Kingsport: That’s a Good Sign

At the Archives of the City of Kingsport, we love downtown history, archival images, and  research. Put those loves together and you get our latest exhibit.“That’s a Good Sign” takes archival photographs of Kingsport businesses and zooms in on the signs that graced their facades. Fortunately, the archives houses the collections of commercial photography studios like Thomas McNeer Jr., Carl Swann, and David Peirce. Combined with the photographs from the Chamber of Commerce Collection, this exhibit spans 16 years of the history of 22 downtown Kingsport business.

The exhibit cases are on the main floor of the library between the elevator and the archives stairs. The left case highlights everything from clothing to baked goods; farm supplies to fast food.

My favorite sign in the exhibit is for Bell Brothers Shoes. Look closely at the bell. When it was lit at night, it looked like it was ringing! Bell Shoes opened in 1956 and was located on Broad St.

I’ve included this sign from Kent Bakery and Dairy Bar for my brother. Such a fun design. Seen here in 1956, the bakery was located on Market St.

I was thrilled to learn that Kingsport had several female-owned businesses. Evelyn’s was one of them. Photographed in 1953, the clothing store was on Market St.

This Sullivan St. grocery store was just recently torn down, but Oakwood Market had the most unusual sign of all. The rooftop structure had a waterfall cascading down from the sign.

The Beacon Drive-in opened in January of 1954 on W. Center St. (It just narrowly missed out on being in my Dinner at the Diner exhibit.) After 10 years, the Trayer’s chain out of Bristol took over the restaurant.

The right exhibit case highlights more restaurant signs, as well as gift shops, markets, and the fabulous WKPT sign.

The contents of Thomas McNeer Jr.’s McNeer Studio is one of the foundational collections of the archives. His passion for preserving the city’s cultural history led to the archives’ beginnings upon his retirement in 1982.

Another female-owned business, Russell’s Gifts, located on Center St., closed in 1957. Ellen Russell recently passed in 2014.

Come to the library during the holidays  with your friends and family and visit our “That’s a Good Sign” exhibit on the main floor (through the end of January ’18) or our “Painted Brick” exhibit in the archives lobby. Afterwards, enjoy the new Santa Train sculpture on Main, holiday lighting adorning the downtown, and the new Church Circle Christmas tree.

Feature image: The Oakwood Market facade on Sullivan.

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