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Mark the date: Santa Train gift distribution set for Nov. 20

KINGSPORT — The 79th annual Santa Train event will take place on Saturday, Nov. 20, Santa Train sponsors announced on Wednesday.

Due to ongoing concerns about COVID-19, and considering the amount of advance time it takes to make plans, organizers said they will once again hold drive-thru distributions at four Food City locations rather than host a traditional, multi-stop running of the train.

“Planning the Santa Train takes several months, so the decision to hold our drive-thru gift event was made out of an abundance of caution in light of ongoing concerns about COVID-19,” said Bryan Tucker, vice president of Corporate Communications at CSX. “We look forward to continuing the tradition of giving back to the area and are pleased to spread holiday cheer and lift spirits this November.”

CSX partners with Food City, Appalachian Power, Soles4Souls and the Kingsport Chamber of Commerce to keep the Santa Train tradition going for thousands of people in Southeast Kentucky, Southwest Virginia and Northeast Tennessee.

The 79th annual Santa Train event will mirror last year’s drive-up celebration with 5,000 holiday gift backpacks being distributed at four Food City stores located near the 110-mile rail route the train has traveled in the past. Last year, hundreds of the region’s residents received backpacks filled with winter accessories and toys donated by First Responders Children’s Foundation.

Team Santa Train will deliver gifts to the following Food City locations from 8 a.m. until 10 a.m. on Nov. 20:

• Shelbiana Food City

2138 S. Mayo Trail, Pikeville, Kentucky

• Clintwood Food City

410 Chase St.

• St. Paul Food City 16410 Wise St.

• Weber City Food City

3004 U.S. 23

Attendees will be directed through a line to pick up gifts from their cars to minimize contact.

“In 2020, we were able to see how CSX, Food City and many other community partners could come together in order to hold this special event in Appalachia, no matter the circumstances,” said Raymond Stockard, store manager of the North Eastman Road Food City in Kingsport. “Everyone here at Food City is proud to be a part of this wonderful tradition, and we are thankful to play a part in helping our community celebrate the holidays.”

Miss Kingsport, Miss Sullivan County to be crowned Sunday; advance tickets available

KINGSPORT — The Miss Kingsport and Miss Sullivan County Scholar- ship Competition will take place on Sunday at 2 p.m. at Ross N. Robin- son Middle School.

Miss Tennessee 2021 Tally Bevis, who was crowned two weeks ago in Memphis, will be in attendance and will be available to sign autographs.

This Fun Fest event is an official preliminary of the Miss America competition, which celebrates its 100th anniversary this year.

Reserved seating tickets ($20, including a program) can be purchased from any contestant or at Taylor Hamilton Insurance, 708 E. Sullivan St. General admission tickets ($10) are available at the Fun Fest Store. Programs will be sold at the event for $7.

Organizers urged early ticket purchases because the venue is smaller than in past years.

The Miss Kingsport and Miss Sullivan County Organization received two awards at the state pageant: overall best pageant production and highest scholarships awarded in the state.

“We credit those recognitions, especially the highest scholarships awarded, to our local businesses for their support of our organization,” Executive Director Mary Hamilton said.

The event will culminate with the crowning of Miss Kingsport 2022 and Miss Sullivan County 2022.

The two will hit the ground running the next morning, making appearances at Fun Fest events throughout the festival’s run.

They also will spend the next year performing community service, making appearances and preparing to compete in the Miss Tennessee Pageant in 2022.

This year’s contestants are: Madelyn Hayes, Marissa Mitchell, Madison Mitchell, Aleah McCoy, Ashtin Pierson, Lauren Ross, Eliza Sanders and Taylor Sanders.

Reigning Miss Kingsport

Taylor Hubbard, from Fall Branch, graduated magna cum laude in May 2019 with two bachelor’s degrees in history and English and received her master’s in English from East Tennessee State University earlier this month.

