To many passersby, it long ago became an eyesore and there are many, no doubt, glad to see it being gutted and stripped.
To me, however, it’s another bit of Kingsport’s past slipping further into only the memories held by people of a certain age.
I’m talking about the former office building on East Stone Drive between Lowe’s Home Improvement and the Pavilion.
Several people have asked me what used to occupy the building. I’ve answered I don’t really know for the last 30 or more years. But it was built as the corporate headquarters of the Mason and Dixon Lines, Inc., at one point the largest family-owned Class 1 trucking company in the nation.
My family didn’t have any direct ties to Mason-Dixon, as it was often abbreviated. But in the 1970s the company employed more than 4,000 workers, and more than a third of that workforce was employed here in Kingsport.
But when we traveled, we kids felt a special kinship when we’d spot a Mason-Dixon truck with its distinct color scheme and logo showing U.S. Gen. Grant and C.S.A. Gen. Lee shaking hands. The company slogan: “Now joining the North and South.” It was like seeing someone from home.
I’d later learn that while Kingsport was the company’s headquarters from its founding in 1932 until its demise sometime in the 1980s, Mason and Dixon by the early 1970s had 52 terminals across the Eastern U.S., running on 18,000 certified miles in 18 states. Certified means those routes were approved under then-federal regulatory practices that doled out routes among trucking companies. In addition, Mason and Dixon’s three divisions (freight, tankers, and special commodities) provided service to points in 48 states.
That’s all information I found while looking through archived copies of the Kingsport Times News expecting to find a front page article about the opening of the new headquarters — the one being dismantled now. I didn’t find that article if it ever existed.
I did find an article from June 19, 1971 announcing plans for the new headquarters, which would take the place of the company’s then-longtime headquarters (spread over four buildings) on North Eastman Road (where Crown Point Shopping Center, anchored by Food City, stands today).
The company already had a presence on East Stone Drive. The new two-story, 55,650-square-foot office building, designed by Allen N. Dryden Architects, would be located on 18 acres adjacent to Mason and Dixon’s maintenance and transportation facilities and its Tri-Cities terminal building.
Its cost was estimated at $2 million and construction was projected for completion by “late 1972.” It was designed to be expanded to add a third floor if the time came.
Company President E. William King was quoted in the article saying the structure was “years ahead of its time in design and features.”
That was the way of Mason and Dixon from day one.
When founder E. Ward King died in March 1977, at 81 years old, he ranked an obituary in the New York Times. It noted King had been a truck driver and mechanic in the U.S. Army, serving in France and Germany during World War I. And Mason and Dixon Lines, Inc. had grossed $121 million in 1976.
That’d be over half a billion dollars today, according to an online inflation calculator.
There’s a lot more that could be written about E. Ward King. And much more that can be written about Mason-Dixon.
I’d like to hear your memories and stories about the company. Surely there are a lot of you out there, considering how many people the company employed over its more than 50-years headquartered in Kingsport.