Chris Campbell, KATS public transportation manager. “Additionally, we appreciate his interest in helping the community and increasing personal independence. Mr. Chesser’s observations regarding seating and shelters coincides with a transit study recently completed by Jarrett Walker and Associates reviewing KATS’ efficiency and connectivity. This plan shows that there are considerable tradeoffs that transit network design requires when determining the best way to reach and serve the most people.”

Chesser was excited to learn that KATS will soon have new technology on board each bus that will report where riders get on board, are dropped off, what the peak times of travel are, and provide real time vehicle capacity. This information will give planners more robust information about how the system is used and where to strategically place new investments.

Currently, there is money budgeted for new passenger stops and benches, Campbell added. The locations will be selected using the new ridership data. The two newest shelters were placed in April 2021 as part of the Stone Drive sidewalk project.

In addition, Campbell pointed out that KATS takes great pride in helping individuals obtain and sustain their independence through the fixed route bus service and Dial A Ride van services. Through partnerships with state, federal, and local agencies, KATS is able to offer these services to individuals with disabilities, senior citizens, people with health issues, those needing transportation to their jobs, and others who choose to utilize KATS out of personal preference.

“It was so inspiring to see how quickly and compassionately the Kingsport community leaders were willing to help me in this process,” Chesser said. “I’m very optimistic and could not thank the ETSU College of Nursing and the many Kingsport community leaders enough for their support in my efforts to improve the accessibility of the Kingsport Area Transit Service.”

Phillips said it is gratifying to see Chesser take what he learned from his windshield survey to try to make a difference in his community.

“Max’s presentation was exceptional; he’s an excellent student, and we are very proud of him,” Phillips said.

To learn more about KATS services, visit www.kingsporttransit.org. To learn more about the ETSU College of Nursing, visit etsu.edu/nursing.

Enjoy community and unity at Tri-Cities Juneteenth Festival

A regional event where the community can experience cultural diversity while learning about the history of Juneteenth, African and “Affrilachia” culture will be held on June 19.

Who: Redemptive Life Foundation

What: Tri-Cities Juneteenth Festival

When: Saturday, June 19

Where: Memorial Gardens Park, 1625 Fort Henry Drive, Kingsport

“We believe that this festival is one of the most important within the Tri-Cities, as our goal is to bring people together to celebrate the emancipation and liberation of our ancestors, to provide historical education about the Juneteenth holiday, and to highlight both African culture and the unique ‘Affrilachian’ community that makes our region special,” said Keira Moore Majeed, executive director of the Redemptive Life Foundation. “We know that true change can only be achieved by working together.”

If you go: The event will feature entertainment, vendors and concessions, and folks are encouraged to bring a lawn chair and enjoy a day of unity and community.

Kingsport starting pitcher Peyton Carson hurls a pitch in Sunday’s game. Even though he allowed allowed four runs, he received the no-decision.