She plans to pursue her Ph.D. in English literature with a concentration in Medieval and Renaissance literature and go on to teach at the university level. Her talent is ballet en pointe

Reigning Miss Sullivan County

Caitlyn Ison, from Mount Carmel, is a student at ETSU studying elementary education and chemistry. She plans to become an elementary school teacher or high school chemistry teacher. Her talent is playing piano.

40 Years of Fun -- 1981-2021 

Watch now: Rogersville's historic Hale Springs Inn set for cosmetic surgery

ROGERSVILLE — Rogersville’s biggest historic tourist attraction is overdue for a bit of cosmetic surgery, some of which will begin within the next week, and some of which will hopefully be covered by a grant.

Workers will remove the original wood floor at the entrance, remove rotting beams and floor joists that have been damaged by moisture, pour new footers, and then rebuild the beams and floor joists.

The Rogersville Heritage Association has already enlisted a contractor to do two projects, one of which involves temporarily closing the main entrance of the 197-year-old Hale Springs Inn.

Workers will remove the original wooden floor at the entrance, take up rotting beams and floor joists that have been damaged by moisture, pour new footers and then rebuild the beams and floor joists.

That project became a priority when it was discovered that the floor at the entrance had sunk about two inches.

Workers will also install a vapor barrier to keep the moisture down and prevent rot from occurring again.

The inn will remain open while the entrance is being repaired. Steve Nelson, the town’s building inspector, said he anticipates that the dining room doors will be used for front access, and the rear entrance at the patio is always open.

Rogersville building inspector Steve Nelson, who oversees historic preservation within the city, said water has been leaking through the exterior brick, and caused some plaster damage to the interior.

While workers are fixing the front entrance, they will also be repointing all the exterior brick where chinking has fallen out.

Nelson, who oversees historic preservation within the city, said water has been leaking through the exterior brick and caused some plaster damage to the interior.

Workers can use only the historical mortar mixture that was used when the building was constructed in 1824. Modern mortar is too hard for the original antebellum bricks.

“These bricks are so soft, and as they expand and contract, if we use modern mortar, which is harder, it will actually break the brick out,” Nelson said. “We have to use the same mortar they used in 1824, which is a lot softer.”

The entrance and brick projects are being funded by the Rogersville Heritage Association, which owns the inn.

The entrance repairs were originally estimated at $27,000. The plan was for workers to carry equipment the full length of the building through a crawl space to reach the front entrance.

Later it was decided to pull up the flooring and access the work from above, which Nelson said will be less labor intensive and should reduce that $27,000 cost by about one-third.

The chinking is estimated to cost $5,500.

State grant would replace windows, fix portico

Later, the inn may receive quite a bit of additional cosmetic surgery if a pending state Facade Grant is awarded to the city.

On Tuesday, the Rogersville Board of Mayor and Aldermen agreed to apply for the $150,000 Facade Grant, which is intended to improve commercial buildings in downtown districts through the Tennessee Main Street and Tennessee Downtowns programs.

The portico was most recently repaired during the Inn's 2009 renovation. Building inspector Steve Nelson said he railing is starting to rot, and it's leaking so they will rebuild what's there and replace the railing.

If those funds are awarded, the RHA would utilize about $100,000 of that grant to restore the portico in front of the Hale Springs Inn, as well as replace as many windows as possible.

The portico was most recently repaired during the inn’s 2009 renovation.

“It’s got 12 years on it,” Nelson said. “The railing is starting to rot. There’s a little bit of leaking going on, so we need to get that fixed. We will rebuild what’s there. The railing will probably be taken down because it’s rotted pretty bad.”

The windows aren't original or historic, and will be replaced if Rogersville receives a state Facade Grant. Nelson said they were installed as part of a 1980 renovation that took place when the building was owned by Carl Netherland-Brown, and the sills are rotting.

The current windows aren’t original or historic. Nelsons aid they were installed as part of a 1980 renovation that took place when the building was owned by Carl Netherland-Brown.

“Some of the sills are rotting,” Nelson said. “We’re going to replace all that.”

The remaining $50,000 from the grant would be awarded to some downtown businesses in need of facade improvements. The grant requires a 25% match.

In describing the proposed grant to the BMA, Rogersville Chamber of Commerce Director Nancy Barker noted that the Hale Springs Inn is the town’s biggest tourism draw and the anchor of the downtown business community.

Barker noted, however, that the RHA wouldn’t be able to cover the 25% match.

“I know it’s a lot to ask, but it’s better to go ahead and get it done through the grant as to have to do it later on when we have to pay it all,” Barker said. “It’s a known fact that when the inn closed, 30% of the businesses downtown suffered. We’re thriving right now, so if we can keep it up and running it’s in our best interest.”

The BMA agreed to cover the RHA’s 25%, but any local businesses that utilize grant funding will have to pay their own match.

Tri-Cities added as Tennessee On Me location option

BLOUNTVILLE — It’s likely that Tri-Cities Airport will soon see more out-of-state visitors coming through the mountains in East Tennessee.

The state’s Tennessee On Me program to encourage out-of-state guests to visit the Volunteer State has added TCA to its list of locations. The program offers a $250 airline voucher for a minimum two-night stay in either Chattanooga, Knoxville, Memphis, Nashville, and now, the Tri-Cities.

“It definitely is exciting,” said Gene Cossey, executive director of the Tri-Cities Airport Authority. “We’re always looking for ways to get more airline service. We hope this can encourage the airlines to take a look at the level of service we have here.”

The Tennessee On Me program was announced earlier this month and a Tri-Cities option was added this week. Cossey said he is grateful to see the region getting its due recognition.

“I’m glad that our region came together and made an impact on getting this change to happen,” Cossey said. “I hope they can continue to grow that and get even more of our local hotels involved through the program and generate a lot more visitors to Tennessee. … Really the best thing that came out of this was that unified voice to get that recognition like it should have had in the first place.”

Travel dates must be between July 11 and Dec. 30. Booking requirements must be met to include required days in order to redeem the $250 Airline Voucher from American, Delta or Southwest Airlines.

Package reservations must be booked before Sept. 15, 2021 and must include a Sunday, Mon- day, Tuesday or Wednes- day night as part of minimum booking requirements. The voucher will be offered to the first 10,000 participants.

For details, go to https://www.visitmusiccity.com/tennesseeonme.

Dismissed Axmen player allegedly threatened team, referenced 'Columbine 2.0'

KINGSPORT — A former Kingsport Axmen player arrested on Monday said in a message to a team member, “I’ll kill everyone single one of y’all,” according to a document from Sullivan County General Sessions Court.

Matthew T. Taylor, 21, Kingsport, was arrested after making threats to a teammate via social media following his release from the team, officials said. He was charged with three counts of false reporting and one count of harassment.

On Monday, Taylor sent messages via Snapchat to a current Axmen player, the document said. It also said Taylor made a reference to “Columbine 2.0,” and in one message said, “They took my life I’ll take theirs.” According to officials, after Taylor was notified that the police were on the scene, he responded, “Good, Tell em to send more.” The investigation is ongoing.

The Kingsport Axmen postponed games on Monday and Tuesday.

Team officials said a player had been “removed from the team for conduct of concern and violations of team rules.”

The team had no regularly scheduled game on Wednesday night. Now, general manager Steve Brice said, the team plans to begin its series against the Bristol State Liners starting on Thursday.

“As of right now, we’re ready to play in Bristol,” Brice said. “Obviously things can change ... but I don’t have any reason to believe that would change.”

Kingsport Police Department patrol officers were called to Hunter Wright Stadium on Monday to stand by while Taylor was dismissed from the team and banned from the premises, a Tuesday press release from the KPD stated. According to officials, police then returned approximately an hour and a half later following alleged threats from Taylor. Taylor was processed and held in the Kingsport City Jail on Monday, according to the release, and has since been released after posting a $25,000 bond.

Taylor pitched for the Appalachian League team after playing this year for Kansas University. He graduated from Dobyns-Bennett High School in 2018.

Jon Peters still uses one of the boxes the late Mary Cunningham once made for the Meals On Wheels program.